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Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Catholic Charities makes headway in addressing poverty

Theresa Ruzicka, president of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, is proud of her organization's efforts to help break the cycle of poverty, empowering people to make permanent changes in their lives and support their efforts to lead self-sufficient, dignified lives.

Ruzicka was interviewed by the St. Louis Review after being named among the recipients of the Most Influential Business Women Awards from the St. Louis Business Journal. The award was presented to her Aug. 11.

"Theresa lives the mission of Catholic Charities and that of her Catholic faith every day," Cheryl Archibald, a member of the Catholic Charities of St. Louis Board of Directors, wrote in her nomination form." She believes that the only way to strengthen our community is through personal commitment and service. Her long-time contributions and connections to the St. Louis region have helped Catholic Charities thrive under her leadership."

Ruzicka, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Pillar in Creve Coeur, was the first woman named president of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, in March 2014. She was a partner in a top CPA firm and had been active in civic and charitable efforts, including the United Way of St. Louis and as a board member of Catholic Charities.

"My faith is important to me," Ruzicka said. "I feel blessed to be in a faith-based organization, and God helps me every day."

Ruzicka cited how Catholic Charities work in the community is making a difference:

Catholic Charities' mission — Catholic Charities helps the young, elderly and those in between who are struggling and searching for hope. The mission of its eight agencies is to serve people in need, especially those who are poor and vulnerable; work to improve social conditions; and call members of the Church and community to do the same. The goal is to assist them to reach their potential. Catholic Charities also works side by side with people to give them a voice in public policies and programs.

Reach — Each year the eight agencies assist roughly 135,000 to 140,000 people in the 11 counties of the archdiocese (63 percent of the people served have incomes less than the poverty level). The agencies impact urban, suburban and rural areas. They help people with mental illness and addictions, individuals searching for employment, women escaping domestic violence, refugees coming to a new land, children who have been abused and neglected, seniors seeking a dignified life as they enter its last stages, parents and children needing family counseling and many more.

Why Catholic Charities helps and how it funds the work — Our faith calls us to help people in need, in response to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Catholic Charities relies on government funding, program service fees and donations. Many of the people served by the agencies cannot pay for the services. Salaries are the biggest part of the budget, so donations are critical.

A challenge — It's easy to do things the same way as always, yet new approaches sometimes are necessary. Catholic Charities Pathways to Progress is an example of a new approach. The initiative was launched last year by Catholic Charities of St. Louis in collaboration with its eight federated agencies, leaders in the community and committed organizations to walk with families out of poverty. This initiative provides intense, wrap-around case management and support services for two to four years while connecting to resources that enhance individual strengths, develop skills, and build financial assets which lead to empowering families toward stability and long-term economic independence.

A success to build on — In the area of disaster recovery in the archdiocese, nonprofit and government agencies have a strong collaboration. Catholic Charities provides long-term case management to victims of natural disasters. Expansion of disaster planning and response efforts enabled Catholic Charities to serve as the lead agency in helping families during the 2015-16 floods. FOCUS St. Louis recognized Catholic Charities and its agency, St. Francis Community Services, along with other community organizations, with a What's Right with the Region Award for its work with flood survivors. 

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