This is an exciting time to be a part of Catholic Charities of Wayne County, according to Deacon Peter Dohr, the agency’s director.
Over the last few months the agency has launched a major new program, moved into a new office and started the process of doubling its staff. All of these endeavors stem from a major grant Catholic Charities of Wayne County received a year ago.
In October 2015 the agency received a $1.66 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy Marriage and Education Grant Program to create and launch a new initiative called the Thriving Families Program. Created by Inga Rojas, the agency’s director of clinical services, the program uses a unique blend of curriculum-based education and personalized case management, Deacon Dohr said.
"This is brand new for us. It’s new in Wayne County, it’s new for the diocese, so we are actually building this thing from scratch," he said.
After months of hard work, the agency’s staff started to roll out the new Thriving Families Program (www.ourtfp.org) over the summer. The program is geared toward people between the ages of 18 and 24 and is intended to help participants learn how to improve their relationships with the various people in their lives. Hopefully, participants will learn skills that will help them interact with everyone from their spouses or significant others to their children or their employers, with the goal being that these improved relationships will lead to better home lives and work lives, Deacon Dohr said.
"By educating people about these life skills, it can really have so many positive effects, not only on their lives, but on the lives of those they come in contact with. It’s meant to have a very multiplying effect into the future," he said.
In order to reach potential Thriving Families Program participants, Catholic Charities of Wayne County has partnered with the county’s school districts, community centers and libraries, and soon will be teaching classes in the county jail as well, Deacon Dohr said.
"We want to be anywhere we can get in front of 18- to 24-year-olds in Wayne County and provide this program for them," he said. "It’s valuable because we are able to kind of push out into the hidden corners of the county and find people who could really benefit from some education about how to get along with your supervisor at work or how to develop good parenting skills. These may be skills they maybe never had the opportunity to learn."
The courses are taught by masters-level counselors, who work with a number of different support services to connect program participants with various community resources. If the agency’s staff members learn that a potential Thriving Families Program participant is dealing with domestic violence or literacy issues in the home, they will connect that person to the proper community resources, Deacon Dohr said.
Catholic Charities of Wayne County launched a pilot version of the program in July and, after receiving positive community feedback, has been working to expand the program. This necessitated the hiring of additional staff members, Deacon Dohr explained.
"We had to effectively double the size of our staff. We used to be a team of 13. We are now growing to 26. We have seven (new staffers) in the door now, and six still to go," he told the Catholic Courier in October.
This staffing increase, in turn, led to a need for a larger office space, and over the summer the agency moved into its new headquarters at 180 E. Union St. in Newark. The office is just down the street from the agency’s former location at 1141 E. Union St., but the new space — a two-story building in the center of Newark — is a much better fit for the growing agency, Deacon Dohr said.
"We’re very well located and a lot more visible. The building is newer and we have fiber-optic capability in the building. We’ve been able to cut our Internet and phone costs, and it’s got nice, ample parking adjacent to some municipal parking," he said.
The launch of the new program and the processes of hiring additional staff members and moving into a new office have been both wonderful and trying at the same time, Deacon Dohr said.
"It’s been a very challenging and busy summer, but we are now starting to see the fruits of all that hard work," he said.