New program aims to empower the needy

Record Photo by Ruby Thomas
Tialisha Lumpkin discussed her new role as Catholic Charities’ community organizer late last month. Lumpkin was hired in July.

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Report

Low-income individuals who seek services from Catholic Charities of Louisville will soon find they are being encouraged to address the personal hardships they are
experiencing.

Thanks to a $50,000 grant awarded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Catholic Charities is developing a new program that aims to bring about “systemic” change to lift low-income individuals out of poverty, said Deacon Lucio Caruso, director of mission for Catholic Charities. The CCHD is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a yearly collection is taken up in parishes across the country — in the Archdiocese of Louisville that collection was taken up Nov. 17-18.

Catholic Charities has hired Tialisha Lumpkin — a recent graduate of the University of Louisville — to fill the role of community organizer, said Deacon Caruso. Lumpkin, whose educational background is in political science and economics,  was hired in July.

Deacon Caruso said this new grant and program “addresses one of the things I’ve heard (from employees) many times at Catholic Charities. ‘We keep seeing the same people. We’re really not making a real difference.’ ”

Lumpkin said her role as community organizer will aim to make that “difference” by helping low-income individuals find their voice. She said she believes this might be a long-term answer to the plight of individuals in need.

“What better place to find the voice of the community than in the community affected the most?” said Lumpkin during an interview last month. “A voice in a crowd is just a voice in a crowd, but when you come together on common issues and you direct that voice you can have a symphony of voices that is heard directly and not ignored.”

Lumpkin’s office will be working in collaboration with the local grassroots advocacy organization, CLOUT (Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together), which also was awarded a $65,000 grant from the CCHD.

In preparation for this role, Lumpkin has spent time learning how the organizers at CLOUT go about their work in the community with the intention of following their model.

She has also been getting to know the clients served by Catholic Charities’ Sister Visitor Center, Mother-Infant Care Program and the Bahkita Empowerment Initiative, which addresses human trafficking.

“I’m working with case managers and clients of Catholic Charities programs. I’m building relationships in order to discuss systemic issues,” said Lumpkin.

She said she’s aware that this will not happen overnight.

“It takes time to build a relationship with a person who feels they’ve been oppressed for a long time.”

The goal is to get to know clients, foster relationships and identify leaders who will be trained to organize their community to be better heard. Lumpkin said she will help to build networks among the clients and connect them to CLOUT so they have additional support in the community.

Randall Keesler, who serves as a grants specialist for the CCHD, said this approach is one that can give low-income individuals “real power.”

Keesler said that the poor tend to have fewer relationships and networks of people.

“They are in the world by themselves often trying to solve problems with very little resources,” said Keesler in an interview in late October. “Community organizing is a more communal approach. It’s trying to help poor people develop those relationships so that they can solve problems as a group.”

It also has the potential to change people’s concept of who they are, Keesler said.

“They’re no longer people who are just acted upon, but people who can act and play a role in society.”

Keesler added that this grant awarded to Catholic Charities is unique. He said that while Catholic Charities agencies around the country offer “wonderful” services there’s only been a couple to implement a program to work with clients in this manner.

“If this project bears fruit it can be very powerful and have an impact on other Catholic Charities agencies,” he said.

While CLOUT and Catholic Charities have plans to work together, the organizers at CLOUT will also be using the recently awarded funds to further the work they do to empower needy individuals in the community.

The fact that CLOUT also received a financial award is a “sign of support that what we’re doing is being recognized,” said Father William Burks, pastor of St. John Paul II Church. “It reaffirms what we’re doing on the local level, which is to be unified in bringing about a better quality of life for people. We want to be people of action when it comes to issues such as affordable housing, restorative justice and transportation.”

St. John Paul II hosted CLOUT’s yearly Community Problems Assembly earlier this month and 90 members of the parish are actively engaged in the organization.

All the issues CLOUT champions are “important and valid,” Father Burks said, adding that he hopes the grant will be as “far-reaching and inclusive” as possible and that it is used in part to provide services to low-income senior citizens.

“We’re the people of God trying to bring about a clearer vision on how to lift our brothers and sisters up who may not have what others take for granted,” he said.

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