Photo by David Croxford

Talk Story with Jerry Rauckhorst

November, 2014

CEO, Catholic Charities Hawaii

Rauckhorst heads the private, 67-year-old social service agency, which has 300 employees and provides a variety of services to 40,000 people a year. About 80 percent of its $25-million annual budget comes from government grants.

There are so many needs in the community. Which ones are you focused on?
Catholic Charities reaches a wide number of target populations, but two where we see needs are the homeless and seniors. At least 10 years ago, you could see the early signs that a crisis in each population was coming and the economic downturn really sped things up.
For the homeless, we’re on the forefront of the Housing First program, with 44 units at Maili Land’s transitional housing program in Waianae, where families can stay for up to 14 months, until they’re prepared to move into more permanent housing, which we help them find through our network of about 275 community landlords throughout the Islands.
We also have a 12-unit, transitional-housing apartment building on our Makiki campus. When you join the program, your goal is to leave. Our motto is giving people a hand up, not a hand out.

How are you helping seniors?
A lot of our programs serve some of the most vulnerable and at-risk senior populations. For instance, we operate the Lanakila Multipurpose Senior Center in Kalihi, which serves more than 4,000 members and at least 300 at the center on any one day. We have health and wellness programs, exercise and nutrition classes, music programs, even tap dancing. And the seniors themselves are helping run the program. It’s not income-based, but most seniors we serve are lower income.
The seniors at Lanakila are thriving, taking care of themselves and have purpose to their lives. They are the folks who stay out of long-term care. When we talk about dollars for prevention versus dollars for long-term care, you can see the cost savings right away.
The program’s budget is $400,000 to $500,000 annually, and almost every senior there is doing something to volunteer or help. It’s like a family.

There were state government cutbacks of funding for social services during and after the recession. How did you fare and is your funding back?
A lot of cutbacks were in prevention programs such as Healthy Start, which was essentially eliminated for a time. For us it was a huge cutback of between $1.5 and $2 million. Generally, because organizations like Catholic Charities are very labor intensive, when there’s a major cutback in funding, there’s a major cutback in staff. We went from 26 staff down to eight. Our piece of this program is early identification of at-risk families for child abuse and referring them to organizations who work with families. We now have several people employed in that program again.

Tell us about your turn toward entrepreneurship.
We’re starting to provide premium senior services, which is tied into our “Futures Campaign: Building a Bridge to Tomorrow.” This piece is about expanding our services to a broader audience and anticipating needs rather than waiting for the government to offer contracts for current needs. For instance, the premium senior services include housekeeping, home helper, errand services, light meal preparation and transportation to medical appointments for a small charge to those who can afford to pay a moderate fee. Already, we have around 50 clients and I see the need for this type of care increasing. There are people who need these services and can afford them, and this will help supplement our budget for other services. From a business standpoint, it makes sense.

What else is in your Futures Campaign?
We hope to raise $6.3 million over the next three years to implement a broad range of ideas. For instance, we’ve planned expansion in several areas: West Oahu, where we’ve already opened an office in Waipahu and on each of the Neighbor Islands. We want to improve access, offer programs based around prevention and increase our innovative approach to social problems. For instance, we’ve asked developers of all senior-housing projects to include us from the start, so we can provide on-site services to residents. Generally, property managers don’t know a great deal about senior needs, but, with our counselors as part of the team from the beginning, we can provide that knowledge. For instance, in one project, they were about to evict a senior because he kept leaving the stove on, creating a hazard. This senior shouldn’t have a stove, no question about it, but the answer is not eviction, it’s switching from a stove to a microwave. By understanding the issue, we were able to keep that senior safely in that home for another year. It’s that kind of innovation we’re talking about.

With all the concern today about measuring outcomes, how do you evaluate success?
When the federal government was offering stimulus money to the states, we received a grant of about $1 million to help homeless families find permanent housing. One condition was that we would screen families on the front end to try to ensure that, with three or four months of assistance, they would be successful. Of course, no one can guarantee this, but we had to document why we felt each family would make it. Our track record has always been very good, and for this project we had a high percentage of success.
For the Maili Land shelter, we follow families for six months after they’ve moved into a permanent home, to make sure they’re succeeding. But that’s as long as we follow them. We feel the dollars are better spent, not in longitudinal studies, but in helping other families have the same success.

This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.


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