Leading and Living: Positive Youth Development In Action

Poetry Event 003In previous blogs, we’ve shared some of the amazing things our Youth Advisory Board has done. This dedicated group of current and former clients meets weekly, sharing their time and talents to make our community and our services better. This past week they hosted an event that was the culmination of months of work . . . and we are so excited to share it with you!

Last spring, the Youth Advisory Board members worked with staff to write and submit a grant application to Western Michigan University’s non-profit leadership class. As part of the application process, they hosted class members on site and told them of their plans and had them attend a group meeting.  The end result?  They were awarded the grant and have worked diligently to bring their project — combining mentorship roles with a Poetry Slam that would reach out to their peers — to fruition.

To this end, Youth Advisory Board members ended up partnering with the local Boys and Girls clubs, serving as mentors to young ladies at the club, and learning important leadership skills in the process. They themselves benefitted from the help of community mentors who taught them poetry and writing skills which they then brought to the young ladies they worked with as they helped them voice their thoughts through poetry. It was a perfect example of positive youth development — something fundamental to all Ark Services for Youth. Building on their strengths, the youth were empowered, learned skills, and then were able to use those skills to help others.

“Winter Expressions,” their Poetry Slam event, took place this past Tuesday. Youth Advisory Board members worked with their mentees to publicize and host the event and also performed original works for all in attendance. The smiles of pride on the faces of both the Youth Advisory Board members — who had poured countless hours into planning and preparing for the event — and the mentees, who had worked so hard to write their poems and rehearse them were evident. They plan to continue the mentoring relationships throughout the spring semester of school.  We are so proud of our Youth Advisory Board and the mentees for their commitment and want to congratulate them all on a job well done!

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Kinds Words Matter . . . But Can You Do More?

random-acts-of-kindness-mbgI was scanning my facebook page this morning and discovered that today — January 24th, 2013 — is National Compliment Day. Intrigued, I did a little research and found out National Compliment Day was started by Debby Hoffman and Kathy Chamberlin to remind people that, “compliments provide a quick and easy way to connect positively with those you come in contact with.” Seems simple enough, and logical enough. Frankly, the more I thought about it, the more the idea saddened me. Why?  Simply put, I live in a nation and at a time when we actually have to set aside a day to remind ourselves to reach out to others, connect with them, and compliment them.

Sit down tonight and watch the first 10 minutes of the evening news tonight or any night. How many stories of hope and love do you see? How many positives are out there? One local station has spent more than a year developing a weekly segment called “Pay It Forward” which celebrates these positive interactions in our community . . . but at best, those segments are a mere five minutes of an hour-long newscast. Face it, we live in a society which encourages us to care more about ourselves on a daily basis than about those around us. We live in a world of “me-ists” and nothing good can come from that frame of mind!

What are we called to do? How are we called to live in relation to others? Here are just a few quotes:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.   1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:1-11 ESV

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.  Luke 6:38 ESV

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:16 ESV

Please don’t misunderstand my point — I understand why Ms Hoffman and Ms Chamberlin felt compelled to create the holiday.  I can relate to their feeling that the world needs more kindness, more compliments, and more joy.  My purpose is to admonish each of us to rise to this calling (and so much more) each and every day we are alive.  To celebrate the gifts and talents we have been given and to use them — not to let them sit on a shelf and gather dust.  Wake up each morning with thankfulness and embrace your day.  Reach out to others in love and serve them.

Catholic Charities would love to have you share those gifts and talents with our clients — and we encourage you to call us and get involved.  No matter how you choose to do so, however, we simply want you to take action, reach out with the love of Christ and help someone in need.  Let your light shine, and live each day to its fullest.  Complimenting others may be one step in that journey, but each day, each kind word, and each action are a choice and a meaningful way to change the world.

Celebrating Life . . . Who Will You Nominate?

According to the State of Michigan Department of Community Health, there were at least 23,366 abortions performed in Michigan in 2011. Each of these abortions is a tragedy; a life ended prematurely. In each case, a choice was made. Often that choice was the result of fear, a lack of information, a lack of resources, or a lack of knowledge.

