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MSW students help launch community partnership with westside Indianapolis parish

Graduate students from the Indiana University School of Social Work are part of a new community partnership to help meet the needs of the growing Hispanic parish at St. Anthony's Catholic Church on the west side of Indianapolis.

The church, located at 337 N. Warman Ave., was the first Catholic parish west of the White River in Marion County, and has been a home to immigrants for generations.

MSW Partnership

The Rev. John P. McCaslin of St. Anthony's Catholic Church stands with, left to right, IU Master of Social Work graduate Christine Turo-Shields and MSW students Carolyn Harkin-Brinton and Ashley Fallos.

"Initially a parish of immigrants, German and Irish and eastern Europeans, now it's become the home of new immigrants," said the church's pastor, the Rev. John P. McCaslin. "Now it's about 70 percent Hispanic."

He estimated there are at least 13 nationalities represented at St. Anthony's, including parishioners from Germany, Austria, many Latin American countries, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The parish has seen an influx in youth and young families, said McCaslin, who has been at St. Anthony's for about three years. "What we are discovering is there are many needs of the families and the youth that are not being met," he said.

Most of the youth are bilingual, particularly after going to school, McCaslin noted. Whether the adults are bilingual often depends upon the kind of work they do. "Oftentimes, even if there are resources out there, connecting families to the resources can be hard because of job schedules and long wait lists," he said.

"Part of this is to connect our members to the resources out there. We also have a significant elderly population, so we want to see what kind of resources we can connect them to as well."

Ashley Fallos and Carolyn Harkin-Brinton, both Master of Social Work degree students at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, will help launch the program this summer. They will undertake a needs assessment of the parish; develop a community resource guide; and do referral and short-term counseling for children, teens and families, among other things.

Both students were selected to work as interns in the partnership over the summer. Fallos, who recently graduated from the University of Indianapolis, said she has a strong desire to learn Spanish and sees learning the language as a useful skill to have. Harkin-Brinton knows Spanish and said one of her goals was to work in a summer internship at a place where she could use her Spanish every day.

The program comes about as the parish looks to expand its community ties and even hopes to tackle housing issues in the surrounding neighborhood.

"As a pastor I am particularly concerned with the family and what we can do to make families healthier," McCaslin said. The timing to start the partnership now seems right, he said.

Prior to coming to St. Anthony's, he was associate pastor at St. Barnabas, located on the city's south side. When he first arrived at St. Anthony's, he wanted to learn about his new parish as well as let the parish get to know him as he looked for ways to help his parishioners.

A link between Carol Satre, the School of Social Work's MSW field director, and Christine Turo-Shields, an MSW graduate of the School of Social Work who also serves as a field supervisor in addition to running a counseling business, Kenosis, opened the door to the partnership.

"Both my husband and I are graduates of the MSW program and have been MSW field supervisors for about 10 years," Turo-Shields explained. When McCaslin left St. Barnabas, where they were members, they told him if the opportunity to use an intern ever arose at St. Anthony's, they would be willing to help supervise the students. "For us, it was just one more opportunity to serve the community."

When Turo-Shields saw McCaslin earlier this year, she reminded him of her offer, and this time he was ready to act on it. "Providence brings people together," McCaslin said of the fledgling partnership.

Not only does he have a better sense of the needs of his parishioners, the church can provide work space for Fallos and Harkin-Brinton. "When you are in an urban ministry, you have to be creative in finding resources," McCaslin said of his decision to push ahead and develop the community partnership with IUPUI.

Satre jumped at the chance to help develop a partnership with St. Anthony's. Having an internship in the Hispanic community was high on the MSW program's wish list, she explained. "We have a lot of students who request placements working with Hispanic populations," she said. But it has been tough to find placements at the master's level that that could provide the kind of work the School of Social Work requires from an educational perspective, Satre explained.

Turo-Shields said the key to the development of the program this summer will be to look at the gaps in services and the gifts and talents the interns will bring to the program.

"They are Star Trek," she said comparing the interns to the science fiction television series. "They are going out into uncharted territory."