Catholic Charities continues to help in wake of Gustav
By PAM BORDELON
Advocate staff writer
Published: Sep 13, 2008
“Providing Help, Creating Hope” — that’s the motto of Catholic Charities, which has been busy doing just that in the wake of Hurricane Gustav.
Under the auspices of Catholic Charities USA, the Baton Rouge Diocese’s agency is serving as a pilot program for the federal government to provide direct assistance to hurricane victims with both short-term needs as well as long-term case management.
“We never really went down. We closed Monday (the day Gustav hit), but on Tuesday we opened with a skeleton crew assisted by a national team,” said Todd Hamilton, executive director for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, “We put into effect a new system based on the unique characteristics of Hurricane Gustav and its impact on our community.”
That system has the agency’s case managers dispersing information, making referrals to appropriate services and handling intake for FEMA, food stamps, the Blue Tarp program, etc.
“To access so many of these services requires jumping through a lot of hoops,” said Wendy Hellinger, coordinator of the diocese’s Human Services Consortium, adding that for many the process is simply overwhelming.
“Each day, these women work with families one on one, most of whom were Katrina evacuees,” said Hamilton of case workers Cheryl Glover, Lisa Guylette and Kristi Hackney.
“Now, they’re working on getting immediate relief for those impacted by Hurricane Gustav.”
Most of those coming to Catholic Charities seeking assistance are looking for financial relief. Hellinger pointed out that the storm hit at the end of the month before Food Stamps, welfare and Social Security checks had been received. At this point, there is very little financial aid available although the Capital Area United Way ponied up $10,000 this week for client financial assistance.
The entire situation presents a daunting task for these dedicated case workers.
Glover left her job in the corporate world after Hurricane Katrina.
“I wanted to work where I was allowed to do my ministry,” said Glover, who since coming on board as a case manager has primarily been working with Katrina evacuees from Lafitte Housing Project in New Orleans.
“It’s all about relationships,” she said of her job. “Really, you just let them talk. You need to be honest. When you don’t know the answer, tell them you don’t but that you’ll do whatever’s needed to find out.”
That point was brought home Wednesday, 10 days after Gustav. Three clients who had no electricity came to Catholic Charities seeking help from Glover. Because of some utility work going on nearby, the agency had no power either. “They said, ‘Miss Cheryl, you don’t have lights either?’,” she shared. “They realized we’re all in
Hackney is an emergency assistant caseworker dealing with those in “high crisis.” Her clients are typically homeless or about to be homeless who also have mental health or other issues. She helps them secure the basics — a roof over their head, food, some type of income and a goal to work toward.
“The most important thing I do is listen,” she explained. “I try and show them you are valuable not just to God but to me. My job all day, every day is to give hope.”
Guylette lives in Hammond and serves as the lead case manager for disaster response for that area. She finds it hard to describe her typical day since no two are alike.
“It changes on a daily basis,” she said. “In the mornings I usually return phone calls and set up appointments for the day … we meet them (clients) where they are. If there’s an urgent situation, I’ll take care of that.”
“The most wonderful thing they’re doing for their clients is advocacy,” Hellinger said. “Their role as advocates is huge, huge, huge.”
“Meeting the unmet needs is our mission,” Hamilton added. “That’s what we do.”
“It’s very fulfilling to help clients meet their needs … when we see success,” continued Guylette. “That’s what keeps me going.”
So, just how do these three women maintain the strength to deal with others’ problems every day?
“Prayer. Every day I ask for God’s protection,” said Glover.
Hackney begins her day at 3:45 a.m. with two hours of reading her Bible, prayer, meditation and journaling.
“I’ve always had a desire to help,” said Guylette. “I love it here … but I do take some downtime every now and then. I also pray and we rely on each other. When it gets too much, I can call on my colleagues to listen. They understand.”