Catholic Charities, through its Caring Network program, offers women life-affirming options on a daily basis. Each year, more than 400 women come through our doors, receiving help, hope, and support to welcome a new baby into the family.  Staff work diligently to help each mother overcome fears and challenges and to gain the information and resources she needs to be well-prepared for motherhood.  We help each mother make a choice to bring her child into the world, walking alongside them through trials and triumphs.  These mothers and their families are not alone in their journey because they have come to Catholic Charities.

We could not do this foundational work — welcoming and serving young mothers and families with open arms — without the help out countless donors and volunteers.  The end result of this labor of love is a beautiful, healthy baby.  Ask any of our Caring Network staff or volunteers and they will tell you: there is no greater reward.

Catholic Charities cannot help but be grateful for all those in our community who join us in this work.  That’s why we are so excited to celebrate just a few of those who have given their time and talents to support the sanctity of life at our Celebrate Life Luncheon.  The event will take place at the Kalamazoo Country Club on April 18, 2013.  At the event, Dr. Robin Pierucci will share stories of her amazing work.   Some of those who have given their lives to the pro-life cause will be recognized and celebrated over delicious food and with heartwarming company.  We encourage you to attend — and to help us as we determine who will receive our prestigious “Celebrate Life Awards.”

How can you be involved?

Please take a moment and think about those who best fit the following award categories.

  • Sister Edna Outstanding Service Award — awarded to a person or group who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to protecting the sanctity of life and serving others, either through volunteer service or paid work.
  • Katherine Van Domelen Caring Network Volunteer Award — awarded to a person who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to the Caring Network program through volunteer service
  • John W. Kavanaugh Physician Award — awarded to a physician who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to the sanctity of life, especially to the unborn and babies

If an individual or group comes to mind, please consider nominating them!  It’s easy to do — simply complete the two-page nomination form available on our website (click here) and submit it via e-mail, fax, or mail by March 8, 2013.  What a wonderful way to recognize the efforts within our own circle of impact.

We have each been given gifts, talents, and callings.  Please help us recognize those individuals who are called to this all-important task of walking alongside expectant and new mothers, helping them to make life-affirming choices.  We may never know how many lives each has touched and even saved.  Their work is a blessing and a labor of love.  We look forward to receiving your nominations and seeing you at the Celebrate Life Luncheon.

Making It Easier To Get The Help They Need: The Ark in 2013

Ark Logo MDSThrough it’s Ark Services for Youth, Catholic Charities personally met and talked with more than 2,500 youth who were in crisis, precariously housed, or facing homelessness over the past year.  These youth came to us with a variety of challenges.  Each came with unique strengths and abilities and each had unique needs.  Each youth came from a variety of diverse communities across the nine county region we serve.  Each had unique social situations, families, demographics, economic situations, disabilities, and some even had different languages.  Yet every one of the 2,500 individual youth we served during the past 12 months had one major thing in common:  they needed the unique, specialized services that only The Ark could offer.

As a direct result of the growing need in our communities, we are pleased to announce that The Ark Services for Youth will be working hard to increase its accessibility in 2013.  A key part of this is a major expansion of our Drop-In Services.  For the past year, youth could “drop-in” the Van Domelen Center (1441 South Westnedge) on Monday afternoons from 3 PM to 5 PM and receive prompt services to help them deal with a variety of issues.  In addition, the youth could get a healthy meal, hygiene supplies, access a computer for educational and employment searches, and use the laundry or shower.  This exact service will continue in 2013.

We are so excited to grow on this strong foundation and announce that on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday we will now offer a Drop-In at The Ark Shelter itself (990 West Kilgore) from 5 PM to 9 PM!  Youth will be able to stop by the shelter and have immediate access to caring and quality staff.  These staff will be able to provide access to referrals and information, address immediate life crises, screen the youth for intensive services, provide the youth with food and hygiene items, and meet unique needs.  In early 2013 we will be reconfiguring parts of the shelter to accommodate this new service, but our doors are now open and staff are ready to meet youth at their point of need.

The Ark has a proud history of evolving to meet changing community — and youth — needs and this latest evolution leaves us in a strong position to serve the growing number of youth who are seeking our services.  If you would be interested in volunteering at the shelter or otherwise assisting us in this important mission, we would love to have you!  Please keep your eyes and ears open for new stories about The Ark and how we are reaching out to serve all youth in need.  This is a great honor and a challenging task.  It is also our mission and our passion and we thank you for your support and interest!