POSTED ON MARCH 19, 2008:
If You Build It, They Will Come
Catholic Charities' new campus takes serving the poor to a new level of convenience
Holy Ground. With more than $19 million in donations and committed pledges, Catholic Charities has scheduled the groundbreaking ceremony for its new one-stop facility for March 25, 2008.
Why do people love Wal-Mart? Three words: One-stop shopping. Convenience is everything in today's fast-paced world, and if you can kill a flock of birds with one stone, then loosen up that throwing arm.
And if the average hardworking American prefers taking care of several needs in one errand, then people who are less fortunate with fewer resources certainly would, too. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa has been serving the needs of the poor since 1973, and operates under a budget that receives less than two percent of its funding from the federal government, meaning the majority comes from parishes, private donors, fundraisers and the endowment fund. As one of Tulsa's largest service agencies for the poor (the Salvation Army being the largest), Catholic Charities assists nearly 75,000 people each year and today, with a Wal-Mart frame of mind, the organization takes a big step in its ability to improve the way it benefits its clients. It's called one-stop serving.
In late March of 2006, Catholic Charities blessed the soil for a new campus at Apache Street and Harvard Avenue. The project was a solution to a longtime, easily recognizable problem for the growing organization. In the past, when Catholic Charities needed to add another program, it bought a residence in a neighborhood that would make the services accessible. The challenge therein was how to make these houses suitable and, for some programs, livable. Maintaining a house already in worn condition and covering expenses to keep these residences functioning stunted the growth of Catholic Charities and its ability to follow its mission.
Imagine the difficulty of staff members explaining to a single mother with children to go to Site A for clothing and diapers, Site B for medical service for her sick child and Site C for food.
The Catholic Charities board of directors began to contemplate a new, collective location four to five years ago and looked into purchasing or renovating an existing building already situated downtown. No building captured the board's eyes, and it was quickly decided to start from the ground up.
Two years later, and with more than $19 million in donations and committed pledges, Catholic Charities has scheduled the groundbreaking ceremony for March 25, 2008. With the vigorous efforts of nearly 500 volunteers, the capital campaign was able to reach numerous communities and parishes, Catholic and the non, throughout the Diocese. The campaign's target goal was $16 million, a total that set aside funds for endowment and maintenance.
Tom Tejeda is the building committee chairperson for the project and reports all progress to the board of directors. At this stage, Tejeda, who is a board member himself, is playing numbers games with the architects, project managers and contractors.
"Now we are just churning numbers and getting a price on everything. Staying within budget is an ongoing challenge," said Tejeda. "And even though we're expecting delays, we are shooting for completion in May of 2009."
One of the campaign's most useful tools was tours of Catholic Charities' facilities, all located in North Tulsa. The current main location, 739 N. Denver, provides a home base to the nine total buildings that serve Tulsa's poor community. The programs include: food, medication, clothing, counseling, legal, immigration, adoption and refugee services. Locations include: Madonna House, housing for pregnant women next door to the main location, St. Joseph's, housing for those with HIV and AIDS, St. Elizabeth Lodge, which helps families in need, and others such as the Sallisaw Helping Center and the Xavier Medical Clinic, a free healthcare service that opened in 2001 and is affiliated with the St. Francis Health System.
The location for the 80,000-square-foot complex is ideal. On a city bus route, close to an expressway and located in one of the poorest areas in the metropolitan area, the campus found the 15 acres it needed to house a functional, custom-made building.
"We were mainly interested in the same area we are in now. We know there are plenty of people all over Tulsa who need us, but we figured the poor would find a way to get to us no matter where we put [the new campus]," said Tejeda.
The Element of Design
Catholic Charities hired the Oklahoma City-based firm TAP Architecture to design the facility. TAP architects Kenneth Dennis and John Ward facilitate the project. The interior embodies administrative offices, a conference area, a chapel, a clinic, an adoption center, emergency services, stock rooms and housing-an area of vast importance. Many of the people who come to Catholic Charities for help or a roof over their head suffer from mental disabilities or alcohol or drug problems. The residential part of campus is a focal point for the project's architects.
"In terms of security, we knew fences would be contradictory to Catholic Charities' mission," said Dennis, the project architect. "So, we designed the building around the residence. That area is separate from the nearby neighbors and has secured gate parking. People can't get to the residences courtyard without going through the building."
Board members and the architects debated the best exterior design for the campus as well. They decided on a series of buildings connected with covered walkways for the structure. But the design was an undetermined topic.
"[Catholic Charities] knew they wanted the design monastic in quality and character. They also didn't want to copy anything European and paste it into Tulsa," Dennis explained.
Tejeda said they also discussed making the exterior look more like a mission in California. However, when they began to research some of the architecture, they realized two things. One, the materials were often expensive and unnecessary. And two, the look was not very Oklahoma.
"We realized the design didn't need to have a beautiful tile roof like in California," said Tejeda. "That doesn't matter. Just let it serve the poor."
Today, the design is complete and ready for detailing by local contractors, FlintCo.
On February 1, Catholic Charities' new executive director Kevin Sartorius began his duty to lead the way toward the new campus. Playing a major role in the campaign prior to his new position, he helped organize Catholic Charities' annual "Cooking Up Compassion" dinner and auction, a fundraiser in its third year that attracted about 1,000 Tulsans last January; the event raised more than $600,000 for the capital campaign and the existing programs. Now, Sartorius directs his efforts toward preparing his staff and volunteers for upcoming transition. Staff, board members, the architects, volunteers and donors will be in attendance at the groundbreaking the morning of March 25. All are welcome to join the Bishop for the ceremony.
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