Local fight against poverty renewed by CCHD

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

As a sociology professor at St. Cloud State University, Stephen Philion believes in putting into action what he is teaching.

About two and a half years ago, Philion and several other community leaders came together to discuss forming a new non-profit organization — the Greater Minnesota Worker Center — to go beyond standard social service programs. They wanted a way to train low-wage workers how to organize themselves to secure the rights that they are often denied in their workplaces, Philion said.


Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud

In particular, the organization has worked with East African refugees and immigrants and is now part of an effort to assist local SuperAmerica workers in addressing fair wage, scheduling and safety issues.

The Greater Minnesota Worker Center is one of this year’s grant recipients from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Each year parishes are asked to participate in the CCHD collection, which is then redistributed in the form of local and national grants benefiting organizations that help low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families and communities.

“For me, it’s important to address the root causes of poverty,” Philion said, “and that’s one of the main things CCHD stands for. We take that effort seriously through community-based organizing.”

What that means for the employees of the 22 local SuperAmerica stores — four corporate-owned and 18 franchises in St. Cloud and surrounding areas — is that the organization will help them find their voices in speaking up for their rights in the workplace.

The center began a campaign last May to raise employees wages, and by July workers in the four corporate stores received an increase in wages of $1.50 per hour and were treated to a family fun day.

“Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to the franchises,” Philion said. “So we are working for the raises and policy changes that occurred at the corporate stores to take place in the franchises as well.”

The Greater Minnesota Worker Center will receive $40,000 from CCHD grants to continue their efforts and fund general operating costs like renting office space and staffing two full-time organizers, Ahmed Ali and Alisha Williams.

“It is very important to secure grants like the one from CCHD so we could afford to hire qualified staff so the vision we had could be put into action,” he said.

How it works

Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, is the diocese’s local director of CCHD. She meets with a variety of non-profits to see if they meet the criteria of CCHD.

“With the 25 percent of the collection that stays in the diocese, I developed a grant application process so that local groups could apply for start-up funding or ‘seed money’ to help them on their way,” Langer said. “Each of these small grants are approved by Bishop [Donald] Kettler and I need to make sure that the money goes to groups that follow the intent of the CCHD, which is to fight poverty.”

Annually, she visits the sites of the funded groups and is part of the review process for the national grant program, working with CCHD grant specialist Kate Dorsett.
“CCHD grants have helped many people across this country and in our diocese lift themselves out of poverty,” Langer said. “That brings hope to people who have little hope for something better.”

Groups that apply for national grants request an amount based on a budget they submit to Langer, who reviews the grants with Dorsett and a local CCHD committee. The finalists are sent to Bishop Kettler and then to a final committee of bishops in Washington, D.C.

This year, in addition to the Greater Minnesota Worker Center, grants were awarded to the Yes Network — a group of volunteers that prepares and distributes meals to underprivileged children — and Asamblea de Derechos Civiles — a faith-based, Latino-led organization that advocates for all immigrants. The total for the three grants is around $100,000.

“The biggest thing is creating leadership, teaching people how to stand up for their rights and to be leaders in their community. That’s our biggest hope,” Langer said.
She also writes and submits a grant request to help fund a local CCHD intern for her office.

Each year, two CCHD directors are chosen to help with the training of the new CCHD directors from across the country. This year, Langer was asked to help with that training.

“It is an honor to be asked to help new diocesan directors. I am looking forward to working with the bishops and CCHD national staff and sharing what I have learned,” she said. “I know that I will learn many things, too, that will help me in my work with CCHD here in the diocese.”