AP NEWS

Catholic charity expands housing help to Santa Fe

March 2, 2019

Albuquerque-based Catholic Charities of Central New Mexico is expanding its housing assistance program to the Santa Fe area in an effort to serve economically disadvantaged people.

With $85,000 in grants from the New Mexico Community Foundation, the Walmart Foundation and other donors, the organization was able to hire a Santa Fe-based case manager who will help link individuals and families in need to other nonprofits and government agencies that assist with Medicaid enrollment, food benefits and housing.

Organizers say they hope the expansion of Catholic Charities’ Center for Self-Sufficiency and Housing Assistance will give hope to those in need.

“Many people sometimes drop out of getting help because they don’t know where to go,” said Jim Gannon, executive director of Catholic Charities, a 74-year-old nonprofit. “They need a knowledgeable person to be their guide.”

That person, he said, is Concepta Hernandez. Hernandez, who volunteered for Catholic Charities in Oregon for more than 20 years and worked another 20 years as a professional case manager there, was hired in January as a full-time case manager in Santa Fe.

An Albuquerque native, Hernandez said she’s grateful to be back in New Mexico doing meaningful work that serves seniors, disabled people, low-income families and the homeless community.

“I want to help anybody who needs help,” she said, adding her main focus is community outreach.

In just over a month, Hernandez has connected with about 60 people from at least 45 agencies, including health clinics, schools, food pantries, senior centers and homeless shelters. Many serve rural areas such as Chimayó, Galisteo and Moriarty.

“I’m trying to bridge the gap,” she said. “The rural areas seem to be in more need.”

Adding Hernandez to the staff, organizers say, comes at a time when Catholic Charities is serving an estimated 17,500 families each year and has experienced many recent successes around the state.

In addition to its housing assistance program, the group provides education to adults, supports refugees and offers immigration and citizenship resources to those seeking asylum.

Just last fall, the nonprofit’s volunteer-driven Project Ascent Upon Learning program launched in Santa Fe, pairing second-grade students at Sweeney Elementary School with one-on-one mentors from Capital High.

The effort, Gannon said, “is marvelous” and has raised the level of reading competency for hundreds of young students.

After watching newer programs like PAUL take off and other projects in Albuquerque expand, Gannon said he thought it was time to propel Catholic Charities’ mission even further in Northern New Mexico.

Hernandez, he said, will be “a gatekeeper to comprehensive assistance” for struggling residents, connecting them with the resources they need.

“We’re all working together,” Hernandez said of other nonprofits established in the community. The idea, she said, is not to compete with other organizations, but to “form bridges” and “foster relationships with our clients, agencies, the community.”

Hernandez said she’s “starting from zero” in a new position and the work has proven difficult. Still, she said, “it’s very gratifying.”

Gannon agreed. “We have the opportunity of improving [an] individual’s life, [a] family’s life,” said Gannon, “as well as improving the community.”

For more information, call the Catholic Charities Santa Fe office at 505-424-9789.