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By Gregory Kepferle

CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing Development Corporation

The joy and amazement in the young men’s voices was unmistakable: “I graduated from high school!” “I never imagined this would be possible.” “When I came to America, I didn’t know any English, and now I am headed to college!” These are just a few of the comments from youth who arrived at Catholic Charities as refugee orphans fleeing violence, war and displacement because of ethnic, political or religious conflicts. Hearing their stories strengthens my belief in the power of education to transform lives.

These young men are just a few of the thousands of children, youth, and adults whose lives are transformed by Catholic Charities education strategy. Some may wonder why a social service agency is so deeply engaged in education. At Catholic Charities, we believe that education is a key pillar to preventing the cycle of generational poverty. We envision living in a valley where every child has the opportunity to learn from cradle to career.

That’s why we start by helping parents and their infants and toddlers in our First Five Family Resource Centers. We build on the first five years by providing extended learning after school in our CORAL after-school programs focused on balanced literacy, enrichment, and STEM for elementary and middle school scholars. We also support students through high school, like refugee foster youth and students at risk of gang involvement, as well as by hiring Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School students. And for adults and seniors, we provide classes in English as a Second Language, Citizenship, and job readiness training.

Transforming lives through education doesn’t happen by osmosis, but requires professionally competent, compassionate staff, deeply engaged volunteers, and wrap around supports for the family that include counseling, food, healthcare, housing, and economic security. Without these supports, children in poverty face daunting challenges to their academic success – overcrowded housing, lack of nutritious food, parents absent from home due to working two and three jobs, and the everyday stresses and anxieties of poverty.

With these supports, not only can we change the academic trajectory of one student, in turn she is able to transform the reality of subsequent generations who lift themselves out of poverty.

I invite you to join Catholic Charities in changing lives for good and to learn more about our transformative education strategy. By investing in the Community Impact Fund for Education you can make their dreams a reality. For more information go to