Catholic Bishop of Lansing Diocese launches new initiative to help fight poverty in Flint

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FLINT (WJRT) - (05/28/15) - The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing was in Flint on Thursday to build support around helping the city's poor.

Bishop Earl Boyea launched what's being called FAITH in Flint in front of a crowd gathered at Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties Center for Hope. The push is to get Catholics in the 10-county diocese active.

Boyea said the poverty rate for children and others in the city of Flint is incredibly high, and more collaboration is needed to help rebuild lives.

The initiative encourages fellow Catholics and others to rally behind those who are struggling by praying, volunteering and financially supporting programs offered by Catholic Charities and other Catholic institutions in the city of Flint.

Boyea said Flint has experienced what amounts to an economic earthquake, and the FAITH in Flint initiative falls in line with what Pope Francis is calling on the church to do.

"Flint is just a great city. It's got a wonderful history to it. They're great people here. I know this from my own parishes, which are getting smaller and smaller as time goes by, but the people are just really committed to their parishes, so they're committed to the city," Boyea said. "How can we help them? How can we help everyone here work together be more collaborative? That's really what we're about. Just be present to the poor, and try and learn from them, listen to them (and) hear them."

Glenda Stennis, a Flint native, gave her testimony during the FAITH in Flint news conference. She thanked Catholic Charities for helping her turn her life around.

"I got hooked on drugs at the age of 13," Stennis said. "I've been in and out of incarceration because I stole to support my drug habit."

A friend led Stennis to the non-profit in January. She's now clean and has her own apartment.

"I knew it was time to make a change," Stennis said. "And if I had strangers caring about me, it was time I can care about myself."

Stennis thinks the FAITH in Flint initiative will work.

"All the people have to do it believe, and in order for them to believe, we've got to give them hope," Stennis said. "If you can't give a person anything else, you've got to give them hope."

Boyea said 62 percent of Flint's children live in poverty. He also said the city's official unemployment rate of 11 percent doesn't count the long-term unemployed. Boyea wants to see more success stories like Stennis'.

Vicky Schultz, CEO of Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee Counties, said those who may not live or know much about Flint should care about the FAITH in Flint push.

"It could be your community," Schultz said. "We all live together in one state of Michigan, and if it's our diocese in Lansing that's trying to rally for us to make it better here in the city of Flint, I think we all should pitch in and do our part."

Catholic Charities is in the midst of a capital campaign for a renovation project at their Center for Hope. Schultz thinks the FAITH in Flint initiative could help generate more dollars.

"We have to be able to take this building, bring it up to code so we can utilize every square inch of this 67,000 square foot building," Schultz said.

Plans also include adding new shower facilities, a wellness and activity center and more.

"It's just going to be much bigger picture of how we can help individuals at a one-stop kind of center," Schultz said.

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