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Larry Snyder, President, Catholic Charities USA September 15, 2013 Good morning! Let me offer my warmest welcome to all of you to the 2013 CCUSA Annual Gathering. These convening‟s are for us a time of blessing as we renew friendships, tackle the pressing challenges of our time, learn and create together, and renew ourselves through common prayer. This year we are exceptionally fortunate to be meeting in the great city of San Francisco, home to an outstanding Catholic Charities organization. Their venerable history of service to the local community and impressive innovation in meeting the needs of those most vulnerable today have made them important leaders in our Catholic Charities movement. On behalf of all of us, let me say a huge word of thanks for the tremendous hospitality they have already shown us, and that we can anticipate enjoying over the next couple of days. Let‟s show them our gratitude. San Francisco is a city full of iconic symbols that are recognizable the world over. Perhaps none more famous than the Golden Gate Bridge. Architect Joseph Strauss who built 400 bridges across the country throughout his career considered it his
crowning achievement. Every day it carries over a hundred thousand vehicles across the Golden Gate, which is the opening of the San Francisco Bay into the Pacific Ocean. Frommers Travel Guide calls it “possibly the most beautiful bridge in the world.” And it is the perfect backdrop for this year‟s conference as we explore the urgency of building bridges to opportunity for all those in need. My friends, for over a century we have been about the work of reducing poverty. We have been providing critical safety net programs that for many are a means of survival. We have been charting pathways out of poverty for millions. And we have been supporting and stabilizing families and individuals in crisis to keep them from falling into the grips of poverty. Every step of the way, we ourselves have been building bridges. Last year those bridges impacted the lives of nearly ten million people. And behind every individual that makes up that statistic is a face, a name, a story, a hope. Our work focuses on one individual, one family, one story at a time, with the goal of providing the support they need to fulfill their God-given potential and bring to fruition their hopes and dreams. But for a minute let‟s go back to Joseph Strauss‟s Golden Gate Bridge. Like many of the major bridges across the country, it forms an integral part of our nation‟s infrastructure and is vital to the economic and social health of our country. While the Golden Gate Bridge was finished in 1937 after four years of construction, much of the nation‟s infrastructure was built in the 1960‟s. As we have been hearing for years, bridges built at that time are now showing the tremendous
impact of decades of use. Much of that infrastructure has been deemed problematic and some as even downright dangerous. Our resources and planning have simply not kept pace with the demand. But certainly neither Joseph Strauss, nor any of the engineers responsible for infrastructure development in the 1960s would have expected their work to remain untouched over 50 years later. It would have been assumed that as needs developed over time, significant improvements would be made. As our nation‟s transportation infrastructure was being redesigned and expanded in the 1960‟s, so too was the infrastructure of the country‟s social safety net. Fifty years later similar signs of wear and neglect are proving problematic. A critical component of that infrastructure is the gauge by which we measure how many Americans actually live in poverty. That measure was developed by economist Mollie Orshansky in 1963 using the best methods at her disposal. I suspect the most modern conveniences on her desk at the time were an adding machine and carbon paper. Her design for a measure of poverty and the social infrastructure as a whole served their time well. The War on Poverty of the „60s of which they were a part actually cut the poverty rate in this country in half. But like so many of the bridges and train tracks and highways of that time, that social infrastructure no longer meets the needs of our day. If we have any realistic hope of making progress in reducing our nation‟s poverty rate, we will need to do it with a design and tools that address the needs and reality of our time.
