SALT LAKE CITY — At its 2023 Humanitarian Awards Dinner, held Nov. 7 at the Little America Hotel, Catholic Community Services of Utah recognized the impact its donors and volunteers have on the refugee and homeless communities.
Among those attending the dinner were Bishop Oscar A. Solis; Msgr. Colin F. Bircumshaw, vicar general; Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general emeritus; and from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé; and their wives.
At the event, CCS Board President Katherina Holzhauser, who emigrated from Eastern Europe as a small child after WWII, shared information about the organization’s programs and successes over the past year. “CCS serves refugees like me from countries like Burma, Somalia, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo and many other countries here in Utah,” she said.
Over the past year CCS’ Migration and Refugee Services served 852 newly arrived refugees, while the Refugee Foster Care Program placed 33 youth with families, Holzhauser said. In addition, the Weigand Resource Center, a homeless daytime shelter in Salt Lake City, provided 2, 489 unhoused individuals with a place to shower, do their laundry and store some of their belongings, along with offering case management and a computer lab.
The center will shortly be providing mental health care, Holzhauser added.
At St. Vincent de Paul dining hall in Salt Lake City, 453,000 meals were served, while those in need in the Ogden area received 2.2 million pounds of food through the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank. The Bridging the Gap program in northern Utah provided 58,000 weekend meal kits to school children.
After Holzhauser’s remarks, Carole Mikita, senior reporter for KSL-TV News and the event’s emcee, introduced each of the award recipients.
Lifetime of Service Award: Jeanne Audiss
Jeanne Audiss, a retired CCS employee and National Council of Catholic Women board member, “made sure to highlight CCS whenever possible, whether it was through engaging staff or clients as speakers at conferences and events or guiding donations and service projects in the direction of CCS,” Mikita said.
“CCS is the best agency a person could ever get involved with,” Audiss said after accepting the award. “All you have to do is walk in the front door or the back door and you will see why. It doesn’t matter which door you walk into, whether it be at the Ogden facility, the soup kitchen, Weigand center, the foster care building, or the resettlement administrative building, you will see the face of Christ; wherever you go, you will see the face of Christ and the clients that we serve.”
2023 Humanitarians of the Year: Paul and Ruth Cherecwich
“Paul and Ruth Cherecwich have been strong supporters of CCS for many years, assisting through not only financial donations but also by engaging their circle of friends and members of the Episcopal Church to learn about and engage in the programs at CCS,” Mikita said.
Paul Cherecwich said he and his wife were happy to accept the award, but that they are just two of countless volunteers who help CCS succeed. “I would like to ask everyone to look around this room to see the large number of people who are here tonight,” he added. “In addition to the number of people you see, there are countless others not able to be here. It is all of us working both separately and together. We support CCS using our time, talent and treasure.”
Partner of the Year
FFKR Architects, which sponsors the Empty Bowls event, where community artists donate handmade bowls as a fundraiser for the St. Vincent de Paul dining hall, was named 2023 Partner of the Year. Amelia Roper, FFKR’s human resources director, accepted the award.
“Because of great partnerships throughout the state that donate we find happiness and deeper appreciation for what we have when we serve others,” Roper said. “When we serve others, we show compassion and empathy to those around us. I love connecting and networking with people and I hope to lift others by doing so at Empty Bowls which is an event that we can all get into. We hope to make Empty Bowls bigger and better every year.”
Parish of the Year: St. Thomas More Catholic Church
“The parishioners at St. Thomas from the Catholic Church have definitely played a huge role in supporting the programs at CCS each month,” Mikita said. For more than 20 years they have volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul’s dining hall, and each year sponsor a “huge hygiene and clothing drive” for Gift of the Drummer. “They also bring in groups throughout the year to help with food prep and service. Many parishioners become long-term volunteers helping the migration and refugee services department working with multiple families over the years.”
Father John Evans, St. Thomas More pastor and former two-term CCS board president, accepted the award on behalf of his parish.
“This is quite an honor for our parish,” he said. “And I’m so happy for the community members to be recognized in some way because I get recognized all over the place, but they do what they do out of love for their brothers and sisters in the community.”
Volunteers of the Year: Anna Neumann and Teresa Hislop
Anna Neumann and Teresa Hislop and their families were matched through CCS’ Family Mentors for Migration and Refugee Services program with a family of 12 who arrived from Afghanistan in 2022, Mikita said. “The Neumann and Hislops were exactly the kind of volunteers that this family needed to support them in their adjustment to life in the United States. They were willing to learn about the complexities of refugee resettlement, and about the clients’ culture to make them feel more comfortable.”
The CCS Employee of the Year was Kyle Mortensen, case management supervisor for refugee foster care, who has worked with the organization for the past five years.
“Kyle is such an asset to the refugee foster care program and his dedication to this program over the past five years has been nothing short of inspiring,” Mikita said.
In his remarks at the end of the evening, Bishop Solis praised the staff and volunteers at Catholic Community Services.
“I thank all the donors, the benefactors and all the volunteers who continue to contribute in any way they can, in order that the mission of the Catholic Community Services will remain an arm and a manifestation of God’s love in our midst,” the bishop said. “What the Diocese of Salt Lake City exhibits through Catholic Community Services continues to stand for [Christ’s] mission and vision. We reach out and accompany everyone without prejudice or discrimination of race or religious affiliation, simply because of our love for God.”
The work done at CCS is “the Christian way,” he said. “Serving the poor brings us greater love, joy, a deeper meaning in life. Because it is the essence; it is the very essence, the quintessence of our own existence. It is the purpose of human beings, to live and exist in this world. In other words, the value of life is measured by the lives we touch, and when our life touches the lives of others, we’re going to only enrich ourselves, we admit the world that God has given to us.”