“The Pope exhorted us to pray courageously,” began Kevin Hickey, executive director of Catholic Charities Camden, referring to Pope Francis’ 2013 homily in which he said that prayer “that is not courageous is not a real prayer.”
Sr. Mary Lou Lafferty, Catholic Charities’ prison ministry coordinator, closed the evening.
“Good and gracious God, we thank you for the food we shared this evening, especially in a world where so many walk in hunger. We thank you for the faith we shared this evening, especially in a world where so many walk in fear. We thank you for the friends and the fellowship we shared this evening, especially in a world where so many people walk alone…We thank you for all here who made this gathering possible so that Catholic Charities may continue to provide for all those in the Camden Diocese who walk in hunger, who walk in fear, who walk alone.”
The evening cocktail hour and dinner, held at the Adelphia Grand Ballroom in Deptford, N.J., raised about $60,000 after expenses through ticket sales, sponsorships, and donations. The money is used to provide direct assistance to the clients Catholic Charities serves throughout the six southern New Jersey counties in programs ranging from homelessness prevention, to financial management, to immigrant and refugee services, to food pantries, to school-based counseling services and many more.
“Catholic charities’ presence is the face of Christ in places where Christ’s face has not been seen and is not known. I visited every one of their offices and one of my goals is to duplicate and even triplicate that effort in the six counties of the diocese, because the work of Catholic Charities is so critical to the work of the Church and for the good of God’s kingdom among us,” said Bishop Dennis Sullivan, who offered remarks at the dinner and presented awards.
The dinner honored the extraordinary service contributions of the recipients of the Justice in ACTION awards, given in two categories. This year’s individual ACTION awards were presented to three long-serving volunteers with Catholic Charities’ family and community services center in Atlantic City. The organizational ACTION awarded was given to Andy Lipenta, state deputy for the Knights of Columbus in New Jersey and honored the work of the Knights in the state, and particularly in the Camden diocese.
Patricia (Patty) Bivins, Virginia (GG) Brannigan, and Kathryn (Kay) Noble, known collectively as ‘The Troops,’ have served the poor of Atlantic City through Catholic Charities for nearly 30 years each. Their volunteer work has included visiting shut-ins in Atlantic City, acting as liaisons between families and nursing home staff, orchestrating the Christmas toy drive program, and working directly with the homeless through the center’s food pantry and thrift shop.
Gracie’s Thrift Shop, named for former director of the Atlantic City Catholic Charities center and mentor to the three women, Sister Grace Nolan, has been a particular focus of the volunteers. The shop serves men, women and children, selling clothing and household items at highly affordable prices. Since 2000 the shop has generated over $260,000, which is funneled directly back towards the clients the center serves to help stave off evictions, prevent utility shutoffs, pay for prescriptions, and other direct assistance.
“I think the Lord put us here for a purpose, and that is one of the purposes: to be careful of how we treat everybody, to be respectful to everyone that we come in contact with, and to continue to instill that in our families, in our children and grandchildren,” Bivins said.
The women were honored in 2013 with the New Jersey State Governor’s Thomas Jefferson award for public service. They were also finalists for Catholic Charities USA 2014 Volunteer of the Year Award, given by the national agency each year to those who “exemplify the mission and spirit of Catholic Charities in order to make a difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters in need.”
“My years in Atlantic city have been the most wonderful, rewarding years of my life. We see Christ in every person we serve,” Brannigan said.
Andy Lipenta, state deputy for the New Jersey Knights of Columbus, was honored with the organizational ACTION award, accepting only on behalf of his fellow Knights of Columbus.
“I gladly accept this honor on behalf of the other 9,000 knights in the diocese of Camden and the 64,000 knights in the state of New Jersey. These knights, representing the 330 councils in the state and 70 sub-councils in this diocese, are the real backbone of the Knights of Columbus; they are the workers in the vineyard,” Lipenta said.
After accepting his award, Lipenta presented a $5,000 donation from the knights to Bishop Sullivan on behalf of Catholic Charities.
At the end of the evening, Jennifer Dyer, assistant director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Camden, took to the stage accompanied by several Catholic Charities staff members representing an array of the agency’s programs. They stood in a line behind Dyer holding colored signs with the words “kids,” “school,” “job,” “language,” “medical needs,” and “mental health,” among others.
Dyer presented the agency’s “juggle challenge” initiative, an effort made in the days leading up to the dinner in order to raise awareness about the event and the clients the agency serves. Participants in the challenge, over the course of about ten days, filmed themselves juggling to illustrate the ways Catholic Charities’ clients “juggle” the many aspects of life listed on the staff’s colored signs, and how that juggling act is complicated by poverty.
“We all have many different balls that we’re juggling, but most of us are fortunate enough that we have resources at our disposal to help us. The clients we serve don’t have those extra resources to fall back on. They are juggling all of these issues by themselves,” Dyer said.
“It is through the funds raised here tonight and all year long that we are able to partner with these individuals and help them keep all of these balls up in the air. That work is so important, to be able to meet clients at that juncture, help them find resources, and then work with them on a long-term basis to build their own resources, so that moving forward they are better equipped to weather that storm,” she said.
The videos of many Catholic Charities staff and several special guests, including Bishop Sullivan, are posted to the Catholic Charities Camden facebook page. Dyer invited attendees to watch the videos and post their own.