Editor’s note: Last May Catholic Social Services Executive Director Susan Bomalaski announced that she was planning to step down after serving in her post for nine years. Her successor, Lisa DH Aquino, was recently hired by the CSS Board of Trustees and will continue providing a column on social justice from Catholic Social Services. This is her first.
I would like to introduce myself to you. My name is Lisa DH Aquino. Raised in Anchorage, I graduated from Bartlett High School, received my undergraduate degree at UCLA and my Master’s at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. I have worked in public health for over 15 years managing large programs for the State of Alaska, including the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, and Healthy Alaskans 2020. I also worked abroad, for the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa, where I lead the effort to build and create a youth center in a local township community. In my work, I have used the science and practice of public health to improve lives.
I have been married for more than eight years to Chris Aquino, with whom I attended high school. I have two children, ages four and two, who are the light of my life.
My parents still live here in Anchorage, as do one of my brothers, my sister, uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws and lifelong friends – and I am absolutely blessed by their presence in my life. This network of love compels me to be a part of creating that same kind of network for those most in need.
The mission of Catholic Social Services is to serve the poor, strengthen families and help to build a just community. That mission speaks to me, and I imagine it speaks to most of us. It inspires me to stretch as a person.
I grew up as a parishioner of St. Patrick Church in Anchorage and am currently a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. When I hear the words, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16) and “As each has received a gift, use it to serve another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10), I am inspired.
Pope Francis, too, reminds us of the importance of serving our community, and reaching out to those most in need when he says: “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving voice to the cry of the poor.” Every day we all have opportunities to live those words and use the gifts we have been given. I have been given the great honor of living my beliefs through my work as the new executive director of Catholic Social Services.
Growing up in Alaska, I saw how critical the work of Catholic Social Services was. I volunteered at Brother Francis Shelter and collected food for the St. Francis House pantry. Every Christmas we went to Mass at Brother Francis Shelter and connected with individuals there, if only for that moment, hearing stories of sorrow and of hope. Seeing CSS in action was one of many factors that shaped my childhood and my vision of the future. I am humbled to lead such an important organization.
It provides services focusing on homeless families, families experiencing disabilities, refugees, and women and children in need, among many others. By serving these groups and countless others the work of CSS serves the entire community of Anchorage and Alaska as a whole. By giving assistance and support to people who need it, we strengthen our entire community.
I hope to continue to the great work of Susan Bomalaski, and further build on the immense strengths of the staff. I also hope to speak to the parishes of Anchorage and better connect their gifts and the work they are doing in their community with Catholic Social Services.
As we move forward I hope to be guided by the messages of Pope Francis and his namesake, Saint Francis. The Prayer of Saint Francis reminds us that “it is in giving that we receive.”
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.