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Dorothy Day Apartments
This Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania apartment building for single mothers stands as a tribute to the community's ability to dialogue, confront stereotypes and negotiate uncharted territory.

Public Policy Education Network
Think people are apathetic about politics? This Albany, NY initiative has figured out how to engage citizens by the hundreds in public policy and advocacy.

Dorothy Day Apartments, Pittsburgh, PA

The Partners:

  • Corpus Christi Parish
  • Urban Redevelopment Authority
  • Residents of the Lemington-Larimor neighborhood

The tension was thick and the fear palpable at the neighborhood's first public hearing to discuss converting an abandoned parish school into apartments for single parents. Residents worried that the site would become a hangout for drug dealers, prostitutes and delinquent teens. On the other hand, they also saw the project as a beneficial use of a property that had become an eyesore. The women and men on the Corpus Christi parish council - also residents of the neighborhood - realized the project would only go forward if they persuaded neighbors to support it.

That was several years ago. Today, Dorothy Day Apartments in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania stands as a tribute to the community's ability to dialogue, confront stereotypes and negotiate uncharted territory. From that first public hearing until Dorothy Day's doors opened, there were countless living room conversations, community meetings and consultations with developers, funders and elected officials. At every Mass said at Corpus Christi, Prayers of the Faithful included mention of the project.

Dorothy Day has 16 apartments in a landscaped setting with an adjoining playground. But it does far more than provide housing for single parents and their children. Tammie Brown set her sights on a college education that would distance her from drug influences in her family. Dorothy Day provided a bright, spacious apartment and access to childcare, counseling and pediatric care. Dorothy Day's standards required Tammie to enroll in an educational program, attend life skills classes on site and document her grades and attendance. For Tammie, the structure and support were just what she needed to achieve the goals she had allowed to be sidetracked. Parishioners babysit for residents while they are in class and lend moral support to the single parents they now know as individuals and as neighbors.

Two years and many night classes after moving in to Dorothy Day, Tammie was awarded her bachelor's degree, landed a job as a caseworker in family life education and married her son's father. When the director's position opened up at Dorothy Day, Tammie applied - and got the job!

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Public Policy Education Network, Albany, NY

The Partners:

  • The Diocese of Albany, New York
  • 80 parishes of the diocese
  • Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany

Public Policy is defined as the "wise, expedient or prudent conduct or management concerning the people as a whole." But who determines what's wise, prudent or expedient? Whose voice is heard? Who decides?

A group of people tracking policy issues in Albany, NY didn't like the answers those questions elicited. The range of perspectives offered for public consideration seemed skewed. Media outlets were seldom sufficiently comprehensive or objective in their coverage of an important community issue - if it got covered at all. An informed Church perspective on public policy seemed sadly lacking in any public forum.

Albany residents in 80 parishes responded to a diocesan initiative to learn about public policy issues and their implications for neighborhoods and take actions that would ensure that their voice was heard in legislative forums.

With Catholic Charities providing staffing and oversight, the Public Policy Education Network was founded five years ago. Since then, it has rallied parishioners around issues in unprecedented numbers. Participation often begins with dialogues at local retreats or catechetical programs or in response to an announcement about the Network in the parish newsletter.

Now parishioners demand to know:

  • Has my legislator ever sat down and talked face to face with a welfare recipient? How might this interaction affect his or her participation in welfare reform strategy sessions?
  • Does my elected representative know my position on casino gambling? On physician assisted suicide? On welfare reform? With whom do my representatives consult?
  • Does my legislator know that the rate of child poverty in the United States is double that of any other industrialized nation? How will welfare reform legislation improve or worsen this situation?

The Network organizes training sessions and conducts issue forums, but individual parishes determine how they'll organize and participate. Some have used the Salt and Light program promoted by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops as a model. Others use the Journey to Justice retreat program. Some involve the parish social justice committee in adapting a structure for the parish.

In 1997, the Network began a newsletter to enhance its educational initiatives. Easy to read, the newsletter is full of anecdotes, interviews, short legislative updates, bulleted facts and statistics. The Network can claim credit for defeating an effort to put to a referendum an amendment to the state constitution allowing casino gambling at six sites.

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