The Advocate: Gayle Benson: It’s important to recognize positive impact Catholic Church has in New Orleans

March 13, 2019 by Gayle Benson

As we transition into the Lenten season, I would like to take this time to illuminate the countless blessings and good deeds bestowed upon our communities by our wonderful neighbors at the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Their thankless ventures, selfless works and wide-ranging heartfelt attention to worthwhile causes are reasons to rejoice and join in their missions to serve the needs in our communities.

I would like to share a few of my insights as a local parishioner as well as a proud and humble NFL and NBA owner that have had direct impacts into a number of these programs. I have personally witnessed the great work of the Catholic Church, often through the ministry of Catholic Charities and Second Harvest Food Bank and particularly impacting issues surrounding homelessness, as well as the complex issues around crime, incarceration, and supporting our families.

Catholic Charities recently earned a major grant to support homeless families. While the grant is new and ever so important, it allows the organization to expand its extraordinary scope of work. This grant will enable Catholic Charities to assist in the transition of families from the streets into stable homes while providing the support and education they need to stay there for the long-term.

We are all painfully aware that crime and incarceration are major issues in our community. I am proud of having joined with our players Demario Davis and Ben Watson and the Players Coalition for a Listen & Learn tour in New Orleans last season. Tangible progress came from those meetings, but there remains more hard work and dialogue. Similarly, Catholic Charities, through partnership with Cornerstone Builders, is working to address these issues in unique and innovative ways that serve not just the incarcerated or a formerly incarcerated person, but the individual’s family as well.

Cornerstone Builders is a re-entry program for formerly incarcerated men and women based on rehabilitation through service. The program is grounded in the belief that community service equips people with the skills and assets necessary to be responsible, productive citizens. This prisoner re-entry program acts as the foundation of a transformative experience that benefits not only the individual, but also the families and victims of crimes — and society at large. I salute Catholic Charities and Cornerstone Builders for this impactful program, and I look forward to continuing to work with all of our players to find solutions to this problem.

Many issues in our society are very difficult to talk about, such as pornography, online safety for children, drug abuse and sex trafficking. However, the reality is that these are issues affecting more and more of our city’s young population. The local Catholic Church is addressing these issues head-on with the Safe Haven initiative, a dual campaign of education and public services announcements designed to prevent child endangerment online and address the damaging effects of pornography on men, women, children, and families. In addition, church officials are tackling the ever-growing opioid and drug epidemic plaguing our city with an anti-drug ministry and six support groups throughout the metro area. Sadly, so many need help.

Many know of Second Harvest Food Bank, but few people realize that it is an affiliated ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Through Second Harvest, more than 210,000 people are fed the equivalent of 32 million meals a year. In addition, in times of disaster, Second Harvest plays a major role providing direct services to those in the most impacted areas in our area and beyond. Players like Michael Thomas and Cam Jordan donate their time to Second Harvest. Through decades of personally watching and admiring their work, I can personally attest to the power and true impact they have on our community. It is awe-inspiring, to say the least.

Innovation in education is vital to continued learning for today’s children, and thanks to our local Catholic Church, there will be a new school option for students with special needs opening this fall. When St. Therese Academy opens, it will not just be a school serving children with learning exceptionalities, it will be educating children with a 21st century model of personalized, blended learning — something that is new to the area but proven to be especially effective for children with learning differences.

It is also heartwarming for me to witness all of the female Catholic high schools benefit from significant investments that have been made to further educate young women through STEM initiatives. From Dominican’s STREAM initiative to Chapelle’s new STEM lab and Cabrini and Ursuline’s efforts to introduce young girls to the sciences through partnerships, our area Catholic schools are preparing young women for jobs of the future and challenging them to think in new and innovative ways.

As you can see, the Catholic Church has stepped forward to address some of our society’s largest and most pressing issues head-on. It is important for me during this Lenten season that we take a moment to understand the positive impact our local Archdiocese plays in our community on a daily basis. My late husband Tom and I have always cherished our relationship with the Archdiocese. I am thankful and I believe our entire city is thankful that Catholic Charities, Second Harvest and our local church are making our community a better and safer city through God’s grace.

Gayle Benson owns the New Orleans Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Read the original op-ed here.