Annual Celebration on April 3 to shine special spotlight on agency’s foster care services, making ‘special days’ possible for parents, kids

DETROIT — Six individuals and organizations will be honored next month at Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan's Annual Celebration, which also serves as the largest fundraiser of the year for the agency serving the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

The event helps fund 14 offices serving more than 20,000 people annually across six counties of southeast Michigan. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the impact the nonprofit has made and to honor those who have supported its mission, according to Adam Perry, Catholic Charities’ development manager.

This year’s celebration is shining a spotlight on the child welfare services Catholic Charities has provided for 66 years, which include a full spectrum of adoption and foster care services for birth families, foster children, foster families and prospective adoptive families. 

The agency is a valuable resource for parents like Heather Johnson, who has fostered seven children in the past four and a half years and finalized the adoption of her 2-year-old son, Isaiah, last year. 

Heather Johnson finalized the adoption of her son, Isaiah, 2, last year with support from Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan.
Johnson says Catholic Charities helped answer any questions she had about the process, walking with her every step of the way. (Photos courtesy of Heather Johnson)

Johnson, 38, says she felt called to care for children in need because of her own experiences in and out of foster care as a child. “I always knew that I wanted to be a foster parent, because I had really great foster parents growing up,” she says.

She completed her licensing with Catholic Charities and says she knew the agency was a good fit from the beginning. “They were very upfront, very honest,” she said. “It felt like home, in a way. Any question that I had, they were more than happy to answer, and if they didn’t know the answer, they were able to find out the answer.”

While the primary goal of foster care is reunification, Johnson is licensed as “foster to adopt” and says she was open to adoption if the circumstances were right. 

Isaiah was placed with her just days after his birth. She has had the joy of seeing all of Isaiah’s milestones as he grew, but it wasn’t until he was around 18 months old that she learned she would be able to move forward with the adoption process. 

Johnson says it was hard caring for a child who had no legal name for two years. “He was Baby Boy,” she says. “He didn’t officially get a name until he was adopted, the day after his second birthday.”

That day was “one of the most special days that I can remember,” Johnson said. 

Catholic Charities has always been supportive in assisting with anything she or any of the children in her care have needed over the years. “You have to have a good support system, and Catholic Charities has that,” she said. 

Isaiah Johnson, 2, looks at a photo of himself with his mother, Heather Johnson. Johnson finalized her adoption of Isaiah last year with support from Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan.

Even though it’s hard when a child moves on from her home, Johnson says it’s rewarding knowing she was able to make every opportunity available to that child and to provide him or her with love, guidance, nurturing and a safe place.

She wants others to know there is a strong need for foster parents for children of all ages. “One person can make a difference,” Johnson said. 

In 2018, there were 437,283 children in foster care in the United States. There are 13,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system, and Catholic Charities’ child welfare programs have served 219 children and teens in the past two years. Last year, 83 children found foster homes and five families were reunified thanks to Catholic Charities’ services. The agency has also seen 50 adoptions finalized in the past three years. 

In addition to child welfare services, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan sponsors a variety of other programs including behavioral health and substance abuse counseling, crisis intervention, family support services, Hispanic outreach, senior services, a pro-life initiative supporting pregnant women and mothers, and a food pantry and soup kitchen. 

Perry said the agency hopes to raise $200,000 to $250,000 with its Annual Celebration, which includes silent and live auctions, dinner, music and dancing. 

The program includes the presentation of six awards to individuals and institutions that have supported Catholic Charities, including:

  • The Leonard R. Jagel Award (Outstanding Priest in the Community) to Fr. Brian Chabala, pastor of St. Irenaeus in Rochester Hills. Fr. Chabala, who is retiring this year, has been instrumental in the formation of Catholics at St. Irenaeus and St. Fabian in Farmington Hills, Perry said, and his efforts reflect the corporal works of mercy Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron is calling everyone across the Archdiocese of Detroit to embody in “Unleash the Gospel.”

The “Time, Talent and Treasure Awards” to four Catholic parishes, including:

  • Church of the Holy Family in Novi, for its support of Catholic Charities’ backpack program that benefits hundreds of foster care and immigrant children each summer. This past year, the parish donated more than 70 fully loaded backpacks. The parish heavily supports its Christian service ministry, with 7.5 percent of its collections going toward the ministry.
  • Our Lady Star of the Sea in Grosse Pointe Woods, a longtime, committed supporter of Catholic Charities. From special drives and collections to being a fervent supporter of Catholic Charities’ Annual Appeal year after year, Our Lady Star of the Sea has made impacting the community beyond their church a priority, Perry said.
  • St. Colette Parish in Livonia and Nancy Ohman, the parish’s Christian service coordinator, for their involvement in the Mercy in Action Day of Service, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Detroit and Catholic Charities. Through this day of outreach, St. Colette engages hundreds of volunteers with more than a dozen different projects. 
  • SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights, a Slovak Catholic Church, exemplifies the diversity of the Catholic faith with a vibrant community of many cultures. Parishioners and staff have partnered with Catholic Charities in supporting its pro-life and Christmas support programs.

An award for Outstanding Catholic School is also to be presented to:

  • All Saints Catholic School in Canton for its support of Catholic Charities’ adoption and foster care programs. The school helped coordinate the pickup and drop off of a U-Haul truckload of gifts to the Southfield office this past holiday season. The gifts supported children in need for Christmas and also restocked items to support children in foster care. Students and staff of the parish engaged with staff and learned more about the importance of the agency’s programs in the community.

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Annual Celebration

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan’s Annual Celebration is April 3, 6-11 p.m. at Petruzzello’s in Troy. For more information or to purchase tickets or sponsorships, visit https://ccsem.cbo.io or contact Adam Perry at perrya@ccsem.org or 586-416-2300 Ext. 3621.