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Parish Engagement Program

The Parish Engagement Program will recruit, train, empower, and organize volunteer parishioners to connect immigrants to needed services.

Photo of Kathleen Dederian
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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

The specific people impacted: Many residents in Our Lady of Refuge (OLR) parish in east-central San José, California, where Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County implements the Parish Engagement Program (PEP), are immigrants struggling to establish stable lives. In zip code 95122, where OLR is located, 52% of the population is foreign born, nearly half (46%) of whom have not finished high school compared with 20% of U.S. born residents (2017 American Community Survey). There are an estimated 200,000 undocumented immigrants living in Santa Clara County (Nicholas Chan, San Jose Inside, 2019) and the vast majority of PEP clients are undocumented individuals fleeing harsh conditions in their home countries, primarily from Central America. The problem PEP is solving: Research conducted prior to asking our design question showed that a significant percentage of the population we will serve suffered and continues to suffer from some form of trauma. We asked: How might PEP help people address trauma caused by both displacement from their home countries and threats of displacement in their current living situation, including fear of deportation and social isolation? We designed a program in which CCSCC will train PEP volunteers from the same community as the clients they will serve using a trauma-informed approach of active listening with service navigation. In a community setting with peer support, clients will be given the emotional support and social service resources to break their cycle of trauma and make life changes that enhance their self-sufficiency. Root causes of the problem: Psychological, emotional, physical, and economic trauma is the common factor of those who experience poverty. Without an awareness of how trauma affects us, we tend to make bad decisions and we unnecessarily prolong suffering. By addressing and treating trauma in the context of a support system, PEP helps clients break dysfunctional patterns that impede progress out of poverty.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Our Lady of Refuge parish is located in the “Corridor of Poverty,” a 38-mile long section running from East Palo Alto to south of San José, which sits in the midst of one of the wealthiest regions of the U.S. PEP will serve OLR’s culturally and linguistically diverse congregation, many of whom seek support from Church administrators on a weekly basis and many of whom see it as their spiritual calling to volunteer for PEP to learn how to and provide support to their fellow parishioners.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

PEP’s guiding principle is, “Community First.” PEP brings neighbors together to support their neighbors who are struggling with a number of poverty-related issues, including issues of immigration. By building strong neighborhood ties through PEP, those who are helped via the program will also be encouraged to continue in the program as volunteers helping others.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

PEP is committed to developing capacity within each individual and within the community itself. The essential elements of humanity: joy, hope, and dignity are preserved when clients are involved in their own recovery. PEP’s model of neighbors helping neighbors not only creates community and builds cohesion, it gives people the capacity to actively engage in their own recovery without feeling that they are the subject of someone else’s pity. PEP recruits and trains people in the community to listen deeply without judgement. Volunteers are trained to include and treat clients as co-members of the team, rather than as clients. The volunteers build connections with their neighbors who are struggling with poverty and displacement, and guide them to resources that develop their self-sufficiency. As a result of this work, the community itself has developed the capacity to overcome poverty-related and emotional trauma by building social resilience in the face of hardship.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

PEP will integrate clients, regardless of need, into the community. Volunteers and clients will work together to identify and address barriers to accessing services. As a result, PEP will: Empower clients to engage in self-advocacy; Enable clients to make decisions toward long-term goals; and PEP service teams will report a feeling of satisfaction having contributed to the community's well-being. Actionable impact on the problem: By July 2020, PEP will train 240 OLR volunteers to provide accompaniment services to 120 OLR clients. How will you know: CCSCC anticipates that: 1) 75% of clients will have better outcomes based on the “5 Dimensions of Poverty/ Prosperity” scale and will self-report an increase in self-confidence in navigating social services; and 2) 95% of all referrals made to PEP will walk away with a successful referral to an appropriate helping agency as monitored through service logs. CCSCC will also measure the number of volunteers who work with multiple clients.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

