Grounded in compassion

Prepares volunteer Sheila Davis. Photo: Stephen Brashear Prepares volunteer Sheila Davis. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Catholic social teaching is the heart of Catholic Community Services, our state’s largest nonprofit social services agency

Last December, Heather Scribner was struggling — she had unpaid utility bills, no Christmas tree and no gifts for her two young kids. Then, on Christmas Eve, she got an eviction notice.

But Sheila Davis had her back.

“I was calling around to find out if she could go to one of these shelters because she has kids,” said Davis, a volunteer with Prepares, a program of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington.

As Davis was scrambling on that end, Scribner managed to get a one-week extension on her eviction. She soon found a new apartment, but still was short $600 on the deposit. And Scribner couldn’t get the utilities turned on until she paid the bill from her old apartment.

Out of the blue, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception/Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Everett (where Davis coordinates the Prepares ministry) donated $800, telling Davis to use it for whatever was needed.

“At that very moment I just thought the Holy Spirit is totally wanting that situation to come out good,” said Davis, a mother of four who has been a Prepares “companion” to the 34-year-old Scribner since September 2016.

Heather Scribner and her children had a tree and gifts last Christmas, through the help of Prepares companion Sheila Davis. Photo: Sheila Davis

Prepares, launched in 2014, is an initiative of Washington state’s bishops to “walk the journey” with parents and families who lack a support network. Assistance — available as needed from pregnancy through the child’s fifth birthday — can range from diapers and clothing to the emotional support of a companion like Davis.

“She’s always been there to help anytime I have any problem or anything,” Scribner said. Davis checks in regularly to see how she’s doing and provide encouragement. “It’s helped out a lot, really. She’s awesome.”

Active in nearly 50 parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle, Prepares had served nearly 1,900 individuals and families in the archdiocese as of July 2017, said Erin Maguire, Prepares’ Western Washington coordinator.

Prepares is just a part of the effort by CCS and Catholic Housing Services to help the poor and vulnerable in communities throughout Western Washington, “to respond where others just won’t go,” as CCS President Michael Reichert says.

Today, nearly 100 years after organized Catholic outreach began in Seattle, CCS/CHS offers more than 170 programs and is the state’s largest nonprofit social services agency. Rooted in the Gospel, its compassionate service and support embraces the homeless, elderly, veterans, families, immigrants, the mentally ill and those with addictions.

The power of women

The origins of CCS can be traced back to 1918, after World War I and the influenza epidemic left children orphaned and abandoned. Ten prominent Catholic women in Seattle formed a social welfare organization to help find homes for these children, as an alternative to crowded orphanages.

The Seattle Council of Catholic Women was formed in 1918 with the blessing of Seattle Bishop Edward O’Dea. Lilly Peabody, a mother of 10 (including two who died as infants), was the first president.

“It’s amazing that these women saw the need and did something,” said Sue Lynch, a member of Assumption Parish in Seattle. Lynch and JoAnne King, also an Assumption parishioner, co-authored For the Least of These, a book about the early history of the council (now called the Association for Catholic Childhood). “Nobody set any rules of how you do this,” Lynch said. “They just did it and it just kind of came from their heart.”

The organization grew, with members holding teas, garden parties and other fundraisers to support Catholic children, with the help of parishes around the area. In those days, Lynch explained, Catholic homes were sought for children who had Catholic backgrounds. The council wasn’t the only group in Seattle focused on helping children, and it worked closely with religious orders, the city and other organizations.

Some of the council members welcomed children into their own homes, while other children were placed in temporary or adoptive homes in the Seattle area and eventually in far-flung cities like Bellingham, Longview, Yakima and Toppenish. The council even ran an employment agency in Seattle during the Depression.

In Tacoma, a similar mission to help homeless and orphaned children and single mothers got under way in 1923, when the Catholic Women’s Club organized the Catholic Welfare Bureau.

But a major change was on the horizon: After Bishop O’Dea died in 1932, Bishop Gerald Shaughnessy became leader of Western Washington’s flock. In 1936, he created Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Seattle to coordinate all charitable works in the diocese, and hired professional Catholic caseworkers.

“That’s how CCS really began,” Lynch said.

Embracing the poor

In the seven decades since, Catholic Community Services has responded to needs throughout the archdiocese, adding a wide range of services, from homeless shelters to children’s mental health services (see a list on page 21.

“We embrace the preferential option for the poor,” said Reichert, the CCS president. “We are following [Pope] Francis and the bishops in Francis’ call to be in solidarity with our sisters and brothers.”

Maxine Alexander, right, gets encouragement and help with her knitting from Edith, a home care aide from Catholic Community Services' Long Term Care program. Photo: Courtesy CCSWW

When Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen hired Reichert in 1979, his task was consolidating the archdiocese’s individually operating Catholic agencies. Today, CCS has a budget of $161 million, with 75 percent of its revenue coming from government fees and contracts for services provided to the community. Another 10 percent comes from donations, including the CCS Week fundraiser each December.

