Charities issue call to ‘Reimagine Charity’

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Finding the best way of helping those in need, serving them so their dignity is honored and doing so in a manner that doesn’t create dependency proves to be a hard balance to strike, according to local service agencies.

Catholic Charities of Louisville and some of its partners want to find that balance. To that end, they’re inviting individuals who do charitable service to attend “Reimagine Charity,” an interactive seminar Nov. 4 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at St. Gabriel Church, 5505 Bardstown Road.

There will always be the need for emergency assistance, said Deacon Lucio Caruso of Catholic Chartities, one of the dozens of ministries supported by the Catholic Services Appeal.But when the same people keep coming back for help “you realize you are not doing something as well as we should.”

This poses the question: Are “we helping or enabling?” he said. “This is not in any way about judging those in need or saying who’s deserving or not. We really want to help in ways that honor their dignity. It’s a core principle of Catholic social teaching.”

The seminar will be led by Jim Wehner, president of Focused Community Strategies (FCS). He will speak and facilitate the event. FCS is an Atlanta-based non-profit that aims to help impoverished neighborhoods thrive by addressing systemic, economic and structural barriers, according to the group’s website.

Participants in the seminar will learn three core concepts, a press release from the organizers said:

  • The reasons traditional charity paradigms are not working.
  • The principles of responsible charity.
  • The framework of charitable efforts and where change must begin

At the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, one of the non-profits sponsoring the program, some volunteers wonder if they are helping make individuals dependent on assistance, said Donna Young, director of conference affairs and volunteer services.

Young said she hopes the event will help volunteers examine their work. She noted that the seminar will not diminish in any way the help volunteers are already providing. The goal, she said, is to re-envision charity in a more “helpful, Christian and empowering way.”

Therese Brennan, coordinator of adult formation at St. Gabriel Church, said anyone in the “helping profession,” Catholic or not, can benefit from attending  “Re-imagine Charity.” St. Gabriel works closely with another sponsor of the seminar — Fern Creek-Highview United Ministries, which provides emergency assistance.

“We want people to understand that helping others can create dependency. When we help others, we don’t want to decrease their dignity,” said Brennan. “We hope people will pick up some skills to analyze how they can better do this.”

Young said that when an individual in need isn’t taught to branch out on their own, they never realize what they’re capable of. She’s seen grandmothers and grandchildren served by St. Vincent de Paul for years, she said.

“They’ve grown up in this generational poverty and they know no different and we’re not doing anything to make them want more,” said Young.

Helping needy individuals fulfill their potential and realize they, too, have something to give, is the goal said, Deacon Caruso.

“When we do that we really are fulling Christ’s commandment to love,” he said. “When we’re just enabling or keeping people in a cycle they never discover they have something to give.”

Catholic Charities has begun this work in various ways, already. Its Common Table program offers culinary and job-skills training.  And its Common Earth Gardens program empowers people to grow their own food, both for personal use and to sell.

When you empower someone, there’s no telling how far they’ll go, added Deacon Caruso and Young.

“I often say that when you empower someone, that may be the doctor or person in the nursing facility who will be taking care of you,” Deacon Caruso said.

The cost of the seminar is $20 per person and it is open to people who work with the needy, whether as volunteers or on the staff of a non-profit organization. To register, visit

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