PEP is based in the “Encuentro” theory of change popularized by Pope Francis. In this model, accompaniment is a central theme in which community members walk with others in an attitude of openness and radical acceptance. “Encuentro” is a self-affirmative process in which people come to see themselves as capable, powerful and gifted and not as helpless victims. Throughout “Encuentro,” people develop the capacity to speak for themselves in public spaces and advocate for changes in public policy that would benefit themselves and their neighbors. This is important to the community that PEP will serve because as clients work with volunteers to address basic needs, they learn to engage together in advocacy for the services that will strengthen the community as a whole - for example, affordable housing, rent control and tenants’ rights; civil rights to uphold immigrants’ rights; and better access to key social service programs.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

Having learned from first, second, and even third generation immigrants who have been themselves or whose families have been displaced, PEP will support disenfranchised, marginalized people who have experienced trauma. CCSCC anticipates that the vast majority will be undocumented individuals whose trauma stems from leaving their homes as well as from their fear of imprisonment, family separation, and deportation, in light of the current federal administration’s policies. The remainder of clients will still be marginalized due to the trauma they have experienced and the current economic state in which they live. While PEP cannot eliminate the economic barriers that this population faces, the program can help build client resiliency that improves their ability to function amidst hardship. Through the process of accompaniment, PEP will reduce client trauma, strengthen their self-esteem; and empower clients to speak out for what they need and deserve.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

The congregational members of Our Lady of Refuge are the foundational assets who will create an environment for success. The parishioners are a diverse group of Latinx, Vietnamese, Filipino, and Caucasian people living in the neighborhood. Each group has different issues and in prioritizing its own social barriers. For example, Vietnamese parishioners have been found to be more concerned with food access while the Latinx community has been found to be more focused on housing and immigration. Both groups are willing to work together to build a stronger and more resilient neighborhood. Many understand first hand the experience of being displaced and having to leave a familiar home and make a new one elsewhere. The congregation has decided together to commit to PEP, seeking to create change in their community. Both the clients and volunteers feel that OLR is a safe and trusted place for them to come to access services and speak openly about their challenges.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

PEP will partner with CCSCC programs and local community agencies that serve, advocate for, and empower individuals and families in need, especially those living in poverty. Within CCSCC, available services include: job skills training and placement, ESL classes, financial literacy, older adult services, mental health services, immigration legal assistance, refugee resettlement, after-school expanded learning, youth and family services, and supportive housing. As trained PEP volunteers begin to “accompany” their neighbors on their journey to healing, self-sufficiency, and self-empowerment, they will together learn more about what services are needed and make connections to current partners who provide medical and mental health services, food, housing, education, immigration/legal, and employment services. These partners include Gardner Family Health Network, Second Harvest Food Bank, Santa Clara County Rapid Response Network, City of San Jose, San Jose City College, and others.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Platform: Creating a community or market that facilitates interaction between users and resources

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

CCSCC has been working to strengthen families and build economic self-sufficiency for the poor and vulnerable in SCC since 1955 when it was founded. PEP supports CCSCC’s mission to serve and advocate for individuals and families in need, especially those living in poverty. All of the more than 30 direct service programs that CCSCC provides are culturally competent and the agency's multicultural staff has a cumulative proficiency in over 35 languages. CCSCC maintains a long-standing practice of collaborating with other local non-profits, public agencies and other entities to leverage resources with the goal of making a significant impact on reducing poverty and its impacts. CCSCC works side by side with individuals who have experienced displacement—whether through immigration, financial hardship, unaddressed trauma, or the many other barriers that come with poverty—listening deeply and incorporating their voices into the services provided.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States of America

Organization Headquarters: City / State

San Jose, California


Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Hi Kathleen Dederian! Quite insightful design to address psychological and physical traumas of displaced persons. Moreover, disabled persons among them must be suffering twice the traumas of others. So, is there any provision to accommodate their special needs in this solution?

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