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Tracy Stanton unloaded boxes and bags of her possesions as she was moving to her own apartment in south St. Louis from a transitional housing unit operated by the Center for Women in Transition.
Tracy Stanton unloaded boxes and bags of her possesions as she was moving to her own apartment in south St. Louis from a transitional housing unit operated by the Center for Women in Transition.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Church’s anti-poverty program brings new lease on life

Anti-poverty program helps transformation from inmate to citizen

Tracy Stanton looked around the mostly empty apartment. Bags of clothing and stuff sat on the floor of the dining room, a bed frame occupied the bedroom and a poster with a favorite quote, “Today is a Good Day for a Good Day,” rested on a window sill of the living room. The heater was being repaired and it was raining — but that didn’t dampen her enthusiasm.

“I love it. I’m so happy,” Stanton said.

She was moving to her own apartment in south St. Louis from a transitional housing unit operated by the Center for Women in Transition, a program that provides services for women re-entering the community from jail or prison. She enjoyed her transitional arrangement, serving as a mentor to other women, but was ready to live on her own and commute to her job at Saint Louis University.

A long road

Stanton came a long way after being released from prison in 2017 after serving time for a drug conviction. She’s had a lifetime of trauma, including seeing her 7-year-old brother electrocuted when he slipped getting out of a tub. Her mother couldn’t cope, the family split up, she was homeless, her mother died and she moved into a bad situation with her father.

She began drinking and smoking pot at age 12. By 18, she was doing cocaine and then by her early 30s was into crack cocaine, then heroin. There were times when she tried to get better, and she did well in school, but “I felt lost on the inside,” Stanton said. “I still held all that pain and trauma inside me, all those things I never addressed and never talked about.

“I’ve come from addiction to ambition,” Stanton said, a changed person with the help of several programs, including one sponsored by the Institute for Peace and Justice in St. Louis and funded in part by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). She also was helped by the Center for Women in Transition, which got its start with funds from the CCHD.

A second collection will be held in churches the weekend of Nov. 18 to support the campaign, the U.S. bishops domestic anti-poverty program. A fourth of the funds from the collection support organizations addressing the root causes of poverty in the archdiocese and the rest goes to programs nationwide (including two in St. Louis).

A calling

Stanton is a facilitator for the Institute for Peace and Justice SOS program, which educates women who have been incarcerated about the importance of self-awareness and thoughtful responses to problems. “It’s my duty. It’s why God kept His hand on me, why I was saved and He showed His mercy on me,” Stanton said. “It took all that degradation and suffering for me to appreciate the gift of life.”

Finally, at age 36, she’s found her purpose in life. “The class which I just graduated from recently helps people change their mind frames. It really works for me.”

From her own experiences, she understands that the participants in the class are in a place of fear, uncertainty and doubt that they can make it without returning to destructive behavior. “I tell them, ‘Hey, I just was there and I’m still in a transitional program myself.’ I can see their hearts warm up to me,” Stanton said.

While in a treatment program in prison, Stanton said, “something clicked. I said to myself, ‘Tracy, you’re better than this. You don’t have to do this.’ I built a spiritual connection. I reached a level of desperation and decided there’s more to life than this.”

Stanton knew she couldn’t do it alone. “That’s why God made helpers,” she said.

Once released from prison, she connected with the Center for Women in Transition. “I knew if I came home without structure, a support team, people who believed in me and would help in recovery, I wouldn’t give myself a break,” Stanton said.

Ever since then, and with the help of the Institute for Peace and Justice program and Narcotics Anonymous, she said, “I’ve been on fire. I’ve been working on myself mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.”

She credits God for her turnaround and for helping others understand her situation. For example, her landlord won’t rent to people with a felony conviction in the past seven years, but she convinced him of her good intentions. “God is showing me that no matter what, He has the final say,” she said. “I know I have a gift to inspire.”


