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50 years of seeking solutions to poverty

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SAN DIEGO — At a recent presentation to diocesan seminarians, Dr. Robert Ehnow asked for a show of hands of how many were familiar with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).

Not one of the 17 seminarians raised his hand, recalled Ehnow, who serves as the diocese’s CCHD director.

That response shows that Ehnow has his work cut out for him when it comes to acquainting local Catholics with CCHD, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ domestic anti-poverty program, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

But Ehnow, who is also the director of the diocesan Office for Life, Peace and Justice, can take solace in the fact that he wasn’t always such a strong advocate for the program, either.

“When I was asked to be the campaign director for the diocese (in August 2018), I had no idea what it was,” said Ehnow.

The program exists to address the root causes of poverty, particularly in ways that encourage low-income people to participate in that process. It accomplishes this goal primarily by awarding grants to Catholic and non-Catholic organizations whose work alleviates poverty and promotes the empowerment of disadvantaged communities.

Its funding comes mainly through an annual national collection. This year, that special collection will be held during the Nov. 20-21 weekend in the diocese.

Ehnow said the money raised makes an impact in San Diego and Imperial counties. He noted that the diocese retains a percentage of the collected funds. Additionally, the grant monies provided by CCHD to organizations and parishes address systemic poverty in the region.

“It’s really an investment in our communities,” Ehnow said.

The Restorative Justice Mediation Program, which facilitates dialogue between crime victims and offenders, is among the local grant recipients. The program has received funding for about seven years. It was awarded $60,000 last year and $45,000 this year.

“I’m just really grateful for a (program) like CCHD that recognizes the drivers or the causes of systemic poverty and is really looking for real solutions,” said Ian Ragsdale, executive director of the Restorative Justice Mediation Program.

With the grant money, Ragsdale said, the nonprofit has been able to create more diversity on its board of directors, so that board members better reflect the populations the organization serves.
Last October, the Office for Life, Peace and Justice received a $5,000 grant to help raise awareness of CCHD in honor of its 50th anniversary.

A portion of those funds were used to host the informational presentation for seminarians, which included dinner, in late April.

Funds were also used to provide cash prizes — $500 for first place, $375 for second place, and $250 for third place — for the diocesan winners of a recent CCHD youth art/essay contest called “Creating on the Margins.” Three winners each were selected at the middle school and high school levels.

Spearheaded by Madelyn Bass, a senior at the University of San Diego who was serving as a CCHD intern at the Diocese of San Diego, the contest was co-sponsored by the diocesan Office for Life, Peace and Justice and the Office for Schools. The contest gave local youth the opportunity to learn more about CCHD’s work in preparation for creating original artworks accompanied by written reflections.

More than 35 artworks were submitted. The winners were selected in March. The two first-place winners — one for grades 7 and 8 and another for grades 9 through 12 — have gone on to compete at the national level of the contest. The middle school students submitted paintings and drawings, while the high school students made videos.

Bass said the contest was “a really great way” to help the young participants “to understand CCHD and how it is working actively in the Church and in our community.”

Learn more about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at http://povertyusa.org.

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