Good Work Of Catholic Charities

Three years ago, Catholic Charities Hawaii (CCH) moved into a seven-building campus on two-and-half acres of land in Makiki. It bought the parcel from First Presbyterians Church (which bought Koolau golf course and moved services there) for $15.4 million, tore down one building, built another and extensively renovated the rest. The final bill came to $28 million, a tidy portion of which came from the Clarence T. Ching Foundation.

“We had to do it,” says Jerry Rauckhorst, CCH president for the past 17 years. “We were scattered in four buildings around town. A family facing eviction or an abused youth would get up the courage to come for help, we’d listen to their need, tell them we could help, but then inform them they were in the wrong building. That was frustrating.”

So are the problems CCH confronts – frustrating and, in the eyes of some, intractable: homelessness, an aging population, domestic violence, troubled youths, child abuse. The list is long.

CCH brings 300 social workers, therapists and counselors their tasks, half of them in their Makiki facilities, the rest in sites on Oahu, Hawaii, Maui and Kaua’i.

Maryknoll Sisters founded CCH in 1947. Today CEO Rauckhorst finds fresh inspiration in a new pope who kisses the unwashed feet of the poor and takes his name from St. Francis of Assisi: “He’s a breath of fresh air in his commitment to the disadvantaged and those who are struggling. From Catholic Charities’ standpoint, he’s terrific.”

But CCH is neither kissing feet nor distributing handouts. Its mission statement reads: “We are a community of hope that promotes the dignity of each person by helping others empower themselves. … Through our programs and our advocacy for social justice, we lovingly serve all people, especially those in greatest need. … We help people in need to help themselves, regardless of their faith.”

With cash, if need be. “We’ll provide money, sent directly to the landlord, for two or three months to people who face eviction, but who we’ve found are just going through a bad time,” says Rauckhorst. “It’s a hand-up, not a handout. That’s not meant as a criticism of organizations who give handouts. It’s just not what we do.”

Thus, Maililand on the Waianae Coast, 44 units of transitional housing for low-income or homeless families. Besides a roof, CCH and its partnering organizations provide Maililand residents with child care, help with budgeting and advice on healthier eating.

With a grant from the Jeanette and Harry Weinberg Foundation, CCH constructed 12 two-bedroom units of affordable transitional housing on its Makiki property, as well. A family can remain in an apartment for 12 to 18 months while looking for more-permanent housing.

Then there’s the aging of Hawaii population. CCH operates the Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center in Makiki.

“Seniors want and need to avoid institutionalization,” says Rauckhorst. “We help them do that. We’ll provide transportation, medication management, access to affordable housing.”

The last includes plans for a 300-unit senior living facility in Mililani.

“The explosion in Hawaii’s senior population is like homelessness,” says Rauckhorst. “All the indicators told us a homeless crisis was coming, but we didn’t adopt policies to deal with it. The same is true with our aging population; we pay lip service to caring for our kupuna, but we have to act.”

So CCH lobbies the Legislature for subsidized rental housing assistance, for funding in-home senior services, for a state earned-income tax credit for low-income workers and a poverty tax credit to eliminate income taxes for families in poverty – all more important than kissing feet.