Rural Life Initiative offers new, virtual ‘Conversations of Hope’ series

Food insecurity. Isolation. Civility.

These are just a handful of issues that Catholic Charities’ Rural Life Initiative is tackling this year through a new monthly virtual offering called “Conversations of Hope: Sharing Community Concerns and Resources.”

Rebecca Fiedler, the Catholic Charities rural life coordinator for the eastern region of the Diocese of St. Cloud, explained that due to COVID-19, it was not feasible or safe to continue with the Rural Life Leadership Development Initiative as in the past, which was an in-person model.

Rural Life Initiative is offering a monthly virtual “Conversations of Hope” series to share community resources and concerns.

“However, we had a strong desire to continue to help our rural communities in the St. Cloud Diocese,” she said. “After a few months of research, prayer and reflection, we decided it was most important to offer an environment where we could not only offer resources, but an opportunity for people to come together to share stories and ideas.”

These hour-long sessions held monthly, will incorporate prayer, community conversation and resource-sharing. The bulk of the time will feature open-forum community conversations in which participants are invited to share around these questions:

  • “What are you seeing in your community?”
  • “What is available in your community?”
  • “What is and isn’t working?”
  • “What is still missing in your community?”

“Community leaders who we know have great expertise in that session’s concern will be able to answer these same questions from their perspectives,” said Kateri Mancini, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud. “Then we’ll close out with sharing resources, including how to find what is available in your area and some examples and potential grants or funding that communities can look into to help address these concerns.”

A survey was sent to a cross-section of people around the diocese, and food insecurity was identified as the No. 1 social concern diocesan-wide. The first webinar in the “Conversations of Hope” series was held Nov. 12 and focused on this topic.

“Our first ‘Conversation of Hope’ offered the chance for community members to share what they are seeing or experiencing around this issue, as well as what is available to help address it,” Mancini said. “Three stellar community leaders joined us to share their insights as well: Sue Hanks from Catholic Charities’ Emergency Services, Shane Brown from Ruby’s Pantry in the Sauk Centre area, and Cyrilla Bauer from the Mille Lacs Area Social Concerns team. They’re all doing great things to address food insecurity in various parts of our diocese, and it was great to have them available to share.”

JoAnn Braegelman, rural life coordinator for the western region, said the virtual sessions are a work in progress.

“We feel we have a good format and idea of the issues, but we also want to be cognizant of the needs of the communities we serve, so our sessions may be adjusted or tweaked as we go to better serve the participants’ expectations [and] needs. It’s an exciting time for our social concerns team as we wander into the virtual world.”

Upcoming sessions address civility in December and isolation and elder concerns in January.

“My hope is that we can offer an opportunity for participants to feel connected to others who share in these community concerns, as well as to glean both ideas and concrete resources that can help empower them to address the pressing needs we are seeing across the diocese,” Mancini added. “My hope is that, as the title suggests, people will feel a part of a conversation of hope in a very challenging time.”

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CONVERSATIONS OF HOPE

Each session is held the second Thursday of every month at noon. To register online, visit https://www.ccstcloud.org/services/social-concerns. Upcoming sessions include:

• Dec. 10: Civility

• Jan. 14: Isolation and elder concerns

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the associate editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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