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Catholic Charities, Helias Catholic High School anticipating avenues of collaboration

This story originally appeared in The Catholic Missourian. Read the full story online: The Catholic Missourian

By Jay Nies

CLICK HERE to read a related article from February 2021.

Helias Catholic High School President and Principal Kenya Fuemmeler set the tone with a quote from Jesus:

“Truly, I tell you: whatever you did for these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me,” (Matthew 25:40).

She believes that message will come into clearer focus when Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri (CCCNMO) moves into its new headquarters and opens a food pantry near Helias Catholic this fall.

“How to tend to the needs of our neighbor — how to serve the least among us — is about to become an even more essential part of our identity,” Ms. Fuemmeler told the Helias Catholic faculty and staff during a March 22 staff development day.

Joining her at the podium was CCCNMO Executive Director Dan Lester, who gave a presentation on the agency’s array of services and progress on “our little project down the hill.”

The new center, which was originally built to be the chapel and gymnasium for the former La Salette Seminary, is undergoing substantial renovation and expansion.

Contributions to Catholic Charities’ “Open Hearts, Open Doors” campaign are covering the costs.

When completed, the facility will include a client-choice food pantry, an array of health and nutritional services and community meeting space, along with CCCNMO offices.

“This will hopefully be something we can get the entire community engaged in,” said Mr. Lester. “We certainly hope it’s something the Helias community will be engaged in and connected to.”

“A real opportunity”

Ms. Fuemmeler predicted countless encounters with Christ through the interaction of Helias Catholic students and the clients of Catholic Charities.

“Every student at Helias will serve in some capacity in this building,” she said.

Mr. Lester noted that Helias Catholic students, faculty, alumni and families stepped up to help with emergency food-distribution sites organized during the pandemic by Catholic Charites and The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri.

“Now, we want to build that relationship,” he said. “We hope all of you will see this opportunity as an extension of your classroom.”

He noted that the area around the new center has a statistically high concentration of people with low incomes, who qualify for public assistance, and who don’t have access to reliable transportation.

“When I look at that, I see a real need and opportunity to provide services in a place that’s easy to access,” said Mr. Lester.

“We aren’t going to stop at just serving the people in that neighborhood,” he stated. “But we want to start by focusing on being good neighbors to the people right around us.”

Care and compassion

Mr. Lester gave an overview of the services CCCNMO provides and is in the process of developing.

He noted that in the past four years, CCCNMO has gone from 12 to 27 staff members involved in many different programs, including refugee resettlement, immigration legal services, long-term disaster response, and community health and nutrition services.

“Since our founding, we’ve resettled more than 4,000 refuges,” he said. “Since 2018, more than 1,000 disaster survivors have come to us for assistance.

“We’ve contributed more than $85,000 to parish charitable endeavors in the past couple of years,” he said.

“Starting in May 2020, we’ve provided more than 16,000 meals to homebound and low-income seniors through our senior food box program.

“It’s not always about the numbers, but they can help paint a picture for us,” he said.

Catholic Charities’ disaster response has grown and adapted in response to the 2017 and 2019 floods in parts of the state and the 2019 tornado that damaged parts of Eldon, Jefferson City and nearby communities.

CCCNMO also provides grants to parishes throughout the diocese, helping with local efforts to address hunger and need.

“Proudly Catholic”

While helping and employing people of many faith traditions and backgrounds, CCCNMO takes its Catholic identity very seriously.

“We’re proudly Catholic,” said Mr. Lester. “We don’t shy away from the Catholic part of being Catholic Charities. It’s an important part of who we are and what we do.”

Nonetheless, “we serve because of what we believe, not because of what others believe,” he stated.

CCCNMO is affiliated with Catholic Charities USA, which ties it to Catholic Charities affiliates throughout the country.

Fruitful discussion

Mr. Lester asked the teachers and staff members to discuss ways to incorporate the work of Catholic Charities into their lesson plans and activities.

They spent time brainstorming in small groups and writing down their ideas.

Their suggestions included: tying service at Catholic Charities into the senior service class and activities; adding a service component to summer school, providing opportunities for school staff to volunteer at the food pantry once or twice a week; enrolling children of Catholic Charities clients into academic and sports camps free of charge; and encouraging upper-level Spanish students to volunteer as tutors for Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Other ideas included forging partnerships with Catholic Charities through clubs and extracurricular activities; offering a Catholic Charities class with an outreach component; having students and young gardeners help with common gardening for food; and getting students’ siblings involved.

“Hands and feet”

Ms. Fuemmeler said Helias Catholic is committed to working long-term with Catholic Charities.

“We don’t know what it will look like yet, but we know we’re going to be part of it,” said Ms. Fuemmeler.

She said the main goal will be for everyone in the Helias community to “become the hands and feet of Christ,” serving neighbors and growing in capacity for mercy and social action.

She said it will be important to set measurable goals — “whether that means helping to staff the food pantry, providing tutoring services, or maybe collaborating with our social-justice class to work on advocacy.”

She said all of this will open up numerous opportunities for learning, service and discipleship for Helias students.

“I’m really excited about us becoming better members of our community, and for people from all walks of life to be better served by the Church.”

To contribute to Catholic Charities’ “Open Hearts, Open Doors” renovation, visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org/give or send a check payable to “CCCNMO” to P.O. Box 104626, Jefferson City, MO 65110-4626.

For information about the ongoing renovations and opportunities to collaborate with the ministries of Catholic Charities, contact Cristal Backer, at 573-635-7719 or cbacker@cccnmo.org, or visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org.