I recently visited the new Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center in East Naples which was redeveloped by Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc. (Catholic Charities DOV). The last time I worked with Catholic Charities was right after Hurricane Irma when I documented the work of Sharon Aragona, Chief Operating Officer and Mary Shaughnessy, Regional Director of Collier County while they were delivering baby diapers and food to families hard hit in East Naples. At that time the plans for a center were in the early stages of redevelopment. Hurricane Irma caused a slight delay, but Catholic Charities DOV made a commitment to get the building open quickly since they outgrew their previous space and the rental lease was coming to an end. That’s when the Board decided the time was right to purchase a property. They applied twice for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), a program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and once the project funds were approved they worked closely with the Community and Human Services Division of Collier County.
The beautiful new 10,000 square foot building sits on a corner corner at 3174 Tamiami Trail East across from the government offices and opened just in time to mark their 50th Anniversary. The building's namesake, Judy Sullivan founded Catholic Charities in Collier County in 1968 and this important family resource center is central to the needs of impoverished families, seniors and food insecure children in Collier County—all working poor who need a helping hand, especially after major hurricane events, which cause gaps in employment. The building was designed by award-winning Corban Architecture known for their civic projects in SWFL. The building has signs of being LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which means it is constructed using the green building rating system. As you walk through halls and in-and-out of rooms the lights automatically go on-and-off and the environmental landscape design took an overgrown and unattractive lot and created a beautiful garden. Overall, the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center is highly efficient and provides cost-saving sustainability to its East Tamiami Trail location. But there's much more.
“I was greeted by a wonderful case worker with the most compassionate smile and when I told her my story I could see her eyes become watery and that’s when I knew I was in the right place."
—Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc Grateful Client
Working in partnership with the Harry Chapin Food Bank and other partners including Whole Foods and Publix, one of the major aspects of the new facility is a larger, brighter and more efficient “Choice” food pantry with industrial equipment and freezers. A choice food pantry means there’s a daily selection of grocery store items on the shelves letting shoppers choose exactly what they want and are familiar with so there is no food waste.
There’s also a food rescue program where instead of throwing away fresh foods set to expire, the very next day the major grocery retailers place the goods with the food pantry for immediate consumption. This includes fresh produce, meats and bread. Several carts of bananas were in a ripened stage and when that situation arises, family members can choose an unlimited quantity, otherwise they choose one of each item. Families are selected depending on income need and provided with one food shopping day per month. Depending on how much inventory there is in any given week, a family of four will have food stability with at least 3-4 days worth of grocery items.
"The organization helps people gain self-sufficiency by connecting them with appropriate programming needs including educational programs at VoTechs, as well as job and career training—helping the poor to elevate their condition so they can become self-reliant.”
—Sharon Aragona, Chief Operating Officer | Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc.
Additionally, there’s a host of community resources. Catholic Charities DOV partners with community members like Bikes for Tykes which provides bikes for adults who need transportation to and from work, and SHINE (Serving Healthcare Insurance Needs for Elders) an organization that helps seniors with their Medicare applications and insurance health-related needs. They also offer empowerment programming, coordinate a mailbox food drive, weekend power pack lunches for food insecure children and will soon begin to deliver food to farm worker’s families throughout Collier County.
Since the facility has only been open for a few months, educational and training programming is also in development. There’s a large educational and recreational room where cooking demonstrations and other classes will take place. The first class conducted in the space was jewelry-making taught through the Naples Art Association. According to Catholic Charities DOV Program Director, Allegra Belliard there are also three caseworkers on site and a small computer lab where people can work and do job searches in a quiet space. Counseling services and the assistance of case managers connect people to needed local services and programming. These services are not new to Catholic Charities, but now they have room for expansion. “We are here to help and direct clients to apply for benefits and achieve a normal life again, especially with a loss of their home or employment after a disaster like Hurricane Irma,” Sharon Aragona explained. “The organization helps people gain self-sufficiency by connecting them with appropriate programming needs including educational programs at VoTechs, as well as job and career training—helping the poor to elevate their condition so they can become self-reliant.”
Basic family needs from food to health and social resources make the new center a welcome neighbor in East Naples. “It is a great accomplishment for us, and will benefit our clients today and for years to come,” said Mary Shaughnessy. One of their client’s can attest to that, “I was greeted by a wonderful case worker with the most compassionate smile and when I told her my story I could see her eyes become watery and that’s when I knew I was in the right place. I recently lost my job, my home and my car. She helped me with things from the food pantry and more. I don’t have words to describe the generosity.”
“It is a great accomplishment for us, and will benefit our clients today and for years to come.”
— Mary Shaughnessy, Regional Director of Collier County | Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc.
Catholic Charities DOV’s main mission is to serve the poor and underserved by empowering their clients without any recognition of race, nationality or religion. Operating in 10 counties in SWFL, they serve over 10,000 square miles and all the individuals who are in need of assistance. Charity Navigator, the number one reviewer of philanthropic accountability and transparency has given Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice, Inc a coveted four star rating which means the organization is of the highest level of integrity and ethics for nonprofit funding and programming. For more information visit their website. | Donate to the new center