Non-profit helps poverty-stricken Nevadans become self-sufficient

Photo by Cambria Roth
Photo by Cambria Roth

Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada, a non-profit human services agency, provides a total of eight human services programs to those in need in the northern part of the state. The agency’s mission is to “help people of all cultures and beliefs rise up out of poverty and overcome the barriers to self-sufficiency”.

Nevada Media Alliance’s Cambria Roth spoke to Auburn Harrison, Catholic Charities’ director of marketing and public relations, about how the organization helps those struggling on the streets of Reno, how they began, and its upcoming Plates to Poverty event.

Cambria Roth (CR): How is CCNN making a difference in the Reno community?
Auburn Harrison (AH): We are a one-stop shop location for anyone in this community who is homeless or living below the poverty line. A good way to put it is that we help the whole person, so we feed them, clothe them, try to get them set up with employment, housing, and just anything that can make their life a little bit better than it is. Some of our clients do live on the streets, some live in the shelter, but many are just regular people like you and I who are not quite making it every month, so they come to us. They might need some food, or a prescription filled, so we help people in a lot of different ways. We have nine different programs including immigration services, adoption services, and a lot of other services that a lot of people don’t realize we have. We aren’t just a soup kitchen, or a free giveaway place. We really try to work with people and get to know them and send them out into the world in better shape than they were when they walked in.

CR: How was this organization formed, and why?
AH: It has been around since 1941, and it actually started as the Catholic Welfare Bureau, and that was a huge organization throughout the whole state of Nevada. Eventually those two split when the population grew larger, so southern Nevada and northern Nevada both has one of these organizations now. Then, we became Catholic Community Services, which is a non-profit group just like we are now. Three years ago, we became Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada, and we have just been building and adding more programs. We started with an adoption agency and a children’s stay home, sort of like an orphanage, but most who used it were just working parents. It has just grown. Most recently we added the Kids to Seniors Corner Program, and two other transitional housing programs.

CR: What is the Kids to Seniors Corner Program?
AH: This program we use to go to low income neighborhoods and visit with children, families and seniors—basically anyone from a child to a senior, and we see what they need. We might go to low income apartment housing, or a trailer park and we knock on doors and ask people, “Who is living here and what do you need?” We try to get those people food, prenatal care, eye glasses, free immunization shots, and anything they can’t afford or don’t have.

CR: Where does CCNN receive funding from?
AH: A majority of our funding comes from individual donations, so just people with big hearts who want to give. We have regular donors, new donors, businesses, local foundations—and the bigger government grants and foundations as well. Our funding comes from a lot of different places to help us function.

CR: Do you have an example of an individual who you have helped?
AH: We have many, but one that I like to use as an example is a woman who works in our thrift store named Leslie. She came to us from the homeless shelter and she was in bad shape—she had lost her job, car, house, and husband. She went from being a professional woman in society to homeless, and took a big dive in life for many reasons, but mostly her husband being ill. She really didn’t have anything and that was maybe a year ago, but she started to volunteer here and it boosted her confidence. Eventually she got a job in the thrift store and now she has a place of her own, a car, and she is thriving in society. There is a stereotype that we just help people who are homeless on the streets and aren’t working or trying, but that is not true. People like her are great examples of people who hit a bump in the road, and end up with their life flipped upside down. We were able to get her to a point where she is back on her feet and moving in the right direction again.

CR: Why is it important to help the homeless in this community?
AH: There is a common misconception that people are just looking for handouts, and that isn’t true. There are so many people who don’t have the resources or the knowledge about what is out there for them and what people are offering them in this community. They come to us with those questions and if there is a service they need that we can’t provide, we send them to one of the other non profits in town to help them with their situation. It is important that these people have someone who is caring for them, and someone who has their back, so that is where we try to step in and help these people with basic things because any of us could be a few paychecks away from that situation.

CR What is Plates to Poverty?
AH: Next Thursday, Sept. 26, we are having an event to raise awareness and funds for this agency. All of the money goes back into our clients and programs. Every year we also honor a person or local organization who we believe is a humanitarian, so this year we are honoring the Nell J. Redfield Foundation who has buildings all over town because they have done a lot for this community. They focus on education, homelessness, and poverty. It is basically a celebration of our agency and what we do and trying to raise awareness about it. There will be an auction, dinner, and video [showing]. We have about 550 people attending this year, and it is going to be a great event.