As part of our centennial celebration only three years ago, we held listening sessions which we called Poverty Summits in ten cities across this country. Many of you participated and even hosted those events. We convened community leaders who are engaged in anti-poverty efforts to discover what wasn‟t working and to learn from the successes they were having—their big ideas. As we analyzed all of that information, we came up with three consistent themes that could be used to craft a response to the social needs of our time. The first is the need to change the system itself. There is no doubt that the safety net performs a critical service for millions in our society today. That is a commitment we must keep. But we need to move from a monolithic definition of poverty to designing programs and systems that take into account the uniqueness of each individual and their situation. We need to move from focusing on each person‟s deficits, to starting with an understanding of their assets. And we need to include them in planning their own recovery. The development of Individual Opportunity Plans could be the difference. They work in Refugee Resettlement. They work in Disaster Response. They can work in poverty reduction. And let‟s let local communities have some flexibility in the design of their community response. After all, Wichita is not Brooklyn, and St. Cloud is not San Francisco. Secondly, your feedback told us that we need to engage corporate America in a different way. We all benefit from corporate commitment to philanthropy and development in the communities they serve. But too much of direct corporate
involvement with the poor is in businesses that depend on keeping people in poverty—the so-called “poverty pimps” of sub-standard housing and pay-day loan establishments. Corporate America has the benefit of amazing expertise in research and development and marketing. That‟s what we need to tap into. We have seen the development of banks, like the Grameen Bank, that have directly targeted services in a responsible way to people living in poverty, and have shown that such a business model can be profitable. We have seen the development of “B” corporations, or benefit corporations that act as for-profit entities but give all of their profits to nonprofit organizations. The possibility of these types of new ventures with the corporate sector is only limited by our imagination. And thirdly we heard that we need to become service providers who focus on outcomes, not outputs. For accountability reasons, nonprofits are very good at counting the number of shelter beds that we fill; the number of bags of groceries that we distribute; the number of bus tokens that we hand out. All of this is good and the statistics are impressive. Last year alone we provided over 16 million services through our agencies across the country. These are signs that people‟s needs are being addressed. But typically what we cannot say is how many people actually got out of poverty because of those services. And that is the ultimate outcome we should all be striving for. If our goal is to simply fill shelter beds, then we will do that and we will likely build more shelters and fill more beds. But if our goal is to get people out of
poverty, our program design might look very different than it does today. Our commitment must be to outcomes. And our impressive outputs should be used as tools or guideposts against which to measure our progress. We took these three overarching strategies seriously and used them to formulate a piece of legislation called NOCRA, the National Opportunity and Community Renewal Act. We made tremendous progress by getting this legislation introduced in both houses of Congress. But it, like so much legislation in the recent past, has fallen victim to gridlock in a very partisan Congress. Even still our commitment to implementing the three strategies which it embodied, in whatever form that takes, remains strong. Perhaps in addition to updating an outdated social infrastructure, we should update the imagery that has been used in the social sector for decades. We talk about the importance of a safety net to catch those who fall. But the safety net fails to speak to the importance of creating opportunity for those in need. Opportunity is better served by our image of a bridge. And opportunity is what we need to be about. The challenge is how to create that opportunity. Some fifty years ago there was a War on Poverty in this country. While people will certainly debate whether we won or lost, what we know is that during that time the percentage of people living below the poverty line in our country dropped from 22 % to 11%. The rate was cut in half. While we should celebrate that
accomplishment, it has not dropped lower than 11% since then and in our day we have even seen it climb. There should not be a 100th anniversary of the War on Poverty. If there is then we will not have succeeded in our way forward. We can succeed if we focus on Building Bridges of Opportunity—a design and plan that addresses the current issues with contemporary strategies. My friends, I truly believe that the American people are fair-minded and compassionate when they understand a situation. I would say to you today that the reason that we as a nation have not garnered the political will to reduce poverty significantly in our time is that the case has not been adequately made. As a society we look at the causes and address the symptoms. But I‟m not sure we do this organically by looking at the whole. If we truly understood the effect of poverty on our society, the toll it exacts on our country and the implications this has for our future, I think we would be motivated to act. We all know the devastating effect that losing a job or losing a home can have on a family. We all know that failure to graduate from high school triggers many other high risk behaviors that seriously compromise an individual‟s future. And we know the likelihood of generational poverty dooming children to repeat a cycle of failure. These are causes that we try to address in a whole continuum of services. And then there are the symptoms brought about by living in poverty that can be just as devastating. It has been said that the number one cause of poor health in
our country is poverty. And one can only imagine the effect of poverty on the human spirit. At Catholic Charities we speak of providing help and creating hope because we know the two are connected. We can measure the toll of poverty on individuals. But we can also measure the toll on our society in terms of lost potential and compromised futures. This is how we must build the case against poverty: in the individual stories of need and potential; and in terms of the cost of not building a society in which all people have opportunity and are given the chance to succeed. So let‟s make the case! In the meantime, we will continue to provide services to millions in need in a way that is imbued with dignity and respect as our Gospel-mandated mission demands. But we will not be satisfied with the status quo. And we will continue to advocate, garner resources, creatively evaluate and design programs, as we work to engage the conscience of our nation. Let me now share with you a few of the things that we will focus on at the national level. On April 2 of this coming year we will sponsor the third Poverty Summit that will bring together practitioners from many organizations to renew our commitment to reduce poverty and find common strategies that will lead us forward. It will be held in conjunction with the Diocesan Directors Spring Gathering in Washington DC and co-sponsored by a coalition of 12 other national organizations.
