Catholic Social Services in the midst of many changes

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Catholic Social Services just completed the reaccreditations process by the Council on Accreditation (COA) this summer. A team visited us in August and had many positive things to say. Their report emphasized three elements: Our excellent continuous quality improvement program; our engaged and knowledgeable board of trustees; and the strong sense of teamwork they observed with people respecting each other and focused on delivering outstanding services.

A week after the COA team left we received a letter from them stating that CSS had been reaccredited. They noted that we were expedited through the process as a result of “not receiving any out of compliance ratings in any of the fundamental practice standards. Congratulations on this amazing achievement.”

We are very pleased with the results and glad we don’t have to go through that for another four years!

As summer in Alaska turns into autumn, I am reminded of the familiar verses in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

At Catholic Social Services it is a season of change. Many of you know Ellen Krsnak who served as CSS director of Community Relations and Advocacy for 11 years and recently left to take a position with the Aleutian Pribolof Islands Community Development Association. Ellen and I often worked on the columns for the Catholic Anchor together and she was in charge of our media relations. I am happy for her in her new adventure but miss her wise counsel on all things related to communications. While Ellen’s departure created a vacancy that is difficult to fill, it is also an opportunity for new ideas and approaches to getting the word out about CSS.

Also, Karen Ferguson, Director of the CSS Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services program recently departed CSS for graduate school in Israel. She arrived there safely and is getting ready to begin her studies. CSS was fortunate to find a very qualified replacement for Karen in Jessica Kovarik. Jessica believes that our purpose in life is not only to find what we are good at and what we love, but also that which gives back to those in need, and feels she has found herself in the perfect position at CSS.

After graduating with a BA in International Environmental Policy, Jessica served two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in a rural indigenous community in the cloud forests of Panama where she worked with subsistence farmers, women’s groups and local community health groups. After her service, Jessica received a MA in International Human Rights and a Certificate in Humanitarian Assistance from the University of Denver. During her graduate studies, Jessica focused on refugee studies and worked with both domestic resettlement agencies in Denver as well as large international organizations such as Save the Children and International Rescue Committee. Jessica is happy and proud to be part of the CSS team serving recently resettled refugees in Alaska.

In preparation for life after CSS, I recently began a certificate program in Conflict Transformation through St. Mary’s University in San Antonio (the program is a combination of online and in residence coursework). At the same time, the CSS Board has been interviewing candidates for the executive director position, which makes my move from CSS very real. I am currently in the process of discerning next steps and even though my transition from CSS was a very thoughtful decision, it will be difficult to leave the relationships I have developed with staff, volunteers and supporters. Hopefully the relationships will not end but evolve.

As I come to terms with this significant life change, it helps me to remember that every change brings opportunities for growth and to reflect on the words in Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I have faith that the CSS board will choose a leader for CSS who will bring new vision, ideas and energy for working collaboratively with you and other stakeholders to implement the CSS mission: “To compassionately serve the poor and vulnerable, strengthen individuals and families and advocate for social justice.”

 

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


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