The flourishing of a community. It’s something every community wants to see. But communities also come with the question of, “How do we flourish?”
At St. Ann’s Catholic Church Parish Hall on Thursday, Nov. 14 community members gathered ideas to answer that question. The meeting came as a next step in training parish leaders to act on Catholic Social Teaching by working with the community, through organizations in existence and on issues that need more attention.
One of the values of Catholic Social Teaching is a commitment to the poor and vulnerable, as Catholic Charities director of social concerns for the diocese of St. Cloud Kateri Mancini explained. A diocese is a geographical region of Catholic churches, with Wadena being in one of the St. Cloud diocese’s 16 counties.
“How we are doing as a community is based on how the least of us, to use that scriptural language, are doing. So if someone is struggling in our community it means our whole community is struggling. We look at those who are most in need, most struggling, most vulnerable and that is how we should rate how we are all doing as a community, as a church, as a nation,” Mancini said to the audience.
With the recognition of Wadena as a rural community in the St. Cloud diocese, 75 representatives from human services, churches, health, police, school, wellness centers and community member sectors wrote and spoke about the hardships experienced here. The hardships included: a lack of child and adult day and night care, financial barriers, food insecurity, a lack of support for mental health, a lack of sustainable incomes and housing, transportation and health issues.
Participants also noted how the issues combine and the legal restrictions that impact people who are in “the middle,” maybe living paycheck to paycheck and then suddenly have their car break down and lose their job because they aren’t at work. There isn’t time before crisis mode, no time to be proactive because we are in survival mode, one community member shared. A resonating, "mm-hmm“ came from around the room on this one.
“I think the biggest (difference) is the access because the services just really aren’t available usually in the rural communities like they are in the metro areas, and yet the problems are the same,” said JoAnn Braegelman, Catholic Charities rural life coordinator for the diocese of St. Cloud.
While sharing ideas with the entire group, a few responded to the question, “How do you think your community could begin problem solving/addressing this need?” For adult daycare, what new ways can technology link people willing to help and those needing help? For sharing of available resources, could there be quarterly meetings?
“A big thing that I hope people take away is just the idea of collaboration,” Mancini said. “Sometimes people are very aware of certain needs in the community … but they’re not thinking of some of the other needs just because that’s not in their day to day. But to hear other people expressing those needs can sometimes call them to a sense of collaboration and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I could see where I need to help on that or at least be aware of that or educate myself or my organization more on that.”
By collaborating with attendees, St. Ann’s business manager, member of the social concerns team and a host of the meeting Barb Piecek saw issues that need addressing and ones being addressed.
“We have a lot to offer and we have a lot of things that we need to address. A lot of hard issues that need to be addressed,” Piecek said.
The meeting didn’t end with the hardships in the area but rather with the naming of groups and organizations already supporting the community, until that list was longer the hardships. Some of these are ways the hardships are being addressed.
“Community dinner is a good source of fellowship because it is all churches regardless of Catholic, Protestant, all denominations are here,” said Carmen Pederson, St. Ann’s member. “We meet the poorest of the poor and it’s touching. And I consider myself one because I’m less fortunate to be helped because they say, ‘Oh, you earn too much.’”
With the goal of seeing the community flourish, the social concerns team will continue to meet and partner with organizations. The hope is for the dialogue to continue, as Piecek said.
“Hopefully everybody went away with something positive that they can do to help make this area, you know, a better place,” said Mary Schmit, member of St. Ann’s social concerns team and a host of the meeting.
If you would like to submit a hardship experienced in the community, email Barb Piecek at email@example.com.