Next, in order to continue to promote the three strategies that we committed ourselves to during our centennial year, we will identify five communities that could serve as pilot projects for the implementation of the NOCRA principles. These areas ideally will have local community and elected leadership that are supportive of change in the social service delivery system, as well as members of Congress who are willing to champion the case for selected waivers that are necessary to adopt a system based on individual opportunity. Our local agencies will provide critical leadership in bringing communities and leadership together. This focus on five specific communities will allow us to demonstrate that the NOCRA principles are effective and scalable. This will be challenging work, but the best strategy available to us to be concrete in bringing about credible change in systems, that will translate as real change in people‟s lives. This is the next step in our efforts to influence change in our social infrastructure. These are the bridges for our time. Let me turn now to the Laboratory for Economic Opportunity, a first of its kind domestic poverty lab, that resulted from Catholic Charities‟ partnership with the Department of Economics at the University of Notre Dame. This initiative continues to hold great promise and excitement. A focus on measurements have not been the traditional domain of social work, but the reality is that they give us the data to evaluate the effectiveness of our programs: not only anecdotal information, but clear data-documented analysis. Why is this important? Because
knowing the effectiveness, what works and what doesn‟t work, can prove that there is real change in the lives of the people we are trying to help. Currently there are five research projects underway with LEO in our member agencies. I look forward to sharing the data and analysis with you as it becomes available and I thank you for sharing your ideas with the leadership of LEO. It is your input and work that has helped to make all of this happen. I am convinced that a reduction in poverty will not come about solely from an infusion of great amounts of money by government. Government support of social programs is vital. But change to the system will be brought about by efforts like LEO that let us identify what actually works in program design. Mollie Orshansky, who devised the poverty formula in 1963, has a well-deserved place in the history of social services. Economists Dr. Bill Evans and Dr. Jim Sullivan of the University of Notre Dame who head up LEO are certain to join her. Their commitment and enthusiasm will make a profound difference in social service delivery, but more importantly, a profound difference in the lives of millions of the poor and marginalized across the country. Let us recognize them and their pioneering work. Change is upon us in the nonprofit world. Nontraditional initiatives and innovations are already redefining the face of our organizations. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Some six years ago a supermarket chain decided to close a store in the Cherry Hill neighborhood in Baltimore. It was the only grocery store in the entire neighborhood, a neighborhood isolated from the rest of the city and without adequate public transportation. The closure marked one more loss that would decrease the quality of life for those living in this already under-serviced poor neighborhood. Seeing this, Catholic Charities of Baltimore seized an opportunity and bought the shopping center where the store was located. They reopened the grocery store. And as the saying goes, built the airplane as they were flying. They were able to keep a critical resource alive in that neighborhood. Today the store is once again operated as a private retail venture. But a host of community resources were added in the shopping center: a public library (now the second most used library in Baltimore); a senior center; a behavioral health center; and a public health center—all of which were lacking before. Creativity and risk-taking on the part of Catholic Charities of Baltimore have saved a neighborhood and improved the quality of life for many. Catholic Charities of Fort Worth was confronted with a different challenge. Many of the women that they resettled as refugees were having a difficult time finding gainful employment. Knowing that they had all learned the skill of knitting as young girls in their native culture, Catholic Charities of Fort Worth harnessed their talents and gave them employment through a cooperative to market up-scale scarves. They set their sights higher than local church bazaars. They brought in a
leading marketing firm to help them access desirable retail markets and are now supporting their agency and the women they are employing with the profits from their enterprise. These are examples of social innovation, one of the new paths redefining our sector. Over a year ago, Nancy Galaezzi (Des Moines) and Heather Reynolds (Fort Worth) came to me with the request that the national office facilitate the network‟s foray into the realm of social innovation. After a number of conversations with Professor Melissa Paulsen who heads the Gigot Center for Social Innovation at the Mendoza School of Business at the University of Notre Dame, we held our first ever Boot Camp for Social Innovation. Representatives of six of our agencies went to the Notre Dame campus in August for an intense week that culminated in the presentation of a business plan and case for a social venture to a panel who critiqued them in order to help make those ideas become reality. I am very happy to say that Melissa will be our keynote speaker this afternoon on this topic. Welcome, Melissa! So--the nonprofit world becoming involved in for-profit enterprises. Yes, this gives us another avenue to ensure the financial viability and stability of our organizations. But more importantly, it gives us another avenue through which to use the assets of our clients to create employment opportunities.
