4/10/2017 10:06:00 AM WATCH: Parish seeks to serve beyond sanctuary walls House opened for refugees, homeless families
Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel Al Schmitt, outreach coordinator for Holy Trinity Parish, stands in a 10-bedroom house the parish purchased to care for refugees and local homeless families. “People feel so good, and feel so comfortable in this church, they want to give back,” Schmitt says of Holy Trinity.
Holy Trinity Parish purchased a large home near the church and houses refugees and local homeless families in partnership with Catholic Charities and the Beaverton School District.
BEAVERTON — Two years ago, Jamie Hauth was living in a car with her 6-year-old son. Now, thanks to Holy Trinity Parish here, she has a tidy room, holds down a job and sends her boy to school each day clean and fed.
Hauth, 37, was invited to live in a cheery 10-bedroom house the parish purchased and turned into a haven for overseas refugees and local homeless families.
Life in the ministry house gave her time and space to reflect on past choices and what she would change. “When you are in survival mode, you can’t grow,” Hauth explains.
A 12-year abusive relationship had ended when the FBI smashed down the doors of her former house in Eugene and hauled away her boyfriend. Hauth had used that small home for a daycare. Business dried up after the police drama and she lost her livelihood as well as her shelter.
Hauth and her son couch-surfed until they ran out of couches. Eventually, the Beaverton School District and domestic violence workers introduced her to Holy Trinity.
There, she met Al Schmitt, a former high-tech manager who runs the parish outreach programs, including the ministry house. Hauth calls Schmitt the father she never had. After she lived in the house for six months, Schmitt asked her to become resident manager. Now, she sees other families going through transitions like she did.
Only with God’s help
Holy Trinity, an upper-middle-class parish, purchased the house five years ago.
Like any venture, it advanced through trial and error. Several projects foundered. Father Dave Gutmann, the pastor, calls the current two-part ministry “moderately successful,” with the parish learning to be better all the time.
“It’s been stepping out in faith,” Father Gutmann says. “We wanted to do something that we could not do alone, that would take divine help. We’re there.”
Holy Trinity has one of the most active volunteer corps in the archdiocese. Father Gutmann calls his parishioners’ response “lavish,” like God’s love.
Scores of parishioners work on the ministry house project. They cook and drive. They take children to the park. They give lessons on bus riding and money. Most of all, they care for families who are adjusting to America or trying to heal from American life gone awry.
Refugee families who come have escaped danger in troubled nations like Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. When they move away to an apartment, usually after two or three weeks, parishioners continue to visit and help.
“That is exactly what we hoped for, that we would have long-term relationships with refugees,” Father Gutmann says.
As with most ministries to people on the margins, there are risks. Refugees have posed few problems, but among the homeless families there have been instances of drug use and conflict.
“You need to be patient,” Father Gutmann says. “And the pastor needs to be encouraging.”
Schmitt, the outreach coordinator, says the key to success was finding strong partners to enhance the impact. Catholic Charities serves the refugees and Beaverton School District refers local homeless families and helps with case management.
The ministry house “is truly a blessing,” says Lisa Mentesana, homeless education coordinator for the Beaverton School District. Mentesana explains that soaring housing costs force some Washington County families to live in cars and tents. Shelters have waiting lists and offer only six weeks to families, whereas Holy Trinity offers six months.
“Stable housing helps a family move forward in their lives,” says Mentesana, who marvels at the collaboration between a church and a public school district.
‘They want to give back’
The ministry house began because of good listening. Every three years, Holy Trinity holds a summit and invites everyone to give input on church life and ministry. Frequently, parishioners ask how the community can extend its reach beyond the usual churchy circles.
Holy Trinity already serves all kinds of people, including non-parishioners, at one of the area’s busiest food banks. It leads an effort to fill backpacks with food for 400 public school children who were going hungry on weekends. But parishioners, many of them employees at places like Nike or Intel, always seem ready to do more.
“People feel so good, and feel so comfortable in this church, they want to give back,” says Schmitt, 63. He himself works many hours. His wife of 39 years, Cathie, has supported his move, even though the paycheck seems to be missing a zero compared to the high-tech days. The couple have two children and three grandchildren.
The ministry house is not just a shelter. Residents need to stick with a plan formed by the parish and the partner agency. The idea is to do what is needed to develop stability: complete an education, learn English, get a job, escape domestic violence, attend counseling. Everyone learns to pitch in to keep the house clean.
“It is interesting to watch the spiritual journey over time,” says Schmitt. “What they begin to see is that people do care about them. That makes a big difference.”