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St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany will hold its annual Giving Hope – Changing Lives gala at the Galt House in Louisville, Ky., at 5:30 p.m. on April 27.
The gala will benefit and celebrate the efforts of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities to help those in need in southern Indiana.
It will also provide an opportunity for two volunteers with a combined 45 years of service to the organization to receive the Spirit of Hope Award.
Kathy Kruer and Jeanne Schmidt, sisters who have volunteered for the organization for 19 and 26 years, respectively, will receive the award at the gala—an event which they organized together for 11 years.
Schmidt, 68, began volunteering in 1991, just two years after the founding of what was then called St. Elizabeth’s Regional Maternity Center.
“I knew the founder, Joan Smith, and was very interested in what she was doing with St. Elizabeth’s,” she says. “I’m so pro-life. I truly believe the alternative these girls have had [at St. Elizabeth] has saved a lot of babies.”
While the Schmidts were having their home built in Floyds Knobs, they lived in a duplex located across the street from the maternity home. Schmidt took advantage of the proximity “to really get involved.”
She did chores, ran errands for the home’s residents, cleaned, and painted and decorated rooms for the single pregnant women who were choosing life for their children.
“I was there all the time,” recalled Schmidt, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Starlight.
In 1998, she was asked to join the board advising the organization. She suggested her sister be invited to join the board as well.
“I have a special feeling about helping kids,” says Kruer, who once pursued an adoption through St. Elizabeth Pregnancy and Adoption Services (now St. Elizabeth-Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services) in Indianapolis with her husband, until during the process she discovered she was pregnant.
The two women became co-chairs of the board’s events committee.
“We were the events committee,” says Schmidt. “For the first four years, we pretty much did everything on our own. We finally got wise and started getting volunteers more involved.”
As chairs of the events committee, the sisters coordinated three fundraising events a year—the annual gala, a reverse raffle, and an apple dumpling booth at New Albany’s annual Harvest Homecoming festival.
“At one point, we were making 2,000 dumplings with volunteer help,” recalled Kruer, 69 and a member of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville.
“It was fun,” Schmidt says of the volunteer efforts. “We jumped in headfirst. We work well together. We’re two very different people in a lot of ways, but we’re both very dedicated to whatever we’re involved in.”
During their tenure on the board, the organization grew tremendously, says Schmidt, noting that in her 26 years of volunteering the non-profit went “from one house to blocks of buildings and offices. …
“Another thing I really love is when St. Elizabeth’s merged with Catholic Charities [in 2004]. Then it became multiple agencies, not just the maternity home and the small adoption agency we did early on.”
St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities now offers adoption services, affordable supportive housing, court-appointed special advocates for children (CASA), free pregnancy testing, Marie’s Ministry community distribution program, a family and children’s shelter, supported living and a family stability program.
While the sisters rotated out of their role as events committee co-chairs after 11 years, they have continued to volunteer behind the scenes. Such dedication is a family value, says Kruer.
“We were always brought up, whatever you give of your time, talent and treasure, you receive back tenfold,” she says.
Schmidt says that the organization’s director, Mark Casper, “knows that Kathy and I, though we’re not on the board, are still very dedicated. We’ll always be a friend.”
Casper feels the same about the sisters.
“Every organization develops a culture,” he explains. “They were there in our formative years. It’s one thing to be the gala chair, but they also served on the leadership council. For us, that’s like an advisory council. They left a big print of their heart on the agency.
“St. Elizabeth is a very special place. All our clients are treated with dignity. They contributed greatly to that.”
Both sisters say they were “shocked” and “humbled” upon hearing they were chosen to receive the Spirit of Hope Award.
“I kept thinking, ‘Why me? How did I jump out there in front of others?’ ” says Kruer.
Schmidt felt the same of her own nomination.
“I could think of 30 other people who deserved it more than I did,” she says.
With the award being created just a few years ago and the agency being 28 years old, “you can imagine we stockpiled a whole lot of people responsible for getting us to where we are,” says Casper. “But for those of us on the discerning committee, it was not a difficult decision.”
Casper spoke with one of the directors who served while the sisters were on the board.
“He said, ‘You know how you get that awkward silence when you ask if anyone wants to volunteer?’ ” Casper shares. “He said he never got that when they were here, because whatever he needed done, they immediately raised their hands.”
Casper describes Schmidt and Kruer as “just the sweetest, most generous people, and so humble. They never want attention. It’s just, ‘What can I do to help these women improve their lives?’ ”
That spirit shows through as both women reflect on their years of volunteering for St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities.
“I feel so blessed, seeing the end result,” says Kruer. “When you hear those people speak at the gala—the adoptive parents, the supportive living people, the CASA volunteers—when you hear them, it’s fulfilling and rewarding.”
Schmidt says the years of volunteering have led to a “friendship.”
“The friendship has grown strong through the years,” she says. “It really is a family.”
(St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities of New Albany’s annual Giving Hope–Changing Lives fundraiser gala will be held at the Galt House, 140 N. Fourth St., in Louisville, Ky., on April 27. Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m., and dinner begins at 7 p.m. The event includes a live and silent auction. While the event is free, donations will be requested during the evening. RSVP by April 20 by calling 812-949-7305.) †