Nyein Chan, director of Resettlement, left, works with refugee case managers Cho Too, in back, and Karen Bender, center, and health advocate Thawng Takkon at Catholic Charities in Fort Wayne.
FORT WAYNE — Catholic Charities celebrates its 90th anniversary this year as a mission-driven organization that serves the poor and vulnerable regardless of religion, ethnic background, age, gender or ability to pay. As an agency of the diocese, Catholic Charities’ programs are operated in conformity with Catholic social and moral teachings and, though a separate corporation, operates at the pleasure of the bishop, who serves as chairman of the board.
Established in the Diocese of Fort Wayne by Bishop Herman J. Alerding in 1922, Associated Catholic Charities met the needs of the community following the Great War. Three years later the local agency adopted a constitution and by-laws as well as established a board of directors. It was at this time that Associated Catholic Charities became affiliated with the National Conference of Catholic Charities, now known as Catholic Charities USA.
Over the past nine decades the agency has undergone countless changes, all to meet the changing needs of the community. Currently Catholic Charities, a state licensed, COA accredited social services agency, employs over 50 employees and hundreds of volunteers to staff the plethora of service programs available in 14 counties in Northeast Indiana that comprise the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Debbie Schmidt oversees the workings of this organization so vital to the life of the Church and the local community. Executive director since 2002, she says Catholic Charities’ client base is “very diverse,” and includes the poor, disabled, migrants, elderly and children.
Catholic Charities Executive Director Debbie Schmidt, left, works with long-time volunteer Jan Moore sorting clothing donations for refugees and others in need in Fort Wayne.
Services for this diverse population fall under four main areas within this charitable organization. Family Services offers pregnancy services, ECHO for teens, adoption services, post finalization services, Resource and Referral for meeting basic needs, food pantries, Hispanic Health Advocacy services and The Hardest Hit Fund Hoosier Corps Volunteer Service Program.
The department of Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services offers refugee resettlement and placement, health services, the match grant program and immigration services. Older Adults Services include Villa of the Woods residential facility and Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP). Catholic Charities also offers employment services that include Senior AIDES program (Title V) and refugee job development.
Director of Community Relations and long-time board member Kathy Denice is passionate about the dedicated staff and mission of the agency and says, “We are the social services arm of the Catholic Church. Our mission is to serve others as Christ would have us do.” And to continue their service education is the key. Denice says, “My goal is to educate the community on the charitable works of Catholic Charities.”
The many programs and services provided by Catholic Charities are supported through a diverse range of funding including through the Church, the government, the United Way and of course, private donations. Ninety-one percent of the funds go directly to client services, with the remaining 9 percent supporting administrative costs. Schmidt says, “We do the best with the resources we have to serves the needs.”
Catholic Charities is located at 315 E. Washington Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN 46802 and can be reached by calling (260) 422-5625. In South Bend offices are located at 1817 Miami St., 46613 and can be reached at (574) 234-3111.
History of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend
1922 Bishop Herman J. Alerding established Associated Catholic Charities.
1924 Associated Catholic Charities was one of 19 original members of the Community Chest now known as the United Way.
1925 Constitution and by-laws were adopted. Board of directors was formed and CC became affiliated with National Conference of Catholic Charities (now known as Catholic Charities USA).
1927 The Indiana State Department of Public Welfare licensed Associated Catholic Charities as a child-placing agency.
1930-39 The Great Depression saw many changes both for the community and for Catholic Charities, who continued to provide children with milk, schoolbooks and supplies.
1937 Father Edward Sweigart became the director of Associated Catholic Charities.
1941-45 Catholic Charities assisted families of veterans, displaced persons and participated in a community-wide childcare center to meet the needs of working mothers.
1947 St. Joseph County office opened, with pregnancy counseling, adoption services and individual and family counseling. Catholic Charities became a member of United Way.
1952 Began placing Canadian children in adoptive homes.
1954 Ladies of Charity volunteer group established in South Bend.
1957 Msgr. John Reed was appointed Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc. was created and Catholic Social Service agencies in both Fort Wayne and South Bend were established.