The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provides funding to groups whose activities reflect Catholic moral and social teaching on human life and dignity. CCHD-funded groups work to change social structures and policies which undermine life and dignity, especially for the poor and powerless.

Kathy McGinnis, executive director of the Institute for Peace and Justice, appreciates that the campaign is a response to Catholic teaching. McGinnis, a member of St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock Church) Parish, said the funding pays for materials and the training of and stipends for the facilitators and for a graduation event for participants.

“The journey of being in prison, coming out of prison and trying to get your life back together is a complex journey,” McGinnis said. “It’s important for them to know that other people care about them.”

>> Local funding

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is an example the Catholic community reaching out to support people who are poor in acting together to improve their lives, overcome injustice and escape poverty.

There are seven organizations being funded through CCHD grants in the Archdiocese of St. Louis; five are funded on the local level and two on the national level. Funded groups for the 2018-19 cycle are:

Local Grants

Missouri Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (No Longer Numbers But People) CURE believes that prisons should exist for education and rehabilitation and advocates for change.

Institute for Peace and Justice (Solving Our Situations) The mission of the Institute is to provide learning experiences, advocacy and resources regarding alternatives to violence. SOS educates women who have been incarcerated about the importance of self-awareness and thoughtful responses to problem situations; educates both the women and their mentors on the topic of political advocacy; and provides education on restorative justice to staff of the agency supervising the women.

LinkSTL (Hyde Park Youth Organizer Project) LinkSTL connects residents of the Hyde Park community to their neighborhood through collaboration, advocacy, engagement, evaluation and fun.

Midtown Community Services (Midtown Men’s Club) The club identifies ways in which men can build community and address issues such as violence, unemployment and underemployment, and the need to strengthen families. The Men’s Club prepares and serves a meal at Food Outreach regularly, participates in monthly workshops on health topics and partners with the Science Center to learn about micro-gardening and healthy eating habits.

Social Action and Virtue Education Foundation (Restorative Hub) An outgrowth of a program at Holy Trinity School in St. Ann, SAVE promotes virtue literacy and restorative disciplinary practices.

National Grants

Coalition for Truth in Independence

CTI is a grassroots organization dedicated to changing policy to benefit people with disabilities, currently addressing transportation, employment, access and voting rights.

Metropolitan Congregations United for St. Louis

MCU, an organization comprised of 47 faith communities of various denominations and five coalitions, develops leaders who seek to change public policy for the common good. Ten of MCU’s 40 members are Catholic parishes or communities of women religious; an additional 11 are not formal members but are MCU partners. MCU’s “Break the Pipeline” campaign addresses school, policing, and juvenile justice systems contributing to the criminalization of young people of color.

Midtown Men’s Club

A grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development funds a facilitator at the Midtown Men’s Club. The club began as a social group, discussing challenges and ways to address struggles. Though still addressing that need, it quickly developed into a group focused on service — giving back to the community.

Members continue to volunteer monthly at Food Outreach. Men’s Club partnered with City Greens Market to open a new community garden, City Greens Community Garden, on Hunt Avenue in south St. Louis. The garden is bigger than the last community garden and allows for more gardeners and larger plots. Members also maintain the garden.

Men’s Club members are making a new hoop house at the garden. They also made a veggie stand for City Greens Market to sell veggies outside of the market.

There next project is using recycled wood from the construction in the area to make picnic tables for Midtown, City Greens Market, and City Greens Community Garden.


In the light of the Catholic Church’s moral and social teachings and tradition, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development asks organizations requesting funding to understand and adhere to some basic principles which are central to the Catholic mission.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, in its written policies, will consider favorably only organizations which demonstrate respect for the dignity of the human person. CCHD will not consider organizations that promote or support abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty or any other affront to human life and dignity.

CCHD will not consider organizations which promote or support violence, racism, sexism, or other prejudices, in any form.

For more information, visit www.bit.ly/2qv5OVN.

Source: Catholic Campaign for Human Development

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