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Why I stayed at Catholic Charities for over 40 years

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... I have reflected a lot about the 40-plus years I have been with the organization. I've thought about the early years and why I became a social worker. But mostly, I've thought about why I stayed.

Debbie
Rambo

As my time serving as president of Catholic Charities comes to an end, I have reflected a lot about the 40-plus years I have been with the organization. I've thought about the early years and why I became a social worker. But mostly, I've thought about why I stayed.

In my college years, there were three top careers that welcomed young women: nursing, teaching, and becoming a social worker. I ruled out nursing and teaching pretty quickly. And, with the benefit of a strong Catholic upbringing, a home where my family subscribed to Maryknoll and America Magazine, and where the adage "to whom much is given, much is expected" was regularly repeated, social worker seemed like a good choice. My dad, a double-eagle himself, was very approving when I chose to study for my Master of Social Work degree at Boston College.

My first job out of Boston College was as a social worker at Catholic Charities. I was in the community taking action to make kids safer, working with kids who were experiencing unspeakable acts of abuse and neglect from people who loved them, but whose abilities to parent were compromised by alcohol, mental illness, and other complex circumstances.

Separating children from parents who loved them but hurt them was not an easy job. Improving their lives was a complicated problem to solve. I discovered that despite the human heartache -- and there was plenty of that -- I liked to solve complex problems and I was inspired by skilled colleagues who cared deeply about families in crisis. I also realized something really important -- no one wants to be a bad parent.

Since that first role, I have had several others -- including supervising other social workers. Together, we counseled young parents who were not really ready to be parents, fed families whose parents were out of work or working and not earning enough to feed their children, settled refugees and immigrants who had fled political upheaval, violence and threats on their lives and were gratefully undertaking the hard work of starting over in a new unfamiliar home in America ... and so much more.

Over the years, our programs have evolved to meet the needs of the communities we serve and, increasingly, we have focused not just on meeting needs but helping families need less from us. Just as I learned that no parent wants to be a bad parent, I have witnessed that no one who is poor wants to be poor.

Every person we serve wants to be a good parent, wants to be employed, wants a safe home, and wants to see the pathway out of crisis to stability. Everyone we serve wants and deserves hope. But the playing field just isn't level for them. They are faced with complex problems that we help them solve.

I learned in so many important ways we really are all the same. None of us finds our way alone.

What differs is where we get the support that allows us to achieve and instigates hope. For some, it comes easily and naturally from the families and circumstances into which we are born. And, for some, the circumstances into which we are born make it harder to find our way, make it harder to achieve, and harder to find hope.

The staff at Catholic Charities -- past and present -- helps people find hope. Ours is a sizeable operation with many moving parts -- 550 staff members in 21 locations -- food pantries, child care centers, young parent and counseling services, adult education classrooms, safe, healthy spaces for teens, individual and family shelters, legal aid services, and a financial and administrative infrastructure that keeps it all running. The collective energy and commitment of our organization is amazing -- and I thank you all. The impact of our work is a direct result of the commitment of the hundreds of individuals who make it happen.

The sum of our combined efforts is what makes our work possible. Together, we navigate clients from where they are to where they want to go.

And that's why I stayed at Catholic Charities for more than four decades -- the work we all do matters. The work we do allows people to move from crisis to stability to hope for themselves and their families. Because the help many of us received in the normal course of growing up has been out of reach for our clients, until they came to Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities is blessed to have the support of so many in our communities. My deepest gratitude for all that you have done and will continue to do as we work to make families stronger, futures brighter, and dreams within reach.

- Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.



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