Social Work and the Catholic Church
Just how involved should the Church be in people’s lives?
By David Myers
Just how involved in people’s lives should the Catholic Church be?
Offering financial guidance? Classes for teenage moms? What about helping provide a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?
“Over the past 50 years, thousands of lives have been positively impacted here in southwest Kansas as a result of the agency and its staff, board members, volunteers and donors,” said Debbie Snapp, Executive Director of Catholic Social Service.
“Because of the work and foresight of those who helped to initiate this agency and its activities half a century ago, children have grown up in loving adoptive ‘forever’ homes, the hungry have been fed, the homeless have found shelter, individuals and families caught in the grip of addictions have been healed, and those facing a lifetime of poverty have achieved goals and self-sufficiency.”
In other words, there can’t be too much involvement in the lives of people in need.
Over the years, CSS has employed social workers who are given the daunting task of guiding, evaluating, and helping individuals and families through a mountain of emotional, physical, and bureaucratic issues. It’s not a job for the timid.
Rhonda Goodloe, LMSW (Licensed Master Social Worker) works out of the Garden City CSS office. As “Marriage for Keeps” regional coordinator, she offers married couples a weekend retreat in which to celebrate and refresh their marriage. She also directs the “Within My Reach” program, which offers individuals management skills for any relationship, whether with a loved one or a boss.
Why is this program part of Catholic social teaching?
“In the social work field there are many values that closely align with teaching of the Church,” Goodloe explained. Quoting one of the core teachings of social workers, she said, “ ‘Each person, regardless of position in society, has basic human rights, such as freedom, safety, privacy, an adequate standard of living, health care, and education. Social workers recognize the global interconnections of oppression and are knowledgeable about theories of justice and strategies to promote human and civil rights. Social work incorporates social justice practices in organizations, institutions, and society to ensure that these basic human rights are distributed equitably and without prejudice.’
“This is one of the competencies that is taught to social workers,” she explained. “Working at Catholic Social Service, we practice this daily with the people we serve.”
Snapp, like the three other social workers employed by CSS -- Amy Falcon, Goodloe, and Lori Titsworth -- can be found serving as a representative of the Catholic Church in unexpected places.
Soon after the violent tornado struck Greensburg and the surrounding region in May 4, 2007, CSS began working with other agencies to provide needed help.
“We primarily distributed the donations that were received through CSS and the diocese to help individuals build or repair homes when they had no other resources to do that,” commented Snapp. “We worked with the South Central Kansas Tornado Recovery Organization (a part of the Kiowa Ministerial Alliance) to determine eligibility. We also used some of that money to help with emergency needs -- replacing eye glasses, prescriptions, etc….”
If not in the wind-swept borders of Greensburg, Snapp was teaching JustFaith, a scripture-based program of workshops designed to “form, inform and transform people of faith by offering programs and resources that sustain them in their compassionate commitment to build a more just and peaceful world.”
Through prayer, immersion experiences, books and videos, participants encountered the “face of poverty and were drawn to respond to the needs of a broken world.”
Though this program is not currently being taught in the diocese, its teachings are constantly being put into action.
Among Falcon’s ministries is pregnancy counseling, in which an often young – and often frightened -- parent, or parents, will come to her looking for alternatives to abortion.
“The counseling helps them to truly consider each of their options and helps them to feel good about their decision, whether it is to make an adoption plan or a parenting plan,” Falcon said in an earlier interview.
She recalls the occasion when she helped two scared high school students: “They were both high school seniors and were involved in sports/cheerleading, etc.... They decided that they wanted to make an adoption plan and were able to select a family from our program.”
Falcon only works with open adoptions, in which the birth parent continues to have a relationship with their child, even after they’ve been adopted.
“They met the family and started forming a relationship with them. They and their families became very close to this adoptive family; the birth mom even went to college in the town they lived in. I continued providing counseling to this birth mom for a year and a half after the birth of her child.
“I know that this birth mom struggled with her emotions for quite a while after the birth and relinquishment of her child. It takes approximately a year for them to really go through the grieving process. I think that the counseling helped her to get through those difficult times.”
The Teen Moms program, which was introduced to the Diocese of Dodge City by Falcon in 2000, is designed to restore the promise, possibilities, and, not to mention, the sense of fun into the life of a teenager who is a parent.
“Part of our ministry – of all the ministries of Catholic Social Service – is to be there for people in need, for any person, including a pregnant teen who doesn’t have a neutral place to go. As a church, we are supposed to help and serve in any way we can.”
Like Falcon, Lori Titsworth, who works out of the Great Bend office, has the joy of bringing children into the lives of adoptive parents, and helping someone who is struggling with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy to find an adoptive family. As Falcon explained, the birth parent no longer has to go through the traumatic experience of handing their child to an adoptive family, never to see them again.
“They know their child will be placed in a faith-based family,” Titsworth explained. “I believe so many times that people are interested in adoption but believe it is too expensive, there is a long waiting list, or they have a misunderstanding of adoption, let alone an ‘open adoption. We provide a lot of education not only to the mother, but to the adoptive families. Other organizations, even dioceses, offer online education, but we spend a great deal of personal time with the families about adoption, which makes them more prepared.”