Catholic Charities’ Kinship ministry serves grandparents, others cast into parenting roles

Makena Clawson

Every month, a Catholic Charities program called Kinship Caregivers serves over 60 families where the primary caregiver is not the child’s parent, but another family member, often a grandparent. For the last 20 years, this ministry has been walking with these families to help provide resources, stability and support.

“I’ve been fortunate to work in the program over 8 years,” said Carrie Savage, Manager of Kinship and Senior Services at Catholic Charities. Savage has witnessed children get their Eagle Scout, graduate from higher education and other achievements as they’ve gone through the program. Savage works closely with Kerry Lutz, Bilingual Program Coordinator for Kinship Caregivers, to serve those families and children who are cast into this type of situation.

“Once they have that safe and stable home, they just really blossom,” Savage said.

In order to provide this safety and stability, the kinship program has eight different support groups each month, with four in the Denver metro area and the others in Arvada, Thornton and Castle Rock. They also have a Spanish speaking group.

At these meetings, caregivers can share their experiences, stories and struggles and also learn information about an applicable parenting topic. Children are welcome at the support groups, and have time to be kids, rather than another therapy session on top of what they might already be receiving, Savage said.

Other services include working with families on an individual basis, providing referrals to different resources they need, and also on a larger scale, having events for the families to come together for fun or for an educational purpose.

“We serve everybody across all faiths and backgrounds,” Savage said.

Their highest demographics for caregivers they see are single grandmothers, mostly in their 60s. They also serve great-grandparents raising children, aunts and uncles, and psychological kin: a godparent or a family friend.

These caregivers are raising the children for a variety of reasons, Savage said. Some parents have passed away, others have physical or mental health issues, substance abuse problems, are incarcerated, or lack the financial means or the skill set to parents.

New caregivers are always welcome to attend a group, and there is no waitlist. Sometimes a new caregiver will be unsure about attending their first group, Savage said.

“They come and really just feel like they’re not alone,” she said. The caregivers present “understand, they’ve been there. They’ve been through a lot and can offer a lot of wisdom.”

Savage has seen fruit from the program not only in the achievements the families have made, but in the relationships they’ve built with each other. The kids in groups come from similar backgrounds and form friendships that make them want to keep coming back, she said. Caregivers also support each other through loss and difficult times. Some even want to give back and become donors to the program.

Savage got her start in the program as an Americorps volunteer for Catholic Charities. She studied sociology and psychology and was interested in family dynamics and how these dynamics arise.

If you or someone you know is a caregiver for a relative’s child and are interested in learning more about the services Catholic Charities provides, visit their website at ccdenver.org/familyservices/kinship-caregiver-program or call (720) 799-9254.

COMING UP: Church and state partner to carry out corporal works of mercy during pandemic and beyond

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In times of great need and crisis, we find strength in unity and collaboration, and amid the coronavirus pandemic, this truth remains within the Archdiocese of Denver.

For many years, the Archdiocese of Denver and local Colorado government officials have found ways to work together toward common goals and better serve the people of Colorado, which often includes carrying out corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. And through the COVID-19 pandemic, these partnerships continue to be a crucial part of Colorado’s and the Church’s response to those in need.

The City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have a history of partnering to support people in need. During the pandemic, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and his administration have worked with the archdiocese to safeguard the homeless population and extend testing for COVID-19 to communities at higher risk of struggling with the virus.

“These types of true collaborative relationships really make the difference because you can call on your partners [and] you have established relationships that are built on trust and built on true engagement and true focus on a mutually agreed upon mission,” Mayor Hancock told the Denver Catholic. “Catholic Charities and the archdiocese have been just tremendous partners over the years with us.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver told the Denver Catholic that “the Catholic Church is motivated to care for the poor and needy by Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us.

“The coronavirus pandemic,” he added, “has highlighted this important work and underscored the essential role the Catholic Church plays in fostering a society that upholds the God-given dignity of every person.

“It has been a blessing to be able to work with the City of Denver over many years to serve these vulnerable populations.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and the Archdiocese of Denver have partnered with Mayor Michael Hancock and the City of Denver in the past to better serve people in need, and they’ve continued those collaborative efforts through the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Recently, on July 10 and July 23, Mayor Hancock and the City of Denver hosted events in partnership with Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello to provide testing for COVID-19 and a mobile food pantry to the local community.

“We have been looking for opportunities to be in the communities, to do the testing, to meet people where they are. And we recognize that Latinos and African-Americans in particular have been most vulnerable to this virus,” Mayor Hancock said. “We needed to really just make sure we took the opportunities for testing to those communities.”

Then, on Aug. 6, Ascension hosted another event in collaboration with the City of Denver where the mayor’s office gave away free backpacks with school supplies, healthy food baskets, baby products, feminine hygiene products and more.

“I am very thankful for Mayor Hancock’s collaboration to help the people of Montbello,” said Father Dan Norick, pastor of Ascension Parish. “I also thank God for the people in Montbello who are caring for each other in these difficult times. May Jesus be praised!”

Mayor Hancock said that hosting these events at Ascension Parish made sense because of the established relationship the City of Denver and the Archdiocese of Denver have developed over the years.

“When you’re looking for who you partner with during these opportunities, you turn to who’s most familiar with you and who you’ve had a trusting collaboration with,” he said. “And it just so happens the archdiocese and the parish there have been the ones that we’ve worked with over the years. So it was very natural. It’s a place where people are familiar and a place they trust.”

It’s not only during the pandemic that this partnership has been fruitful, though. A strong partnership between Samaritan House and the city has existed for quite some time, and this relationship has borne much fruit over the years. Samaritan House strives to be more than a just a homeless shelter, providing education, life skills classes and one-on-one support for its residents to empower them to break free from the cycle of poverty and support themselves independently.

In August 2017, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver cut the ribbon on the first all-women’s shelter in the city. Called Samaritan House Women’s Shelter, it follows Samaritan House’s established model of helping those experiencing hard times find a way out of poverty and ultimately, bring hope to their lives. Each night, it offers 225 beds for women who are in need of immediate shelter.

Back in April, Catholic Charities teamed up with the City of Denver and took the lead on an auxiliary women’s shelter set up at the Denver Coliseum. (Photo by Catholic Charities)

Back in April, in response to the pandemic and out of a need to maintain social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the City of Denver and Catholic Charities of Denver partnered to set up the Denver Coliseum as a 24/7 auxiliary emergency women’s shelter that’s that was able to accommodate up to 300 women. Catholic Charities staff took the lead at the shelter with full support from the City of Denver. The auxiliary shelter has since returned to the regular women’s shelter facility, but this collaboration between the city and Catholic Charities was crucial as cases of COVID-19 climbed in April.

“When the pandemic hit, Catholic Charities had to find a way to social distance the ladies in its Women’s Emergency Shelter,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelters and Community Outreach. “We also had to provide them 24/7 care to honor the governor’s Stay-at-Home order and triage for the virus. Working with the City of Denver staff, we came together as a shelter community and obtained the use of the Denver Coliseum downtown. We were able to better provide social distancing, 24/7 shelter with three meals a day and other amenities, including showers and case management.

“We believe this effort with the city protected our most vulnerable community and helped prevent the spread of the virus. But more importantly, we made it safer for women experiencing homelessness during this pandemic.”

Featured image: Father Dan Norick hands out supplies during a community giveaway event hosted at Ascension Catholic Parish in Montbello in conjunction with the City of Denver. (Photo provided)