By Deacon Tom Roberts, President & CEO, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada.
Las Vegas has an unprecedented story here in the United States. I don’t think a city has seen so much growth so quickly and with so many diverse aspects. Take a glance at the history books and you might be surprised by our city’s humble beginnings when Las Vegas Boulevard started as a two-lane dirt road. Today, the Strip now stretches long and wide and is home to enormous buildings that host hospitality and entertainment sought by travelers worldwide.
Since those very early days, a robust community has developed around this internationally recognized destination city. And serving that community (and its residents who’ve fallen on hard times) is one charitable organization that – like the city itself – started small but has since grown immensely and evolved into a sophisticated ecosystem that is unrecognizable from its modest original form.
On April 16, 2021, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada will celebrate its 80th year of service as an organization in the greater Las Vegas community. Since our humble beginnings back in 1941, we’ve worked to help our community’s most vulnerable and today operate as one of the largest nonprofit social service providers in the state, offering a comprehensive range of human services from family and immigration-refugee services to food and homeless and housing services.
Anniversaries, especially those with a milestone this significant, are natural times for reflection. As I look back at the countless good that this organization has been able to accomplish, I’m also challenged to think on where we still battle in pursuit of our mission. The COVID year took its toll on our tourist-driven economy and a great majority of our citizens had suffered tragedies like job loss, sickness and even death. Many families who were otherwise well employed two years ago for the first time had to stand in line at our food pantry or reach out for housing services.
In non-pandemic times, I have felt some frustration for a lack of awareness and understanding for those who struggle with the realities of mental illness, substance abuse and poverty issues. There is an assumption, sadly that many people who are struggling or homeless are at fault, and instead of focusing on empathy and finding solutions, we can sometimes become wrapped in indifference or judgement.
The silver lining in all this past year’s catastrophe is that perhaps for one remarkable chunk of time, we faced struggles together. A time when we clearly saw the gravity of the issues faced by our sisters and brothers in need. We saw just how close any one of us could have been to experiencing helplessness or needing a hand from our neighbor. It’s through this recognized human equilibrium that I pray that we will be more inclined to offer compassion and a willingness to give back to those in need. It’s my hope that as the pandemic subsides, we will all try a little harder and not look at our indigent population as a problem that can be fixed with a band-aid, but rather an issue that requires psychological, behavioral, and social interventions in tandem.
As our organization celebrates this significant milestone, I’m reminded that we are standing on the shoulders of the present and past agency leaders, team members and donors, building on momentum and wisdom that has been many years in the making. Nearly a century of experience does not lie, it has taught us that dignity and compassion is how we succeed in serving others, especially those who need it most.
Our mission doesn’t stop and is constantly evolving. We have reinvented our services delivery model to remain sustainable and relevant to assist our community. With God’s help, we look forward to our next 80 years and beyond.