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Diocesan Catholic Charities presents local work to the national gathering in Buffalo

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Sally O’Dwyer, director of volunteers for Catholic Charities, and Margot Chavez, communications associate and volunteer coordinator, presented two talks at the 2018 Catholic Charities USA annual gathering in Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 12-14. The conference brought together Catholic Charities volunteers, professionals and partners in one place to attend workshops and presentations.

The local staff members participated on a panel discussion with other staffers from Albany and Central Texas titled “Increasing Impact through Strategic Parish Partnerships,” focused on the Parish Liaison Network. O’Dwyer and Chavez also presented “The Call.”

“Catholic Charities USA, by allowing us to present this on a national level, is recognizing that we are doing something right and that our model of working with the parishes is something that should be shared with other Catholic Charities,” said Chavez.

Chavez said a number of diocesan agencies are working to be more integrated with their local parishes. “There’s a number of Catholic Charities that are doing well and we are considered one of them,” she said.

O’Dwyer and Chavez talked about the structure and how Parish Liaison Network works, and shared information, including a handbook that they give to the liaisons.

Liaisons serve as the principal contact at their parish for matters relating to Catholic Charities, work cooperatively with the pastor to promote teamwork and collaboration, expand their knowledge of Catholic Charities’ work, and advertise and enlist support for agency programs and initiatives within the parish.
“They wanted to be able to allow the Catholic Charities that are attending to recognize the challenges and successes in working with parishes,” Chavez said.

The panel presentation drew many questions, including how to get support from parishes.

“The feedback I was getting was from agencies who struggle with getting parishes on board with them if the agency doesn’t provide a direct service to the parish,” she said. “There always are ways in which an agency can involve the parishes in the diocese by knowing and asking the needs of the parish and how they can collaborate with them.”

Their presentation, “The Call,” was geared toward showing volunteers how they can help. Chavez said people want to know how to discern.

“The reason Sally and I are passionate about this particular topic is because we have so many volunteers come through our doors and they say they feel they should volunteer but they don’t know how or where to start,” said Chavez.

Volunteer coordinators and directors of mission attended the presentation. Chavez said attendees were eager to provide the information to their agencies.

“We proposed the presentation as a way to promote volunteering in their dioceses and as a reminder to staff as to why they were doing what they were doing,” said Chavez. “The volunteer coordinators and directors of mission incorporate that language into the work they are doing, and remind staff regularly that there’s a higher purpose for their work.”

Chavez advises people to look at the areas where they already are passionate. “You probably already give money to a charity you care for and support, so why don’t you start to look at volunteer opportunities with that charity,” she said. “I imagine other Catholic Charities come across people who don’t know exactly how they want to serve, so it’s a rubric for them, as well as a way to get people excited and motivated.”

In addition to O’Dwyer and Chavez, Walaa Ali, program assistant for Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, shared her story during a plenary session. Ali, an Iraqi, came to the United States in 2012 under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. She served the U.S. government for more than seven years after the Iraq war, but received life-threatening messages for her support of the U.S. Ali was personally invited to speak by Dominican Sister Donna Markham, CCUSA president and CEO.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018