First Steps for Ben and Ava

 In Blog


By:  Nikole Baringer, Communications Coordinator

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Youngstown


“Ben and Ava” brought their five children to the Youngstown area in hopes of a better life.  Their children were between the ages of six months and seven years old.  They had been living in their car for weeks when a case worker from Catholic Charities received Ben’s call.  Ben had not been able to find work because he lost his birth certificate and was not able to get any type of identification.  Catholic Charities immediately helped the family with diapers, wipes, food and clean clothing for the children.  These much needed items were provided through Catholic Charities’ First Step program.  The case worker helped to get the family into a hotel for a few days before placing them at the local homeless shelter.  A few days later, the Catholic Charities case worker was able to move them into Catholic Charities’ new Voice of Hope Shelter in Youngstown, which provides safe shelter for families.  The First Step program continued to provide necessary material goods to the family, and the case worker helped Ben and Ava secure identification so they could begin searching for employment and finding a permanent place to live.  Until that time, the family of seven will be safely sheltered.  Ben and Ava are very thankful for the help and hope Catholic Charities has provided and feel that despite their difficulties, coming to Youngstown will prove to be a positive experience.

Catholic Charities agencies in the Diocese of Youngstown assist families like “Ben and Ava’s” and many other women, children, and families in need every day.  In 2020, Catholic Charities First Step programs served over 600 households, the majority of which received material assistance with food, formula, diapers and other essentials, as well as case management services to link them with other Catholic Charities and community resources.  Catholic Charities is able to pass on these goods and services to families with children because of the funds raised by the annual First Step for Change campaigns held in diocesan parishes.


Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, Catholic Charities was unable promote First Step for Change last year, despite the fact that the past several months have been taxing on all of Catholic Charities’ programs and services.  Individuals and families continue to struggle with job loss, financial loss, and the inability to connect with any sort of support system.  Clients come to Catholic Charities to meet their immediate needs and to get assistance with the development of a plan for greater self-sufficiency.  Thus, the success of First Step for Change in 2021 is crucial.


The First Step programs have existed in all six counties of the diocese since 2003.  Catholic Charities began coordinating the First Step for Change campaign shortly after as a “baby bottle fundraiser” during the month of October, the month known as Respect Life Month.  This pro-life, pro-family fundraiser continues today to help provide necessary material assistance to individuals and families served by Catholic Charities’ First Step programs.


With First Step’s focus on pregnant women, children and families, Catholic Charities has decided to move the 2021 First Step for Change campaign to run between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Mother’s Day is celebrated as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers make for their children.  In Catholic tradition, the month of May is dedicated to Mary.  Her example teaches us faith, obedience, humility and most of all, how to love. According to St. Thomas of Villanova, “If in this world any creature ever loved God with whole heart, with whole soul, and with whole mind, she [Mary] was the creature.”


Father’s Day is celebrated as a way to honor the influence of fathers on the lives of their children and in society.   Pope Francis has declared 2021 the Year of Saint Joseph—the perfect example of courage, tenderness, love, and obedience to the will of God in serving as the earthly father of Jesus.


The faith, humility and love shown by Mary and Joseph make Mother’s Day to Father’s Day the perfect time for Catholic Charities to hold its annual First Step for Change campaign.  This year’s campaign will begin on Sunday, May 9 (Mother’s Day) and run through Sunday, June 20 (Father’s Day).


Although Catholic Charities no longer uses plastic baby bottles in an effort to eliminate waste and cut costs, the First Step for Change collection process is very simple.  All necessary supplies will be forwarded to participating parishes for families to pick up, take home and return to their parish by June 30.


Catholic Charities wishes to extend its thanks and appreciation to the various local Knights of Columbus Councils who have supported First Step for Change year after year with their financial contributions to help offset material costs.  Their faithful partnership with Catholic Charities on this project has benefited thousands of low-income pregnant women, children, and families across the diocese.


For more information or to make a First Step for Change donation online, visit Catholic Charities’ website at, or contact Nikole Baringer by phone at 330-744-8451, ext. 323, or by email








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