Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Catholic Charities introduced a new concept in its efforts to eradicate poverty in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend: Generation Zero, the first generation of children free from poverty. This is the story of how one of its programs, Stay the Course, is helping families achieve that goal.
Marcus (whose name has been changed to maintain privacy) had a rough beginning. He dropped out of high school to support his pregnant girlfriend. Eventually they got married, but with no education, they could only find minimum-wage jobs that barely paid the bills. Tragedy struck when opioid addiction claimed the life of his young wife. Marcus and his daughter suddenly found themselves homeless, with very poor prospects for improving their circumstances.
A friend introduced them to Catholic Charities. First, Marcus’ daughter received grief counseling to deal with the loss of her mother. Meanwhile, Marcus got help earning his GED diploma, which in turn allowed him to enter Stay the Course, a free program offered through Catholic Charities to low-income students that offers them the opportunity to earn a community college degree. Now, with greatly enhanced earnings potential, Marcus is looking forward to advancing in a career. Moreover, he is a model for success for his daughter, who is on course to join the ranks of Generation Zero.
For families in Marcus’ situation, the key to their success is most often receiving case-management services from a professional social worker over an extended period of time.
“The reason [for case-management services] is that seemingly small things can become major obstacles,” said Senior Administrative Officer Bobbie Golani, who oversees the program. “Our navigators help participants eliminate personal barriers and teach techniques to persevere through difficult times. We have discovered that this long-term commitment yields the greatest success for those we serve.”
Stay the Course originated at Catholic Charities of Fort Worth and was evaluated by researchers with the Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities at the University of Notre Dame. Since the inception of Stay the Course, LEO has been gathering data on the progress of the participants in the Fort Worth, Texas, area and the results to date are very encouraging:
1. After three years, Stay the Course students were two times more likely to stay in school; female Stay the Course students were almost four times more likely to stay in school.
2. Twenty-five percent of female Stay the Course students completed a degree or certificate after three years, compared to almost no one in the relevant comparison group
3. After completing one year in the program, the second group of students were two times less likely to drop out of school than the relevant comparison group.
The local Catholic Charities organization was selected as a Stay the Course replication site from a competitive field of other organizations across the nation. Like Fort Worth, it is collaborating on this program with LEO, which is gathering data on the program here. Students participating in Stay the Course attend Ivy Tech Fort Wayne.
“We were thrilled to be chosen to participate in this project because it’s such a great fit for us,” said Golani. “We have been operating our ECHO program for more than 20 years, so we know the great value that Stay the Course will add to our community.”
ECHO stands for Education Creates Hope and Opportunity. The program has helped thousands of pregnant teens graduate from high school, with many going on to post-secondary education. Catholic Charities began the program because, statistically, girls who get pregnant in high school only have a 40 percent chance of graduating. This typically consigns them to a life of poverty. If they enter ECHO, however, their graduation rate climbs to 90+ percent. Like Stay the Course, ECHO clients frequently receive years of support to help them overcome obstacles, adjust to motherhood and build a better future through education.
Programs such as Stay the Course and ECHO help achieve Catholic Charities’ ultimate goal, which is to eradicate poverty in this diocese. These are just two possible components in its continuum of services that it calls The Bridge to Self-Sufficiency, an approach that emphasizes cultivating talents, addressing complex social barriers and inculcating those it serves with a sense of independence and personal achievement.
To learn more about the work of Catholic Charities, visit www.ccfwsb.org. To help, prayerfully consider sponsoring a family like Marcus and his daughter. This can be done online at www.ccfwsb.org/donate or by emailing [email protected]
Gloria Whitcraft is the CEO of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
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