September 14, 2011 // Local

Catholic Charities director Claire Coleman

Adoptee brings the caring full circle

By Jodi Magallanes

SOUTH BEND — Thirty-some years ago, Claire Coleman’s parents introduced her to the first in a series of unwed mothers whom the family would sponsor through Catholic Charities. In January, Coleman became the head of Catholic Charities’ West Region and is leading the agency that she’s known for most of her life.

Coleman was raised in South Bend with an unmistakable mandate to give service and care to those who needed assistance. The family actively supported Catholic Charities while also participating in and volunteering at St. Augustine Parish.

By the time she was ready for college, Coleman felt called to a career of service. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in social studies at the University of Saint Francis, followed by an MPA in human services from Indiana University, South Bend.

“I knew I was interested in working in the nonprofit sector,” Coleman said. “At first I just wasn’t sure which path I wanted to take. I think it’s because we were raised to think you should use your talents to give back.”

Before joining the administrative team of Catholic Charities, Coleman was using her talents in the alumni relations and development office of Saint Joseph’s High School. But she thought that Catholic Charities could offer her the chance to contribute directly to the community, take on new challenges and meet the needs of new people.

“Plus, my mom was a mentor on this board,” Coleman said. “We knew the young unwed mothers and were a foster family for the infants prior to placement. In fact, one of the women I still admire very much was (former Catholic Charities social worker) Peggy Donovan. She made a big impact on me.”

Coleman revealed that she has one other tie to the agency she now helps to lead: she is an adoptee who was placed by Catholic Charities.

She’s glad to be reunited with the organization and able to support its mission. Staff members have oriented her and made her inaugural months welcoming, she said, even though the period has been pressured due to the RSVP program moving back into the Catholic Charities office and the Christmas programs gearing up.

It was also obvious to Coleman that additional volunteers were needed — a situation that requires ongoing attention. She has restructured the hours of the office’s food pantry and spends her down time there listening to the clients’ stories.

Community groups and teenagers — including her own — come to assist at the food pantry, which brings full circle for Coleman a cycle of needing assistance, learning to assist and then teaching others to value the gift of giving of themselves.

“I think we’ve given the kids an awareness of what was going on in the community, and of who our neighbors are who are in need,” she said.

Catholic Charities is always anxious to hear from potential volunteers or anyone offering financial support for the agency’s work. For information call the west region office, 1817 Miami St., at (574) 234-3111. The Fort Wayne office, located at 315 E. Washington Blvd., can be reached by calling (260) 422- 5625 or (800) 686-7459.

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