News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 14, 2014

Organization does what it can as well as it can

United Way agency profile: Catholic Charities

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Before David Linton began taking his grandson Corbin to the preschool program at Ryves Youth Center, Linton had never been involved with Catholic Charities in Terre Haute.

But when he and his wife found themselves raising their grandson from birth, Linton said, they looked for help to give Corbin the support he needs to be successful in school and in growing up.

“These people are very good to him,” Linton said of the United Way agency, “and he’s learned a lot since he’s been coming here. I bring him all the way in here from New Goshen, where we live, because these people are really good to him.”

While waiting to pick up the little boy, who will turn 5 in May, Linton spoke about the assistance that his grandson receives at the Ryves Youth Center. The Ryves staff teaches him responsibility, and he looks forward to the Christmas program, Linton said. But the growing boy particularly likes the bag of take-home snacks he receives at the end of each week and the books that he likes to read with his grandfather.

“We have two or three shelves of books that he has brought home from here,” Linton said, “and he’ll crawl up into my lap to read with me.”

Like many between ages 3 and 17 who find a “second home” at the Ryves Youth Center, Corbin can be described as “at-risk” because of economic factors. His grandparents rely on Social Security for their income.

“Without this place, it would really put a pinch on my wife’s and my budget,” Linton said. “I can’t say enough good things about this place.”

Ryves Youth Center at Etling Hall – located at 14th and Locust streets –  is one of the many charitable facilities and programs offered by Catholic Charities in Terre Haute. Other services include Bethany House, Catholic Charities Foodbank, Christmas Store and Household Exchange.

As a member agency of the United Way of the Wabash Valley, Catholic Charities has relied on that affiliation since 1977.

“We’ve enjoyed a tremendous run of successes, not just with our programs, but with our ability to affect a lot of collaborative efforts,” said Catholic Charities director John Etling. “Our goal is to try to do what we do as well as we can. The calling for our Catholic faith is to be the best version of us as we can be as children of God and to continue to look for the face of Christ among those we serve.”

Etling said that without the funding support of United Way, the local charity would not have near the success that it has had.

“We wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we are, that’s for sure,” Etling said. “I sign up each year for the United Way’s annual campaign for no reason other than I believe in what they do.”

The Terre Haute community definitely benefits from the United Way, he said, as does the Wabash Valley at large. And not only financially. The board members and volunteers with the United Way are people who find solutions to problems, rather than people who just throw money at a problem.

Some Catholic Charities programs are intended to direct people on how to lift themselves out of poverty and into financial responsibility and sustainability.

“There’s a ‘disposable’ component to our culture these days,” Etling said. “Older generations saw a great value in buying a house and a car and having them last a lifetime. We need to teach people that again. The quest for ‘want’ is unquenchable and it self-perpetuates. And, that doesn’t make anybody any happier.”

On the other hand, cast-offs such as used furniture, appliances, desks and other household items are a mainstay of the Household Exchange, which provides needed items to people who are homeless, low-income, fire victims and others in dire need. The donated items are cleaned and repaired if needed.

The Christmas Store provides new gifts to about 1,000 families each year through the contributions of individuals and businesses.

Bethany House provides safe shelter, meals and clothing to homeless families. It also operates a soup kitchen.

The Food Bank distributes the equivalent of about two million meals each year to about 75 other charitable agencies in seven west-central Indiana counties.

The agencies are soup kitchens, food pantries, senior citizen centers and housing facilities, day care centers, church camps, youth residential facilities and other non-profit agencies that help feed people in need.

Back at the Ryves Youth Center, director Jim Edwards said anywhere from 80 to 150 children will walk each day through the doors of Etling Hall, with services reaching 1,500 youths.

The preschool serves homeless children who would otherwise get no educational help toward starting school, let along meals each day. The after-school activities provide children a safe place to go after school, along with an afternoon meal. There is a computer lab, college tutors who coach children in math and reading, and sports leagues organized for basketball. The center also hosts meetings for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts troops.

“We have a lot of kids who go on to be successes,” Edwards said. “One girl is now an assistant professor at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Another boy went into the military and now he flies for Air Force One.”

Some youths come from families who don’t believe in education or have a work ethic. Children in those families can feel lost without direction. But just giving them structure and an example can turn a lost child into a productive adult, he said.

“Recently, I saw a young man who grew up here, and he told me he had held the same job for 15 years, and he has three sons with two of them in college,” Edwards said. “He’s a good loving father who grew up in a family that is not like what he is now teaching his children. Those are the success stories.”

Trying to change a culture of educational drop-outs is not easy. Many people in a cycle of generational poverty are afraid to change their own culture. That is why, Edwards said, it is important to have the college mentors come in to work with the youths, so children can see education is fun and provides opportunities for a better life.

During the recent snow storm, Edwards said, a young mother came in to the center with her children to get something to eat. If the center hadn’t been open, that family likely would not have eaten that day because they could not travel and were out of food at home. Luckily, the family knew to come to the youth center, where the staff was ready with meals to share.

“I like us to feel like we’re an extended member of their family,” Edwards said of the people who receive help. “We’re someone they can look to if they have problems.”

For more information about the programs and services offered by Catholic Charities of Terre Haute, or to make a contribution, go online to or call 812-232-1447.

For more information about the United Way of the Wabash Valley, go online to, or call 812-235-6287.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.