1960 Catholic Social Services of Fort Wayne and the Catholic Charities offices moved to the former St. Paul School located at 919 Fairfield Ave.
1961 Resettlement program was established in Fort Wayne to meet the needs of refugees from Cuba.
1964 Plans were developed for Saint Anne Home, a nursing care facility for the elderly.
1965 The Catholic Charities Child Development Program began.
1967 The first resident was admitted to Saint Anne Home. The Ten-O-Four Home for unwed mothers was established for pregnant girls.
1970 An Independent Living Unit was established at Saint Anne Home.
1972 John Martin was named the new Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities.
1973 Retired Senior Volunteer Program sponsored by Catholic Charities. Children’s Cottage, a state licensed, Montessori certified, all day child care program opened.
1974 A component of Harvest House, the Forever Learning Institute, was established.
1975 The Refugee Resettlement program was established with staff persons in both Fort Wayne and South Bend to meet the needs of South Vietnamese refugees.
1976 Villa of the Woods in Fort Wayne and Vincent House, in Elkhart were opened as congregate living facilities.
1978 The Head Start program was established.
1982 A Catholic Social Service office was opened in Elkhart.
1985 The Home Visitor Program to provide support for homebound elderly and disabled was established.
1990 The agency announced a restructuring of its administration whereby all services and programs operated from one administrative structure.
1991 Rainbows program established.
1992 Hispanic Outreach Program established.
1993 Catholic Charities was chosen as a site for the resettlement of refugees from Bosnia.
1994 Adoption program expanded to include children with special needs. Services to adult adoptees seeking information about their birth parents were also offered. Project Rachel was established.
1995 Circle of Mercy Day Care Center in South Bend became a program of Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities also assumed administrative responsibility for Hannah’s House, a maternity home located in Mishawaka.
1996 Mentoring program for pregnant and parenting young women, “Birthing the Vision” was established.
1997 Salt & Light Program established. Catholic Charities assumed responsibility for the Foster Parent Training Program in Allen County and six surrounding counties.
1998 A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the renovation/expansion of Children’s Cottage, a childcare center in Fort Wayne. Catholic Charities was awarded the contract for the Foster Parent Liaison position for the Allen County Office of Family and Children’s Services. Accreditation approved through the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children, and Children’s Cottage was selected as a delegate agency for the Head Start Program.
1999 Faith Based Initiative Program established. ECHO — Education Creates Hope and Opportunity — a teen parenting program begins. St. Hyacinth Community Center opened along with the Monsignor Lester Multi-Purpose Room.
2001 A groundbreaking for the expansion and renovation of Villa of the Woods began. Immigration Program established and Match Grant Program begins under Refugee Services.
2002 Catholic Charities Fort Wayne approved as recognized site for immigration services.
2003 Senior AIDES program acquired. Brief and Emergency Services Program assists poor in West region.
2004 Sponsors RSVP Program in St. Joseph County. RSVP and Busy Hands moved into the South Bend Catholic Charities’ newly renovated office.
2005 Elkhart County RSVP sponsored. RSVP of DeKalb County opened a countywide food pantry.
2006 Senior AIDES Program expanded to serve all 14 counties within the diocese.
2008 Catholic Charities resettled 1,469 refugees, primarily from Burma. Catholic Charities Emergency Food Pantry opened in South Bend. Senior AIDES began offering GED courses.
2009 Senior AIDES began providing extensive training courses in budgeting, finances and employment preparation. English as a Second Language/Citizenship Classes began in South Bend. RSVP of St. Joseph County and Elkhart County combined to become one project.
2010 Catholic Charities was a partner with the City of Fort Wayne and competed for and won the All American City Award.
2011 The Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives selected Catholic Charities to receive the Indiana Hardest Hit Fund Initiative Volunteer Service Program awards for Regions 2 and 3 (a total of 15 counties). This program is part of the Building Bridge to Recovery Foreclosure Prevention Program.