Some things in our world will never change. But there will always be change and we can either help create and define our future, or we can let others do it for us. There is an incredible amount of creativity throughout our network. If we work together to encourage that and promote that, we can bring about the positive social change which our charter from over a century ago prescribed. My friends, since we last convened one year ago, the world has seen many developments. One dramatic change for us as a Catholic organization was the election of Pope Francis. So, what do you think of our new pope? I find that in many circles, both expected and unexpected, there is incredible enthusiasm for both his message and style of leadership. I have lived now under seven popes. Each has brought their own gifts and style of leadership. In the recent past we have seen the charisma and almost rock-star-status of Pope John Paul II. We experienced the scholarly leadership of Pope Benedict and his gift to us of an encyclical on charity. And now we see Pope Francis, whose way of life has served to refocus the church‟s attention on the poor. But I am a little concerned, because he seems to be breaking the rules. And not everyone is comfortable with that. To wash the feet of a Muslim young woman on Holy Thursday. To ride in a simple Renault rather than the expected Mercedes Benz. To not live in the Apostolic Palace. And what happened to the red shoes? All of this from a man who said as one of his first thoughts: I want a church for the poor and of the poor.
There have been other leaders who have broken the rules. In the recent past we can think of Dorothy Day whose job seemed to be making everyone‟s conscience uneasy. St. Catherine of Sienna was not afraid to call the pope back to Rome from a life of ease in southern France because the church needed him. And if we go back to the pages of the Gospel, we read of a man who was not afraid to say that human beings are more important than the laws of the Sabbath; that it is God‟s place to judge, not ours, and that when he judges he does so with compassion; and who gave us a new teaching that it is in serving our neighbor that we actually serve our God. So, I guess Pope Francis is in pretty good company. As we continue our mission of serving the poor, he reminds us that we must first of all love them. We do this because deep within them they carry the image of our loving and gracious God. We do this because Jesus gave us an example that has become our mandate. As Catholic organizations, our work evangelizes because it is a vehicle of communication of God‟s love and acceptance of all human beings. We live the saying attributed to his namesake, St. Francis: Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words. One thing is certain. Pope Francis has assumed his role at a time when the need before us is great and growing: the largest number of people living in poverty ever; the largest number of people receiving food and nutrition assistance; continued downward pressure on funding from government and private donors alike. But as
we all know who have been around this business for some time, challenges are also opportunities. And as we look to our past we find great reason to hope. Because our history is one of challenges met and goals exceeded. As the iconic presence of the Golden Gate Bridge here in San Francisco serves as the backdrop for our conversation, so too does another iconic presence from Catholic Charities history. Msgr. John O‟Grady faced the challenge of the economic transition after World War I; the many challenges of the Great Depression; the housing challenge after World War II. Many of the great ideas that came from that time, including the Social Security Act, are ascribed to Msgr. O‟Grady. He was tireless in pursuing those great ideas, not letting anyone rest until there was a solution for those most vulnerable among us. But not everyone greeted his ideas and initiatives with enthusiasm or support. When he was trying to alleviate the incredible suffering of families in the Great Depression, some of the greatest reluctance came from social workers themselves. To them he addressed these words: “The timidity being developed by American social work during these days has prevented social work from taking up any discussions that would be regarded as unpopular. Social welfare is coming to be regarded as a very conservative institution. We are losing the old crusading attitude that was characteristic of social work, that is the life and the spirit of social work, that is the difference
between a social consciousness that works for the welfare of people as over and against a business budget as to how to feed people cheaply. …What‟s the matter with you people? You don‟t want to rock the boat. Well, you‟re going to rock that boat and change it or there won‟t be any boat for anyone…including social workers.” My friends, I think in the harshness of Msgr. O‟Grady‟s words, we can find important notes of encouragement. I suspect that if Msgr. O‟Grady were to do an assessment of this gathering today he would be moved by the dedication and passion for the poor that is so evident among you. I suspect he would be pleased at the creativity that seeks to dramatically improve the status quo. And I think he would be happy that we are continuing to rock the boat. Throughout our history the Catholic Charities movement has been a leader in bringing about pivotal social change. That is our legacy and heritage. And the great challenges and needs of today call us to do the same. Let us make the case against poverty. Let us work to make the big ideas we are talking about for our time become a reality. Let us find a way to build bridges to opportunity for more of the people in need. Because hope hangs in the balance for so many. I thank you for being here. I thank you for your work on behalf of the people you serve. And I thank you for your enduring dedication to our collective cause.
Let our daily prayer be: may God who has begun this great work in us bring it to fruition!
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