By Mary Elizabeth Dial, Staff Correspondent
The Catholic Center of Concern located on Chestnut Street is not new to downtown Gadsden. Although many people drive past the small building each day without noticing it, those who need the services it provides see the center as an invaluable resource.
The Catholic Center of Concern is dedicated to serving members of the Gadsden community who are unemployed or living in poverty and in need of assistance. The center contains a food pantry and provides financial aid for rent and utilities, prescription medication assistance, trolley tokens and gas vouchers. Since it opened approximately 30 years ago, the center has partnered with other service organizations such as the Etowah Baptist Mission Center and the Salvation Army.
“Most [clients are looking] for food, and then for rent and utility assistance,” said director Lee Bean, but he hopes that the center will be able to offer more long-term solutions in the near future.
The center recently partnered with Gadsden State Community College for a life skills education program, for which the center will receive grant money and two students per semester to act as interns. The program will focus on clients of the center who are able to work, and will teach them skills such as budgeting, résumé building and searching for jobs online.
“People who come here a lot, who are able-bodied and who we think we could help, we will try to get them into our program, where we’ll say, ‘Let’s sit down and go over your finances’,” Bean said.
Despite being located next door to St. James Catholic Church in downtown Gadsden, the Catholic Center of Concern is actually affiliated with the Diocese of Birmingham, which is the source of much of the center’s funding, and pays for salaries and operating expenses. According to Bean, this helps people feel secure about donating to the center.
“When people donate money or we get a grant, one hundred percent of it goes directly to the clients,” said Bean.
With a name like “Catholic Center of Concern” and the religious accoutrements found inside the building, it would be easy to assume that people who visit the center can expect a sermon before they receive assistance, but Bean said that is not the case.
“We don’t require anybody to be Catholic for us to help them, [and] we don’t try to make anybody Catholic,” said Bean. “We just serve people.”
The biggest challenge that the center faces is simply a lack of awareness. Bean explained that, although the people who need its services know about the center, most people who may be willing and able to help it provide those services have never heard of it. Bean believes that joining the Chamber of Gadsden and Etowah County, which the center did recently, may help to make more people aware of the center and encourage them to pitch in.
“We’re here and we do a lot of good,” said Bean. “I love to show people around, show them what we do [and] why we do it, talk with them.”
At the end of the day, Bean and his coworkers know they have done good in the community, but the center often wishes it had the resources to do more for the people who come to the center for help.
“I really try to take a personal approach to people,” said Bean. “They have dignity because they were created in God’s image. They’ve got a story; they’ve got a past just like we all do… We start there.”
Bean’s worldview, and that of the Catholic Center of Concern, makes it easy to understand why he and his colleagues chose this line of work and why they go above and beyond to accommodate their clients, like staying open late for those who cannot visit during regular hours.
“The success stories are always going to be few, but the question you have to answer is, ‘Is it worth it?’ I believe it is.”
The Catholic Center of Concern is located at 612 Chestnut Street in Gadsden. For more information about contributing or volunteering, call 256-546-0028.