Through its three regional offices and dozen family centers, CCS partners with communities, parishes and deaneries to respond to localized needs. Its Long Term Care System provides home care services throughout the archdiocese, as does the Family Behavioral Health System, which provides specialized services to children at high risk, especially those in foster care, Reichert said.

Catholic Housing Services, which didn’t exist when Reichert came on board, manages 56 affordable housing sites (some with supportive services) for single adults, families, seniors and people with special needs. It is the largest nonprofit provider of affordable farmworker housing, and operates 23 year-round and seasonal homeless shelters, many in partnership with parishes.

In addition to 3,500 employees, CCS relies on more than 10,000 volunteers like Davis, the Prepares companion, to help their neighbors in need.

As CCS begins its second century, a new initiative is under way to create a “Catholic collaboration network” in the archdiocese, Reichert said. In response to Who Is My Neighbor?, the state bishops’ pastoral letter on poverty, CCS is assigning staff members in each region to work specifically with parishes and deaneries. The aim is being “as responsive as they can be to the needs around them,” Reichert said.

CCS is just a piece of the Catholic outreach story, Reichert said, supplementing the good works done by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the parishes of the archdiocese.

“The poor need the whole Catholic Church,” he said, “not just Catholic Community Services.”

CCS home care aides make life easier for Gig Harbor couple

These days, Maxine Alexander can see only light and dark. But with the encouragement of Edith, a home care aide from Catholic Community Services’ Long Term Care program, Maxine can still knit up a storm.

Both women have been knitting for decades, so “we can sit and talk about something that we both know something about,” said Maxine, who lives in Gig Harbor with her husband, Garry.

In the last couple of years, Maxine has donated more than 100 knitted hats for the homeless. She is especially proud of a lavender sweater, the first one she made after her vision finally failed due to a hereditary condition. Recently, she completed a sparkly green sweater from a pattern designed by Edith.

For nearly two years, Edith has been coming to the Alexanders’ home, providing friendship and helping with household chores, meal preparation and mobility assistance for Maxine, who also has pulmonary fibrosis. In 2016, CCS provided home care services to nearly 27,000 people like Maxine.

The Alexanders, married 59 years, both benefit from having caregivers five mornings and three afternoons each week, giving Maxine the assistance she needs and Garry a needed break from caregiving and household duties.

As Maxine’s vision slowly declined over the years, she had to give up her hobbies — including needlepoint, counted cross-stitch and sewing.

“When you can’t do something that you’ve always done, it’s depressing,” she said. “You’ve gotta have something to fall back on.”

She is working to strengthen her legs so she can once again ride on the back of Garry’s motorcycle, something they’ve enjoyed for years. “It just feels so good, free, especially since I can’t see it anymore,” Maxine said.

Despite what she’s lost, Maxine feels lucky to have her family, her knitting and audiobooks, and her CCS caregivers. “If it wasn’t for the [CCS] services, I’d probably be a lot further behind than I am,” she said.

CCS shelter, supportive housing, 'saved my life'

Just released from the county jail in downtown Kent, Dennis Bateman was at a crossroads.

He could walk one direction and return to life on the streets. Or he could head the other direction, toward the state community supervision office, and a new existence with the help of Catholic Community Services.

That day, Bateman realized “I wasted my whole life just surviving.” He suffered abuse in foster homes after his mother abandoned him and his four siblings, and began living on the streets at age 13. Over the years, Bateman turned to property crimes and drugs, spent time in prison and jails, and saw some of those closest to him die.

“I said, ‘OK, God, I’m done. I’ve tried all my life to do it myself, and look where I’m at.’”

Trusting God, he took that walk to the community supervision office. An hour later, he was in an overnight shelter operated by CCS, hosted that month at Holy Spirit Parish in Kent. “Getting into CCS and going to these [host] churches, it kind of stirred my spirit up,” Bateman said.

A year later, in January 2014, Bateman was approved to move into Patrick Place Apartments, a supportive complex for the chronically homeless, operated by Catholic Housing Services in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

The transition wasn’t easy — the first few nights, Bateman returned to the familiarity of the shelter in Kent. But since then, the services available at Patrick Place have helped Bateman, now 64, overcome his past, get clean and set positive goals as he forges a new path.

“They saved my life,” he said. “I will advocate for CCS until I die.”

Bateman has spoken at the local, state and national levels about the difficulty ex-felons have getting jobs and housing. He has volunteered at Seattle’s Solanus Casey Center (a joint effort of CCS and St. James Cathedral) and serves on the board of the Fremont Neighborhood Council. Recently, he landed a job working at a homeless shelter in Seattle’s University District.

“Without God this never would have happened,” Bateman said. “It’s been quite a ride for me. It’s like I’m ready to just take on the world now.”

CCS by the numbers

1.96 million hours of in-home care provided
1.38 million meals prepared and served
505,694 hours donated by 10,273 volunteers
239,927 nights of shelter for the homeless
14,058 clients received counseling and mental health services
5,372 clients received addiction services
4,272 clients received permanent housing

Source: CCS 2016 Annual Report

Northwest Catholic - December 2017

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at