A celebration of an outstanding legacy

Editor’s Note: On Friday, August 27, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano hosted a reception at his Trumbull residence honoring Al and Gina Barber and Denis and Britta Nayden for their contributions to the diocesan charitable mission. We are pleased to share the following remarks from Mike Donoghue, executive director of Catholic Charities, who offered praise during the evening to both couples who have done so much to serve others in our diocese.

It’s an honor and privilege to be here to recognize the Barbers and the Naydens.

Let me start with Gina because I know that any success Al has had would not have happened without Gina by his side. Al and I share one very important thing in common—we both married way overheads and are blessed with spouses who live and breathe the mission and work of Catholic Charities. Gina—you are an incredible partner who has supported Al every step of the way. I know this will be addressed later but in addition to her support for CCFC I have seen Gina’s work at St. Catherine’s and through her creativity, energy, and unique style she has been able to reach so many individuals with special needs and to improve so many lives!

Al—I am blessed to have become friends with Al many years ago through The Order of Malta. He quickly became a role model for me with his very interesting career path. We know that Al had a very successful business career at GE but he chose to embark on a second career to give back to his community. Al could have retired to do some part-time consulting and spend time with his grandkids but instead, he chose to dig in to lead and manage one of if not the largest social service organization in Fairfield County. Tonight, it’s important for us to celebrate the impact Catholic Charities has made on our community under Al’s leadership. I’m a bit of a numbers guy and these are rough estimates but…. Over the past 16 years under Al’s Leadership, CCFC has provided critical services to well over 150,000 individuals in need, served more than 15 million meals to alleviate hunger and food insecurity, provided emergency relief services to thousands of victims of Hurricane Sandy, and the list goes on and on. What a legacy and what an impact! The hard part for me is that I literally and figuratively have extremely large shoes to fill…and Al handed me the reins right before a global pandemic.

Denis and Britta—So Al provided his time and leadership but the aforementioned impact would not have been possible without the enormous generosity, advice and guidance of you and many others here today. CCFC doesn’t exist without the time talent and treasure of so many of you here today. Denis, I wish you and Britta could see the faces and the gratitude of all the people you have assisted. I know this tent certainly wouldn’t be large enough. Others will talk more about you later but please know that We are enormously grateful for all your help and support over the years.

The next thing I’m going to say should make you all happy! Tonight is not a fundraiser but it’s a celebration of an outstanding legacy we want and need to continue. Today we are launching the Catholic Charities Fund within Foundations in Charity to help us continue the legacy Barbers and the Naydens have built.

I am going to spend a very short time speaking about the future of CCFC. We have two main goals:

  1. We provide critical basic services to fill in gaps in the safety net. Services such as our feeding programs, behavioral health counseling, affordable pre-school education for hard-working low-income families, housing assistance, financial education and low-interest loans for working families, affordable legal services to help immigrants get green cards. I’m proud of the fact that every one of our programs stayed open during the pandemic and in most cases, we saw a doubling or tripling in demand especially in the area of food where we are a county-wide leader. We serve anyone in need regardless or race religion or ability to pay.
  2. Our focus over the next several years will be to bring all these resources together with some partner agencies to help our clients move from crisis or poverty towards a life of self-sufficiency. We will work one client at a time to help our clients build a better life. I have been able to see firsthand how most government handouts don’t work. We will be the agency of “hand-ups” not hand-outs. We have several new programs focused on self-sufficiency which I would be happy to discuss at a later date.

To that end, we expect over the next 1-3 years to provide our services through Catholic Charities Family Centers in all four major urban areas of the county: Bridgeport, Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford. These Catholic Charities Family Centers will provide intensive case management to provide a host of services to help our clients attain self-sufficiency. We intend to provide services such as food, behavioral health counseling, medical assistance (with a partner), ESL, housing assistance, job training, etc. We have plans to move into a new facility for the Thomas Merton Center hopefully by year-end which will bring all of our Bridgeport-based services together in one location focused on moving our clients to a more stable, self-sufficient life. We are very excited about the prospects for this new Thomas Merton Family Center and others around the county.

So, my time is up but I will leave you with this. Fairfield County is #1 in the US in income inequality and the COVID -19 pandemic has widened that gap as so many service workers lost their jobs. The massive increase in housing costs has only made things worse. Imagine trying to make ends meet for your family if you earn minimum wage in this county. I am happy to talk with any of you in more detail about the work YOU are doing through your tax-deductible investment in Catholic Charities. To honor the outstanding legacy of the Barbers and the Naydens, they have asked that you please consider a gift to the Catholic Charities of Fairfield Fund. Thank You!