Catholic Charities CEO steps down, interim named

Larry Smith helped to expand organization’s services greatly in five-year tenure

Larry Smith stepped down as President and CEO of Catholic Charities June 1 after an impressive five-year tenure with the organization. Replacing Smith as interim CEO is Amparo Garcia, who has served on the board of Catholic Charities since June 2017 and brings seasoned experience as a business executive to her role.

“Larry was a fantastic leader over the past five years, and we are grateful for his service,” Garcia said in a statement introducing herself as the interim CEO. “His impact in our community was significant, and he will be greatly missed.”

Smith was hired in 2013 and under his leadership, Catholic Charities was able to greatly expand the vast repertoire of services it offers to those in need, as well as become more of a staple of faith and charity in the local Catholic community.

“One of Larry’s mantras was ‘We can serve more of those in need,’ and he led Catholic Charites to do just that; he leaves a great legacy of faith in action that will guide Catholic Charities for years to come!” expressed Wayne Wolberg, Chief Financial Officer for Catholic Charities of Denver.

Highlights of Smith’s contributions to Catholic Charities include the launch of Marisol Health, expanded operations of the organization, and the conversion of the former Samaritan House men’s emergency overnight shelter into Denver’s first women’s homeless shelter. Catholic Charities expanded its services under Smith and now provides support through seven ministries including women’s health, shelter services, housing, early childhood education, family and senior services, parish and community relations and counseling services.

Amparo Garcia, board member for Catholic Charities for one year and parishioner of Holy Ghost Parish, has been named the interim CEO of Catholic Charities. (Photo Provided)

By providing comprehensive programmatic assistance, Catholic Charities fosters a structure for success to northern Colorado’s underprivileged. Donor Brent Osland explained that “Catholic Charities looks to give a ‘hand up’ rather than a ‘handout’ so I feel that my contribution goes to teach sustainability and not just to provide one day’s meal.”

In a letter to benefactors, leadership from the Archdiocese of Denver praised Smith’s contributions to Catholic Charities and his integrity as president. “Larry Smith has been the face of Catholic Charities for half a decade and has worked tirelessly to promote its mission across northern Colorado,” the Archdiocese wrote. “[He] provided dynamic leadership … and fostered strong relationship with donors, government officials, civic organizations and the broader community.

“Larry Smith led Catholic Charities with a clear and articulate vision and a vibrant focus on our Catholic faith,” said Tom Wanzeck, Vice President of Operations for Catholic Charities of Denver.

As interim CEO, Garcia will continue to direct the great work carried out by Catholic Charities on a daily basis – none of which would be possible without its staff, and most importantly, its donors. Under Smith’s direction, donors from across the diocese jumped in to support the ministries and programs of Catholic Charities. Donations from Catholics and non-Catholics alike have totaled over $12 million in the current fiscal year.

“It is a privilege to steward funds from generous donors knowing that their support empowers the most vulnerable people in our community,” said Andrew Schaefer, Director of Development for the Archdiocese of Denver.

Echoing Schaefer’s sentiments, Catholic Charities donor Rich Todd added, “The Church does so much for the poor through Catholic Charities. We don’t ask them if they are Catholic before providing care, Catholic Charities serves them because we represent the Church of Jesus Christ and they need our help.”

Catholic Charities is in the midst of a comprehensive search to replace Smith as the President and CEO. “Given his charisma, vision and strong connections around the community, finding someone to replace Larry Smith will not be easy,” said Keith Parsons, Chief Financial Officer for the archdiocese.

COMING UP: A caveat on the great Tom Wolfe

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When the great Tom Wolfe died on May 14 — he of the white suits, the spats, and the prose style as exuberant as his wardrobe — I, like millions of others, remembered the many moments of pleasure I had gotten from his work.

My Wolfe-addiction began on a cross-country flight in 1979, shortly after The Right Stuff was published. Always an airplane and space nut, I was fascinated by Wolfe’s re-creation of the culture of America’s test pilots and astronauts at the height of the Cold War. And there was that extraordinarily vivid writing. At one point I burst out laughing, scaring the daylights of the elderly lady sitting next to me but not daring to show her the passage — it must have involved Pancho Barnes’ Happy Bottom Riding Club, a saloon outside Edwards Air Force Base — that set me off.

After The Right Stuff got me going on Tom Wolfe, it was impossible to stop. The first half of Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers — Wolfe’s scathing account of a reception thrown for the Black Panthers by Leonard and Felicia Bernstein — remains the quintessential smack-down of political correctness among the 1% cultural elites. From Bauhaus to Our House explains why anyone with an aesthetic sense thinks something is seriously wrong with modernist architecture, and does so in a way that makes you laugh rather than cry.

Then there was Wolfe’s first novel, The Bonfire of the Vanities. One of its chapters, “The Masque of the Red Death,” takes its title from Edgar Allan Poe and with mordant humor dissects the vacuity of Manhattanites consumed (and in some cases destroyed) by their grotesque, over-the-top consumerism. I recently re-read that stunning set-piece and the thought occurred, as it had before, that it was a far more effective polemic against materialism than anything ever issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Bonfire was also brilliant in skewering the destructiveness of New York’s race hustlers, the obtuseness of a values-free media, and the fecklessness of too many politicians.

Asked once by monks who run a prestigious prep school what they might do to disabuse parents of the notion that their sons were doomed if they didn’t get into Harvard, Duke, Stanford, and the like, I suggested giving a copy of I Am Charlotte Simmons to the parents of every incoming senior. Wolfe’s fictional tale of life on elite American university campuses in the 21st century is a sometimes-jarring exercise in the social realism practiced (a bit less brutally) by Dickens and Balzac. But Charlotte Simmons, like Wolfe’s other fiction, has a serious moral core and an important cultural message. The young innocent, the brightest girl in town who makes it to an elite university, gets corrupted by stages: and her moral corruption is preceded by intellectual corruption — the class in which she’s taught that there’s really nothing properly called “the truth.”

I do have one post-mortem caveat to register about Tom Wolfe’s oeuvre, which takes me back to The Right Stuff (and while we’re on that subject again, forget the inane movie). The central figure in Wolfe’s tale of aeronautical daring-do is Chuck Yeager, the man who first broke the “sound barrier” in the Bell X-1, and did so with a couple of broken ribs, which he managed in flight with the aid of a sawed-off broom handle. Yeager was an extraordinary figure who never became a national celebrity because of the (absurd) news blackout surrounding the X-1 project, and Wolfe clearly wanted to pay tribute to him as an unsung American hero.

To do so, however, Tom Wolfe seemed to think he needed a foil, and he cast astronaut Gus Grissom in that role: “L’il Gus,” the Hoosier grit lampooned as a bumbler to make Yeager look even better. And that was a grave disservice to the memory of Virgil I. Grissom, who did not mess up the second Mercury space flight (Wolfe’s account notwithstanding), and who gave his life for his country in the launch pad fire that consumed Apollo 1 — which Grissom knew to be a deeply flawed spacecraft and had urged NASA to improve.

So now that Tom Wolfe and Gus Grissom have both crossed what Wolfe once called the Halusian Gulp, I hope these two American patriots are reconciled. Both had the right stuff.