Catholic Social Services: 50 years of help & hope in Alaska

“Do not give up your dreams of a more just world!” Recently the pope tweeted this inspiring message to young people of the world. What a message about the future! At Catholic Social Services we take that message to heart in kicking off our 50th anniversary celebration in Alaska.

Starting as a small food pantry on 3rd Avenue, we have at our root addressing family struggling with poverty and homelessness in Anchorage. Last month Effie Caldarola wrote a wonderful piece in this paper chronicling the history of Catholic Social Services. The article mentions many important milestones along our journey and it speaks to our mission and our special gift as an agency.

We have a long and rich history of serving the underserved. Together with our supporters we have transformed from a small food pantry in a tiny house on 3rd Avenue to a multi-faceted organization with eight hope-inspiring programs. These include two emergency shelters for adults and families experiencing homelessness, a home for teen boys, the busiest food pantry in town, homeless case management services, adoption and a pregnancy support program; services for people with disabilities and their families, and the state refugee resettlement program.

To best serve the community, these programs are run efficiently. Maximizing our resources, we strive to use professional expertise and evidence-based practice. This is provided from a place of love and respect, honoring Catholic social teachings and the work of so many people over the past 50 years who have dedicated their time and support to help those in need. It’s inspiring to say, inspiring to hear and even more inspiring to see it in action.

I recently attended a conference and met a young woman. She was a university student studying social work. She and a group of her peers asked about how to best serve women and children experiencing homelessness, and about our program at Clare House. After the session, this woman thanked me for answering the questions. I expressed my gratitude for her interest and her passion for homeless families. She explained that for her it was very real. She had grown up at Clare House, off and on, as her mother struggled with economic challenges. She told me that Clare House had been a safe place for her, and inspired her to complete her studies and focus on helping others. I thanked her again and embraced her. Just a few days later, I had the opportunity to hear a story about the planning involved in beginning the original Clare House. I heard about personal passion among a group of people to help women and children with nowhere to go. This group felt strongly that it was unacceptable to have women and children without option on the streets of their community. Their passion was palpable and continues to live on in women such as the young lady I met. All of that passion has led to a successful program in Clare House.

These stories are not unique, but they are so special. Each program at Catholic Social Services shares similar stories. Families and individuals impacted by challenges very difficult to overcome alone are being aided by community members working together to create solutions to help their neighbors. From these solutions hope is inspired and future generations take up these challenging issues with renewed energy and passion. This speaks to the heart of why Catholic Social Services came into existence, and why I know we will survive for many years to come. Our tagline, “providing help and creating hope,” says it brilliantly. I began with a quote from Pope Francis to young people, but I think it speaks to all of us. Catholic Social Services is our vehicle to create a more just world, and a more just community. I want to thank the community of Anchorage for driving that vehicle and helping our neighbors and those in greatest need.

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit

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