Catholic Charities Serving Portage and Stark Counties Offers Baby Boutique

If you ever wanted to know how your donation to the Diocesan Appeal gets spent, the first place you should go is to your regional Catholic Charities agency.The number of ways they help people will probably make your head spin. 

For the people working behind the scenes to help those in need, some days are easier than others. Rick Squier, executive director of Catholic Charities Serving Stark and Portage Counties, said it’s a challenge to accept that they simply can’t do everything for everyone, as much as they’d like to. 

“But there are those instances of grace … when we can see that we’re truly fulfilling what we’re called to do,” he said.

Catholic Charities Serving Stark and Portage Counties has locations in Canton (832 McKinley Avenue Northwest) and Ravenna (219 West Main Street). 

Squires manages both locations, which provide various services including basic needs assistance, a food and personal hygiene pantry, seasonal assistance, utility assistance, vehicle and transportation services, and the First Step for Families program, which helps  low-income families with babies and children obtaining infant supplies. 

Squier joined Catholic Charities in 2021. He was working for St. Joan of Arc Parish as the director of faith formation for seven years, but prior to that, he worked in multiple managerial roles in retail for 23 years. When he saw the opportunity to join Catholic Charities as an executive director, he knew he was the one to fill it—he had the perfect mix of ministry and business acumen to make a difference. 

“I was duty-driven … I see a need in the community; it’s my responsibility to fill that need,” he said. “If you see your profession as one of service, then you have the opportunity to have an impact. My impact is here and now, in serving those in need.” 

Working with people in need has changed Squier’s perspective forever. “The disparity between what we think is ‘normal’ and then the poverty a lot of people live in is tremendous,” he said. “There is so much money in our country, in our area—and there is so much need. We have faith that out of that wealth, people [will] give, and it helps those who are in need.” 

Although Squier is the executive director of the agency, he sees himself more like an assistant to the people who do the “real work” of answering phones, working with clients and developing the agency’s various programs. 

“I say, ‘I serve those who serve,’” he said with a laugh. In a practical sense, that means that Squier is something of a jack-of-all-trades for the organization, splitting his time between HR duties, budget management, grant writing, parish and community relations and more.

Heather Weaver, the agency’s site and program manager, is one of the people Squier assists. Weaver began working at Catholic Charities as an intern during college before becoming a fulltime case manager, and she hasn’t looked back. 

Weaver has now been with the organization for 13 years. Burnout is a common experience for many who work in charitable organizations, but Weaver credits three things for the longevity of her career: her faith, the team around her and the moments when she knows she has made a positive impact on someone’s life. 

“Being able to help people and meeting people where they’re at … and working alongside them to get to a better place—whatever that looks like for them [is] just really rewarding,” Weaver said. “I feel like working here has probably made me more faithful seeing so much trauma and seeing so many people go through such difficult things. It’s given me more faith than I think I had before—and knowing that things will work out or things will come through when they need it.” 

As site and program manager, Weaver has at least one finger in each of the agency’s program-pies. She oversees all the programs Catholic Charities provides and helps support case managers develop new initiatives and services with grant-writing, resource management and good old-fashioned brainstorming. And she still manages to work directly with clients. 

One of the new services the organization is offering at its Stark County location is a “Baby Boutique,” which is part of the First Step for Families program, which helps pregnant women and young families get supplies like formula, diapers and clothing, and also helps connect them with parenting support and education programs. 

The Baby Boutique—helmed by First Step for Families program lead Jen Kimberlin—is exactly what it sounds like—a “store” where moms and dads can find infant and children’s clothing. Instead of just filling a box with general items and hoping that mothers can find a use for them, the Baby Boutique offers families a chance to come in and browse through a large assortment of clothes. 

While the Baby Boutique idea started before Kimberlin arrived at Catholic Charities, Weaver credits her with growing the program into what it is now. Kimberlin said her passion for the Baby Boutique was born of a desire to serve families with greater dignity, as well as from her experience of being a mother.

“As moms … it makes you feel some type of way when all you can get, is just something that somebody can hand you,” Kimberlin said. “It makes you feel better when you’re able to connect and be able to say, ‘I was able to put my personal touch on it, I was able to find what I needed, I had options’ … We want to give them that.”

“What [this] really does is offer a lot more dignity and respect,” Weaver added. “By Jen setting up the boutique as it stands, it allows them to feel like, even though there’s no money exchanged and everything they’re getting is free, it allows that dignity in being able to pick and choose what items they have.”

“When you’re not given many choices, when you’re visiting food pantries and you have WIC [a government nutrition program that provides nutritious foods for women and children, along with formula for infants] … this is one very small way to give a little bit of choice,” she added.

Kimberlin and Weaver said the Baby Boutique has been a huge hit with families. Parents love the emphasis on choice, and children enjoy the more family-friendly atmosphere the physical space provides. Moreover, the concept has inspired lots of donations from the community—including from former clients whose children have outgrown their baby clothes.  

Another benefit of the Baby Boutique is that Weaver and the other case managers are able to build stronger relationships with clients, which means they are able to get a better understanding of their needs and help get them the resources and information they need to be successful. 

“You get to build rapport when you are connecting with them on those levels … you get to move through different transitions with them,” Weaver said. 

While First Step for Families is available to anyone in need, their clients are universally low-income, and a majority are single moms. By emphasizing relationships, First Step steers vulnerable clients toward services and organizations that will be helpful for them in the future—in other words, being “more proactive than reactive,” as Weaver says.

“When you provide basic needs services, everyone that’s accessing any type of assistance we offer is coming in crisis. And when you’re in crisis mode … all you see is the crisis and once the crisis is met, you’re kind of on to the next crisis because you can’t get out of that cycle,” Weaver said. 

The goal of case management is to break that cycle, so that next time the person is “not getting into crisis,” she said. 

Kimberlin and Weaver agreed that the biggest struggle their clients face is a lack of support—in both a material and familial sense. First Step for Families—and the Baby Boutique—is just one of Catholic Charities’ many ways of filling that support need. 

If you’d like to provide support for those in need, consider volunteering or donating at your regional Catholic Charities agency, and check their social media for any emergent needs they may need have. Rest assured, it’ll make a difference. Visit the website for more information on the agencies in your area.

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Collin Vogt

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