By Ben and Melanie Colley
This is an excerpt from a presentation given at the graduation of the Catholic Charities Atlanta 2011 Leadership Class by class members Ben and Melanie Colley.
Good Evening Everyone!
I remember being on our pre-cana retreat where couples came to speak to us, and thinking “I hope at some point in our faith journey someone asks us to speak as a couple”, so thank you for giving us this opportunity!
Often times when programs are new, the first year is a trial run, you learn from your mistakes, make changes and hope for a better next year. But that’s definitely not the case with the Catholic Charities Atlanta Leadership Class Program, and it’s hard to believe this is the inaugural year because it’s apparent how much hard work has gone into preparing each session. From the speakers, to the delicious meals, the saint groups, the fundraising pages, the mentor workshop, the nametags, and above all the caliber of the mentors and classmates—no stone has been left unturned.
Learning About Catholic Charities Atlanta
Before this class began, I knew Catholic Charities Atlanta was a Catholic non-profit agency, based in Atlanta and affiliated with the Archdiocese, that they helped those in need, with a focus in providing refugee resettlement services. I did not know that they provided assistance to non-Catholics, that over half the staff is bilingual, and that many employees were former clients.
When the program began in September, I remember pulling up to the Archbishop’s house, in the pouring rain, and walking into a room full of unfamiliar faces. After being handed my nametag with St. Francis on it, the leadership class officially kicked off. The Saint group activity was a great start to breaking the ice among everyone.
Words of Inspiration from the Speakers
While we don’t have enough time to talk about all the sessions, some of the most inspirational moments for us include the authentic talk given by Mike Cote where he shared the quote “True Leaders are Mentors with a Servant’s heart”. You have to be a true servant who is passionate about helping people in order to be a true leader. It’s that simple.
I also enjoyed learning about his faith journey and realizing it takes time to get where you want to be in your prayer life; it doesn’t happen overnight, and you have to work at it every day. He gave us some great tools to do so. It really hit home when he discussed getting daily readings on his phone to start the morning. I thought to myself… ok – the first thing I do after the alarm goes off in the morning is check my email on my phone before I even get out of bed. What is so important that it can’t wait until after a morning prayer? So I started by saying a few “Hail Mary’s” before I allowed myself to read the emails, and even that little act has made me feel better. It really made me realize that to be a servant leader you must make Christ the center of your day at the beginning of each day, even if this entails simply reciting a few “Hail Marys” or “Our Fathers”.
Dr. Thompson helped me understand that “God has created me to do him some definite service” by quoting Cardinal John Newman. This was just enough to whet my appetite, so I went home and researched this quote and learned even more. Cardinal John Newman goes on to say “I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.” Isn’t this aligning exactly with part of the mission of this class?
I’m also appreciative to have learned “no success at work is worth failure at home”. That’s important as this class is full of leaders. It’s key to emphasize, and remember… no matter how great or demanding your job may be or how putting in extra hours at work might get you that promotion, it’s not worth it if it’s going to negatively impact your family. Good food for thought!
There were a lot of takeaways in Dr. Voss’ presentation too, but the one that resonated greatest was when he said “Treat your Spouse, like they are your best client”. I was so moved by this. It seems so simple, yet I had never thought of something like that before. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of work and life, and not give your family the treatment they deserve. What I’ve learned is that my husband IS my best client, and he deserves my undivided attention even more so than my work or outside activities.
Meeting Our Mentor
Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed the activity where we were asked to create a timeline of our lives at the mentor workshop. The only guideline in creating this timeline was to utilize the space on the white sheet of paper. I marked my years by dates, and significant milestones such as graduating college, becoming a Catholic, getting married, and buying a house. Whereas, my mentor marked her years by each of the phases in her life. She started her life as a learner, then a giver, a sharer, and now she’s a leader. We were given the same project, but had totally different ways of completing it. It was a great way to leap into the mentor program and help me understand that even though we all might have the same goal, we all have different ways of reaching that goal, and I’m looking forward to learning more about that through the mentorship program. We’ve both already met with our mentors once, and are excited about the things we are going to learn.
Personal Testimonies from CCA Staff
Hearing all of the positive statistics regarding the organization’s performance is nice, but what really hit home with me from the workshops were the talks of 2 particular employees of Catholic Charities. To hear the testimony of Pasupati Regmi and his journey from first coming to America, then living 17 years in a refugee camp, to now giving back as a staff member for Catholic Charities was a true joy. He exemplified the significant needs of many around us in Atlanta, the determination to overcome their situations when given some help and encouragement, and the desire to give back, pay it forward, and continue helping others in similar situations.
Further, Rosa de Kelly, the attorney on Catholic Charities staff, gave a poignant speech about being called in to a hospital room at 3 am by a client who had lost her son to cancer that night. Rosa’s purpose for being there was to read the hospital documents and sign them on behalf of the mother who did not speak English. This story gave me chills, and when Rosa mentioned after the fact that she has been in nonprofit for 6 years, spending most of her life in corporate law, I was stunned. A fault of mine is to sometimes think that social workers are “called to serve.” How could someone like me, a bean counter, affect someone’s life in the same manner? Rosa taught me that we all have the ability to serve in such heart-wrenching dilemmas, a gift provided to each of us through Jesus Christ.
Fundraising Challenges and Successes
Finally, I want to briefly share my experience on the fundraising efforts that each member of the graduating class was charged with doing. Obviously, the financial contributions are essential to run the organization, and the class’ ability to raise $37,000 in 4 months is a testament to our hard work. I gave a brief talk at my office highlighting the work that Catholic Charities does with the many refugees living in Metro Atlanta. After the talk, I had a co-worker come up to me and mention that he and his wife had been talking for several weeks about getting more involved in the community. They had literally targeted Catholic Charities that week as the organization of choice, to volunteer both their time and talents; yet they were unaware of just how many ways they could help. A three minute talk in front of a group of accountants led to a separate 15 minute discussion of faith with my coworker. I am sure that he felt the Holy Spirit nudging him as I gave the talk on Catholic Charities, as I know I felt the Holy Spirit in me after he shared his excitement in beginning to work with the group. One of the overarching themes of the class has been to not be afraid of living your faith in all facets of your life, and this moment for me was the epitome of why we as Catholics should strive for this integration.
Balance Between Faith, Family and Career
This class has taught us a lot on how to find a happy balance between faith, family, career, and the other aspects of life. One of the best attributes of the class has been networking with parishioners from other churches, learning the various ways they are involved and the activities for which they participate. I’ve also learned that through being involved in this program and fundraising that our efforts will impact the lives of many. It has already given me so much spiritual food, and I can tell you – every time I received a “Catholic Charities Donation Alert email” that was a rush too! It’s important that our efforts don’t stop here. There are numerous ways to get involved through Catholic Charities Atlanta with our time, talent, and treasure, and now that we’ve learned just how much impact it has on the organization it’s important to share this with others, and to start thinking about the people for next year’s class. Going forward, I strongly believe Catholic Charities Atlanta to be the link that fosters these inter-parish relationships in our community.
Words of Thanks
On behalf of the 2011 Catholic Charities Atlanta Leadership Class, Thank you Archbishop Gregory for championing this class and engaging the Catholic leaders in the community for this endeavor. Thank you to the Board, the advisory committee, and the staff at Catholic Charities Atlanta for your hard work and energy creating a successful first year. And thank you to the mentors for giving your time to help create servant leaders out of us! We look forward to staying involved and seeing the successes of the classes in the years to come!