Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Representatives of projects that have received grants from the Campaign for Human Development convene at a 40th anniversary celebration for the campaign.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Ed Langlois
Representatives of projects that have received grants from the Campaign for Human Development convene at a 40th anniversary celebration for the campaign.
Over the next century, more than 700 families will live the American dream of home ownership, owing in part to the donations of Catholics.

Two Portland-area land trusts have used Catholic Campaign for Human Development grants to ensure that some houses are taken off the market and sold to low-income buyers. Those residents, when the time comes, will sell the house without taking a market-rate mark-up.

The $120,000 that went from the Catholic Campaign to Proud Ground and the Clackamas County Land Trust between 2004 and 2006 helped leverage $5.5 million that allowed the trust to buy about 50 houses.

"These homes are now permanently affordable," said a grateful Sarah Buckley of the Clackamas organization. Jesse Beaton of Proud Ground says the new owners, instead of seeing rents rise, can use their income to go to school and get job training, breaking the cycle of poverty.

This was one of the stories told Feb. 28 at a celebration marking 40 years since the U.S. Catholic bishops established a national social justice campaign to eradicate poverty at its roots.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has always differentiated itself from charitable work. It's about teaching people to fish as opposed to handing out fish, Portland Archbishop John Vlazny has said.   

"The mission comes from the gospel," said Matt Cato, director of the archdiocese's Office of Life, Justice and Peace. "Helping move people out of poverty is the idea."

The campaign awards grants to anti-poverty projects led by low-income people themselves. Some projects are small businesses or economic development efforts. Others advocate for public policy to help people with low income. Dioceses can give local grants — in Portland, they are usually $5,000 — and the national office awards larger gifts.

Cato told representatives of organizations not to think of the church as a bank, but as a community that wants to enter a relationship with those working for justice.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has backed many Oregon projects over the years.

As a fresh priest in the early 1980s, Msgr. Chuck Lienert welcomed a campaign grant to form a church-based organizing group that sought to eradicate drug houses in North and Northeast Portland. That group, called the Portland Organizing Project, helped pass a city oridinance that still helps police take action.

"That grant allowed us to really get going," says Msgr. Lienert, pastor of St. Andrew Parish.

Portland Organizing Project also worked to keep a local grocery store open and helped expand sewer lines to some neighborhoods without burdensome costs to homeowners.

Out of the church-based organizing project emerged the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good, which links churches, unions and community advocacy groups. Mary Nemmers, lead organizer for the alliance and a member of St. Andrew Parish, says the group is now working to see that low-income people can get involved in civic financial life. The alliance received a local grant from the campaign in 2007.

Throughout the early and mid 1990s, the campaign funded a start-up organization of hotel workers who were concerned about the health effects of cleaning chemicals they were forced to use. Hotels agreed to use safer products. The Workers Organizing Committee, as the group was called, also helped its members understand state health benefits and composed a Workers Bill of Rights.

Voz, Spanish for "Voice," was long a project of St. Francis Parish. The idea was to organize day laborers so that fraud and abuse against them would halt.

Voz has received 10 grants since 2001, funding leadership training for workers and even a small business the workers started, a food cart on their day-labor pick-up site. Since the site began, workers have rarely been defrauded of pay, said Lizzie Fussell, a Voz organizer. Pay rates have also risen to a minimum of $8.50 per hour.

"The stable support has allowed us to take some risks," she said of leadership and development training members have experienced.

The Community Alliance of Tenants has received 10 grants for its mission to educate low-income tenants to advocate for better housing policy and practices.

"The Catholic Campaign for Human Development has strengthened the hand of tenants," said Michelle Lasley, a member of Holy Cross Parish in Portland who sits on the board of the tenant groups.

Five grants over a decade ending in 2008 helped Trillium Artisans establish a successful marketing cooperative. Three dozen low-income artists are getting help with training and selling their work, made of reclaimed materials.

"The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provided groundwork to get us where we are today," said Amanda McCloskey of Trillium. An online sales site has had success, with artists earning an average of almost $10,000 per year.

Eight grants for education and economic development have helped the Washington County project Adelante Mujeres advance in its work to help low-income Latino families. Members have received training and education. The latest project is the Forest Grove Farmer's Market, which has allowed dozens of farming families to sell their produce and develop business plans.  

The market also tends to get healthy food into the hands of people who sometimes have trouble getting it, Gina Bell, the market manager.

The event, held at the Archdiocese of Portland Pastoral Center, not only celebrated the past, but informed future grant applicants about the possibilities and the strict guidelines.

"The projects must be by the poor, not just for the poor," said Cato, who emphasized that grants go only to projects that fit into principles of Catholic social teaching, including respect for the dignity of human life, from conception to natural death.