FORT SMITH — Deacon Greg Pair of Immaculate Conception Church has worked with the homeless and needy in Sebastian County for more than 13 years.
In that time he has seen how miracles can happen when churches and non-profit agencies work together to meet the needs of families in the community. CarePortal, a program helping Sebastian County’s Department of Human Services identify families with specific needs and match them with people able to provide the needed items, is the latest tool Pair uses to help needy families.
Sebastian County is the first county in Arkansas to use CarePortal, a platform of the Global Orphan Project. So far 1,603 churches in 16 states have served 26,753 children.
Matt Whitson, a former minister and founder of Arkansas Family Alliance, introduced CarePortal to Sebastian County in May. The Alliance has a three-pronged goal: preserving families by meeting specific needs and offering mentoring; preparing foster and adoptive families for the challenges they might meet; and seeking permanent homes for all Arkansas children.
When the Department of Human Services finds families who have specific physical needs, such as a mattress, washing machine, air conditioner or other large items, it uses CarePortal to contact five churches in the area as well as St. Anne’s Society, the Catholic social services arm of Immaculate Conception, St. Boniface and Christ the King churches in Fort Smith, Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Barling and Sts. Sabina and Mary Church in Jenny Lind.
“When I am contacted through CarePortal,” Pair said, “I email the request to St. Anne’s supporters in all five parishes. If someone can provide the need, he can contact me or DHS. When one person steps up to help, the case is closed.”
“People like to give in different ways,” Pair said. “Some people want to make a big difference. Sometimes the person who meets the need gets to deliver the item and meet the family. I’m sure it’s a wonderful feeling to walk up and help a person that way.”
As of Aug. 2, CarePortal in the Fort Smith area had enrolled six church groups and served 38 children with an economic impact of $10,368. The Alliance continues to recruit and encourage more churches to join.
“People in our community are very giving and caring,” Pair said. “It is good to see all of us getting together to work for the good of the people.”
St. Anne’s Society’s participation in CarePortal comes from their experience that collaboration works.
Several years ago, Father Jason Sharbaugh, former pastor of St. Boniface Church, suggested to Pair that Immaculate Conception and St. Boniface combine their human services efforts into one organization named St. Anne’s Society. Soon Christ the King, Sacred Heart of Mary, and Sts. Sabina and Mary churches joined the group. Initially, St. Anne’s Society served clients in Pair’s office at Immaculate Conception Church, but its services and programs eventually outgrew his office space.
“Last year, St. Anne’s Society moved on to Riverview Hope Campus,” Pair said. “We are open there on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 9-11:30 a.m. We primarily offer assistance with utility bills and rent and provide toiletries and personal care items stocked in St. Veronica’s Closet. Being at Hope Campus gives us the advantage of being able to refer clients to other agencies with a presence there. If someone can’t pay his rent, we can help in the short term and refer him to the Housing Authority to be put on the waiting list for subsidized housing. Since we moved to Hope Campus, St. Anne’s has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.”
St. Anne’s is led by director Celia Martinez with Pair as spiritual director and an 11-member board from all five churches. Each member church has a poor box and regular collections for St. Anne’s Society. Pair also speaks at Masses in all five churches each year.
The more the Sebastian County communities and churches work together — through ministerial alliances, St. Anne’s Society, and now CarePortal — the more people they can serve.
Some other Christian churches contribute to St. Anne’s Society as well.
“We forget that we are all ‘catholic’ and united by heart and faith,” Pair said. “When we work together, all the church members feel a sense of ownership that brings our communities together.”
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