Catholic Charities of Oregon has revamped one of its departments. The ideas are to help low-income families through more of their lifespan and address foundational poverty-causing issues.

What once was called Pregnancy Support and Adoption Services is now Family Support and Counseling Services

Caseworkers helping families and pregnant women over the years recognized that their clients often were in need of mental health treatment. Now, staff have more training in mental health and have a psychologist linked to the program.

“We are seeing such a huge need in the community for mental health help,” said Heather Zarrilli, director of the new department.

Catholic Charities is working to make psychological aid available to clients in all parts of the organization, particularly new moms, who are subject to postpartum depression.

Family Support and Counseling Services assists women who are pregnant or families with children up to age 3. Case managers help with access to housing, food, baby supplies, education and medical care. Social workers get adults signed up for whatever they need: English classes, parenting education, job lists, mental health care, addiction treatment.

Our goal is to be able to serve all families,” said Zarrilli, who grew up in poverty in the eastern United States. She knows from experience that programs like Catholic Charities open possibilities for families who have hit hard times. “You begin to feel hope,” she said.  

Catholic Charities case managers get families ready for new infants. Staff also help other children in the family prepare to be big brothers and sisters. Sometimes, the workers advocate for children who are being bullied in school or on social media.

For the good of newborns, staff make sure the family environment is at its best for the child to thrive — safe shelter, good food, and no drug or alcohol abuse.

Zarrilli said there is no typical family in the program. About a third are refugees or migrants, so staff know several languages. Some are working to regain custody of their children or show they can be good parents. About half have no home and a fourth are in unstable housing like a garage or the couch of an acquaintance.

“We work with families on what they say are their goals,” Zarrilli said.    

The public can help by spreading awareness that lower cost housing for families is in short supply in Oregon. Zarrilli lauded communities like Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton, which made a home available for newly arrived refugees. If more parishes could offer housing, that would be a major help, she said.


To aid Catholic Charities’ Family Support and Counseling Services, the public can bring diapers, playpens or other new or almost new baby gear to the Catholic Charities offices at 2740 SE Powell Blvd. in Portland. Especially needed are gift cards for food or gasoline so family members can get to work, school and medical appointments.

The department sends a baby crib around to parishes so that worshippers can fill it with items families might need.