As a reader of the Catholic Anchor you are a key stakeholder of Catholic Social Services (CSS), and many of you are supportive of me personally. Because of these relationships I want to let you know about my plans to transition from CSS where I have served as executive director for more than eight years. It has been a great journey and has definitely been the most challenging and rewarding position I have ever held.
Last fall I informed the board of trustees that I planned to transition out of CSS within a year to further my personal and professional growth. I also feel it is time for new vision at CSS. The board of trustees has begun a search process to find a qualified candidate.
I have begun planning for my future. Due to the large number of people we serve and the visibility of our programs in the community, CSS is frequently confronted with challenging situations. From these experiences I have learned the value of intentional listening and conversation as a vehicle to address differences. As part of the process in discerning my next steps, I began researching various programs in conflict mediation, looking for one that would incorporate faith-based peacemaking and also mediation. During this process I received a publication from St. Mary’s, the Marianist University in San Antonio, Texas, where I earned my Ph.D. in counseling. We all have experienced times when God puts something in our path that offers an answer to a question we were asking. The publication had an article titled, “Lessons in Peace,” which talked about their certificate program in conflict transformation. After reading the article and exploring the program’s website, I decided to pursue the certificate. It is an opportunity to apply experiences I have gained at CSS, along with my academic training and counseling, to facilitate groups in overcoming conflict.
Also influencing my decision is the knowledge I gained by taking classes in anthropology through the University of Alaska. These classes informed my job as CSS executive director and I have incorporated them into trainings such as on race and ethnicity as part of “Stand against Racism” events in Anchorage. I was also able to attend the Peacemaker’s Ministries Conflict Coaching and Mediation Training offered by Beyond Borders, an Anchorage based non-profit. This intensive program incorporated a faith-based approach to mediation. At CSS I often engage in informal mediation in an attempt to resolve stakeholder issues. Consensus building is part of life at CSS, and it is necessary in our work to advocate for the many issues faced by people we serve. These issues include immigration and challenges effecting refugees, the many facets of homelessness, adoption, prisoner re-entry, criminal justice, individuals with developmental disabilities and food security.
When communications with a local community council were proving challenging, I applied for and received a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum to conduct a series of conversations using the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Difficult Dialogues model. I consulted with UAA staff and faculty to write the proposal, implement the grant and publish a final report, which proved that the Difficult Dialogues principles can be applied in the community.
Anchorage is a very diverse city, however, there is still much work to be done in overcoming racism. This is demonstrated by the recent comments of a candidate for the Anchorage School Board using incorrect information to blame newly arriving refugees for problems in the school district. The increasing numbers of homeless individuals and their impact on the community is also an area in which to apply conflict resolution.
My work at CSS has brought me in contact with representatives from many faith communities in Anchorage. This group will be interested in applying conflict transformation concepts in our efforts to bring people together in Anchorage. I am also interested in using the skills I acquire to work in a global setting as opportunities arise.
While I will be at CSS until the end of 2014, I wanted to let you know about my plans before the board advertises the position. Meanwhile there is a lot going on at CSS: the World Refugee Day celebration will be held on June 20, 4-7 p.m., in the Mt. View Lion’s Park along with the annual summertime fundraisers for Clare House.
Thank you for all your support of CSS in so many ways. Together we provide help and create hope in the lives of many who are in need.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.