Catholic Charities officials acknowledged challenges awaiting them as they hosted the official launch Tuesday of their 2019 Appeal. Those challenges include seeking continued support from the public following a controversial decision to end its longtime foster and adoption services. But there is also good news for the organization: on day one of its drive, it already has $1.4 million pledged toward its overall goal.
This year's goal is, once again, $11 million. Last year, it was explained, more than 152,000 people were served in Western New York through dozens of programs administered by Catholic Charities.
"Many people are suprised to hear that Catholic Charities is the most comprehensive human service provider in Western New York, serving all eight counties with 70 programs in 61 sites," said John Daly, who along with wife Ruthann is co-chairing this year's Appeal.
To begin a drive with $1.4 million already donated is unprecedented for Catholic Charities. The money, leaders say, came from several individuals whose gifts are being received as a significant vote of confidence.
"We're very happy and pleased that, as a show of strength, people came forward and said 'I want to give my gift now,'" said Dennis Walczyk, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities. "We're strong. We're going to make the goal and we'll continue to serve the needs of people in Western New York."
The appeal runs through June 30. The theme of this year is "Help Your Neighbor Find Hope." During the Tuesday kickoff news conference, Ruthann Daly announced that the patron saint of this year's campaign is Saint Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who Catholic faithful believe received visions of Jesus and inspired the Church's devotion to Divine Mercy. She lived from 1905 to 1938 and was canonized in 2000.
Walczyk and others acknowledge a challenge facing this year's campaign. It's the first since Catholic Charities announced it was ending its longtime foster care and adoption services. The decision was made due a conflict with New York State laws which require same-sex couples are allowed the same right to adopt children as heterosexual couples. That clashes with Catholic doctrine, which recognizes marriage as a union between man and woman exclusively.
Bishop Richard Malone, who was in attendance, was asked if there were concerns about how potential donors might react to the change.
"We have answers to that that may not satisfy everybody but I hope that doesn't distract people from the larger good that Catholic Charities continues to do," Bishop Malone said. "Even though that program has been discontinued, the charities will continue to serve people of all faiths, all sexual orientation, in every other way that we always have."
Children and families affected by Catholic Charities' decision, Walczyk told WBFO, have since been linked to other agencies while employees affected, he added, have found other positions.
Among the programs showcased by Catholic Charities at its Appeal kickoff was its new Workforce and Education Services Training Center, relocated to space in the former American Axle plant at 1001 East Delevan on Buffalo's East Side.
Evone Hardy is one of its students. She explained that she saw a sign for the service while walking down the street on an errand, then observed students leaving the building. After a conversation with some of them, she enrolled into the program.
"I started the next day," she said. "Everything has been wonderful. Everybody is great here. They treat me like family. We are like a family here."