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Celebrating the Original Social Network

Recipients of the 2010 Catholic Charities USA Centennial Medal

February 2011 | by Jodi O'Donnell

When Catholic Charities USA embarked upon its centennial year in 2010, the social services agency decided it would celebrate the occasion by recognizing the valuable contributions of individuals and organizations to the reduction of poverty in the United States- including the 13 Catholic graduate-level schools of social work across the country.

"Catholic Charities' mission is the elimination of poverty," explains Katie Van Blair '92, '05 MSW, PhD, associate professor and director of St. Ambrose University's School of Social Work. "Most of the people social workers work with are lower income, and I believe that Catholic Charities values our programs for our commitment to social justice and working with those in poverty. They also wanted to honor St. Ambrose for its commitment to social justice."

Van Blair (second from right, above) traveled to the nation's capital in September to accept Catholic Charities USA's prestigious Centennial Medal on behalf of the university. Among the social work programs honored along with St. Ambrose were Boston College, Fordham University, Loyola University of Chicago, and the Catholic University of America.

"It's such a great peer group," Van Blair says. "The deans and directors of all of these programs meet twice a year to talk about issues relevant to our students and that are particular to our programs. We all bring an understanding of the benefits of working within the context of Catholic social justice."

According to Van Blair, the organization also sought to recognize the ongoing relationship St. Ambrose's School of Social Work has with area Catholic Charities offices that is so essential to the social services network in the region. "We have field placements with them, and our school of social work advisory board has Catholic Charities staff on it," she says. "Many staff members at Catholic Charities are graduates of St. Ambrose. We're often looking at how we can partner on projects because of our unique relationship."

Catholic Charities USA presented its Centennial Medal to only 100 recipients, which included organizations such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Bread for the World, and such individuals as U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin and Sister Rosemary Connelly, longtime director of Chicago's Misericordia Home.

To be considered in the same company as these worldwide leaders in the fight against poverty is a great privilege, Van Blair says.

"Receiving this medal is a real honor for our program and for St. Ambrose. Catholic Charities USA didn't give these awards out lightly. We're very humbled to be among the group being honored by them."

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