Catholic Social Services – Providing Help, Creating Hope

By Anthony Hypolite
April 24, 2014

An in-depth interview was conducted with Liz Peteraf from the Montgomery County Service Center, where the mission statement is to transform lives and bring about a just and compassionate society, where every individual is valued, families are healthy and strong, and communities are united in their commitment to the good of all.

“We are expected to do great things here,” Peteraf said. As the director of the family services, her responsibilities vary and can change from day to day.  Overall, Peteraf is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the agency. This includes coordinating fund raising projects, managing the staff, managing the finances and other administrative tasks with other employees.

The facility serves more than 165,000 individuals annually. Motivated by the mission to serve the most vulnerable and at-risk members of our society, the Catholic Social Services (CSS) offers a variety of community-based and residential programs and services to assist and support men, women and children living in Philadelphia and its four surrounding counties.

Individuals and families come to CSS for different reasons and CSS help people from all walks of life, as well as their families or care givers. Someone may need support because of homelessness, illness, disability, old age or poverty, or even minor assistance, such as meals on wheels and help with washing, dressing, feeding or using the toilet, that makes a big difference to people’s lives.

Humility has also been linked with generosity; she described her work as truly humbling. Peteraf emphasized the fact that every person is going to hit a point in their life when they could use somebody to help them navigate through the tough times, and it feels good to know that we can be that somebody.

Social work, she revealed is hard work. As social workers, hours may be long, the challenges are complex, and those who are brave enough to do it are answering a calling that typically includes neither fame nor fortune. “I have been fortunate to work closely with many of our community’s social workers and I am often humbled by the strength of their character” Peteraf said.

Several of the community-based facilities offer goods and services to the facility, but CSS often gets calls from BJs, Toys R Us or some other facility alerting them of available items to be picked up. Most of the time it is food supplies.

“We depend on a lot of other facilities, but Philabundance has been our savior. They have a lot of faith in us,” Peteraf  said.  Philabundance was created in 1984 with the simple belief that no man, woman or child should go hungry. With their assistance, the facility is now able to address hunger through direct service programs and a network of agencies, as well as contribute to a broad spectrum of social services through food cupboards, emergency kitchens, shelters, daycare and senior centers and beyond. However, she still believes they are not dependent on any one facility. If there is a strong community that is working with each other, needs can be fulfilled.

Volunteers are greatly needed, because they come they go. Over the years the term volunteer has taken on various meanings. It is believed that the volunteers are considered an integral part of their team. The facilities rely on volunteers to Enrich and extend the routine services being offered, supplement the work of the staff, and serve as a liaison between the community and the Department. Volunteers have an opportunity not only to learn new thing, but also to provide service to someone who needs assistance in becoming self-sufficient. It is hoped that the time spent doing what they do will be educational, challenging, and rewarding.

Problems are everywhere. Here, coordination is important.  The facility operates in an environment where the staff members are trained to do each other jobs, so in instances of absenteeism, or when it becomes very chaotic, help is there. She further stated, “There is uneasiness about what we do, but what is important is that we make it work for us.”

Personal challenges are always there because it is important that services are provided for those who need it. She revealed that she questions herself when she has to make decisions or present a vision that is her own and may not be supported by her team. At that point in time, she applies to her better self in making these judgment call, but there is always the feeling of “did I do the right thing?”

In her own words she reflected on her life. “As any young person today I struggled with my sense of direction. Very young, I traveled across the country; I did not graduate from college at first. After getting my GED, I returned to college as an artist.”

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Anthony Hypolite

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