What CARITAS is about – Plus a video interview!

To be a development professional at an Austin nonprofit seems to require a diverse array of skills. The more I learn about their job, the more impressed I become.

On the one hand, it seems to take the persistence and professionalism of a seasoned salesman. You have to know your product inside and out, and be able to identify what about it sticks most with your customer.

On the other hand, development people need to be passionate about their mission. They need to truly believe in the cause and be able to communicate the need in a way that inspires – rather than depresses – their audience.

Whenever the development team at CARITAS begins a relationship with a donor, partner, or volunteer, they give them a tour of the facility, and that’s what I got yesterday. I was in good hands with development associate, Sarah Michel. Watch the video (below) of her describing her job. She obviously loves it.

She seemed most proud of the reception area, and I can see why. It’s … well, dignified and professional. In my ignorance I thought it would be a loud, dingy area where stressed-out people at the end of their ropes would sit impatiently, and equally stressed-out receptionists would pant behind desks trying to make sense of the chaos. This was not the case at all, and it’s a credit to the entire staff – especially the intake specialists who greet new clients – that the reception area was so calm, quiet, and well-kept.

“This is where our clients first walk in,” said Sarah. “And our intake specialists are great at finding out how we can help, so it’s important that their first experience with CARITAS be one of caring and patience.”

She also walked me through the food pantry and the working kitchen. We stood among a hectic group of paid staff and volunteers in the middle of lunch (it was high noon), and watched food trays proceed through a finely tuned assembly line. CARITAS serves more than 400 meals a day out of this kitchen to anyone who wants one, no questions asked, and they were certainly busy when I was there.

We proceeded to the classrooms upstairs – large, windowed rooms with lots of natural light and long tables – where CARITAS offers 450 classes a year, all free. They teach everything from ESL to job and financial skills. Sarah told me that a recent survey of their classes by a national service group ranked the Austin classes to utilize “best practices” when compared to similar groups. She also said each class would likely cost each student about $200 in the for-profit world – at CARITAS, they’re free.

We proceeded through the offices, though she quickly led me through the client managers’ offices in order to “protect the privacy of our clients.” We did spend time in development, finance, and other support offices. It was a busy office – there happened to be a board meeting that day so there was a definite buzz in the building.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I was surprised I would be so impressed by the whole facility. Everything looked new. Everyone looked busy. People…. smiled. I have to say that I’ve worked in lots of offices where the atmosphere was far less positive. Sarah credits this to the diversity of the staff and the compassion they have for their clients. CARITAS is a credit to Austin… but it’s not just the staff, of course. Austin would be a terrible place if not for the board, the volunteers, and the donors who work together to keep this place operating.

But please don’t read this and think everything’s under control and that CARITAS doesn’t need your help. Step outside the CARITAS building and you’ll know immediately that there’s a great need in Austin for food, shelter, clothing, education, and support. The people waiting for a hot lunch come every day, nonstop. And the people in the lobby were desperate for a helping hand. And the refugees CARITAS picks up and acclimates to this country are desperate for a new, better life.

There’s lots of ways to help.

  • Go to Sam’s and buy a pallet of bread, drive it to CARITAS, and drop it off.
  • Write a check for $100 to CARITAS and specify – or not – which program you want it to support.
  • Host a canned food drive in your building and compete with another building for who can donate the most.
  • Instead of listing your furniture on Craigslist, drive it over to CARITAS so they can provide a furnished apartment to a refugee.
  • If you run a business and need workers, tell CARITAS and they’ll send over former lawyers and doctors from the Sudan.
  • Take the CARITAS volunteer training and spend the morning preparing and serving lunch.

Or take a development professional to lunch, find out about their organization, and tell your friends why you should all give now.

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2 Responses

  1. Nice presentation of the reception area, that made me smile.
    I was wondering what you mean by Caritas will send over former lawyers and doctors from the Sudan? Are they volunteers or clients?
    I wrote a feature on Caritas for the Turkey Trot that incorporated a photo documentary I created for a class at UT and would like to share. Most people don’t realize Caritas does more than feed the hungry. They also provide rent and utility assistance to the tune of $1.8 million in 2008. If you’re interested in reading my blog check out:
    http://rhedegree.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/get-a-leg-up-on-thanksgiving/

  2. Thanks for your comment!

    The lawyers and doctors from the Sudan are clients. They come here but aren’t licensed to practice here, aren’t familiar with our culture and don’t speak the language. So they come to Caritas for assistance.

    I enjoyed your post! You should write more about Austin nonprofits, even if it’s your impression of the organization. You’re the perfect person to critique their organization – because you care about their mission and because you’re a potential supporter of the nonprofit.

    Keep blogging!

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