About five years ago, people in the neighboring communities of Staples and Motley wanted to address the many faces of poverty they were noticing in their areas. A group of interested townspeople met to discuss what their first steps should be.
“Our group knew that we needed help to understand the dynamics of poverty,” said Marge Lelwica, longtime resident of Staples. “We decided to contact the Blandin Foundation, which has done training in smaller communities for people interested in this problem.”
Representatives from the foundation, a private organization based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, whose mission is to strengthen communities in rural Minnesota, agreed to come to the Staples-Motley area and hosted a series of monthly meetings over a nine-month period. From there, the local community group formed focus groups to explore what was really needed in the area.
The group created mission and vision statements, formed a board of directors and named their initiative Staples/Motley Beyond Poverty. According to Lelwica, about 15 people actively participate in the group with additional people assisting in planned events.
“Our local Lakewood Health System, local law enforcement, our school district and our local newspaper have been extremely helpful in aiding us with any of our ventures,” Lelwica said. “Such cooperation is so valuable and beneficial for all involved. We concentrate on awareness and education for all people regarding poverty.”
Help from CCHD
Once group members formalized their efforts, they knew they needed funding to keep going and began looking into grant opportunities. They learned of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development grant, an initiative of the U.S. Catholic bishops created to help break the cycle of poverty in the United States by funding organizations that help individuals help themselves through education, housing and community economic development.
Each year, parishes across the diocese participate in a CCHD annual collection of which 75 percent is distributed through national grants and the remaining 25 percent is awarded locally in the St. Cloud Diocese.
This year, CCHD nationally funded three local organizations: La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, a statewide, faith-based non-profit organization that organizes immigrants from predominantly Latino congregations to build power for changes in the immigration system and the underlying political and economic structures behind it; the Greater Minnesota Worker Center, a nonprofit organization that organizes, advocates and empowers low-wage workers; and the Yes Network, neighborhoods working together to improve the quality of life for local kids, their families and the community.
CCHD grants also enable a bus trip from St. Cloud to the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition’s Day on the Hill at the state Capitol and supports the cost of a CCHD internship program at Catholic Charities.
With a portion of the remaining 25 percent that stays in the diocese, funding was awarded to the Staples/Motley Beyond Poverty initiative.
Connecting with resources
Among their most notable activities, Staples/Motley Beyond Poverty hosts a “Community Connect” day with about 40 participating groups from the four-county area. The day includes connecting individuals with local law enforcement, health care professionals, chemical awareness specialists and representatives from the Staples/Motley School District and offering free child care, free dinner for all in attendance, free coats for kids and adults, free haircuts and speaker presentations on a variety of subjects.
The next Community Connect day is scheduled for Oct. 26 at Staples-Motley High School in Staples.
The group also initiated a well-attended forum called, “Meth: Not on my Block,” held at Central Lakes College. It also served the meal at the city’s National Night Out, an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make neighborhoods safer, better places to live.
Staples police chief Melissa Birkholtz said she is impressed by the efforts of the Staples/Motley Beyond Poverty group.
“They are behind a lot of good movements in the community,” Birkholtz said. “It’s a good group of people involved and dedicated to making the community better and helping others in ways they might not otherwise have the resources to do.”
Birkholtz, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Staples, said that although the group is not affiliated with any religious institution, she feels the Christian mission of helping people is at its core.
“There’s a direct correlation with the mission to the social issues the group addresses. They are always looking for new ways to help and never turn anyone away,” she said.
Lelwica is pleased with the community’s response in addressing the social issues challenging their area and has high hopes that more can be done.
“It has been really good to work with such caring people who support the work we do,” Lelwica said. “The important thing is that something is happening and people in these areas are recognizing it and getting involved.”
Many parishes participated in the CCHD collection the weekend of Sept. 17-18. Contributions can also be made via check, written out to CCHD, and mailed to the Department of Social Concerns, Catholic Charities, 911 18th Street N, St. Cloud, MN 56303.