A Visit with Non-Profit CEO Greg Kepferle of Catholic Charities – An Organization Working to End Poverty – Changing Lives for Good

greg SVT: What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you?

GK: Remember to breathe.

SVT: Do you have a favorite book? GK: The Lord of the Rings. Small seemingly weak beings can overcome evil in the world by being true to themselves.

SVT: What is the last book you read and what book are you currently reading?

GK: I just finished The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and am revisiting it. It’s not enough to have a smart organization; to succeed we need to create a healthy organization.

SVT: What do you do in your spare time?

GK: I enjoy hiking and being out in nature. We are blessed to live so close to beautiful public parks.

SVT: Do you have heroes?

GK: My heroes are the men, women and children who come to Catholic Charities for help who struggle every day to survive and have the courage and persistence to keep trying to improve their lives against great odds.

SVT: What’s the most enjoyable part of your job?

GK: The most challenging? As CEO of Catholic Charities, I like to say that my job requires me to be as entrepreneurial as the best for profit entrepreneur, as compliant as the best government bureaucrat, and as charitable as Mother Teresa…all at the same time. That can be both challenging and enjoyable. It is challenging when we don’t have sufficient resources (funding, staff, services) to meet the needs we see, and its enjoyable when the resources align and especially when I hear directly from our clients about their successes thanks to Catholic Charities’ help.

SVT: What accomplishments are you most proud of as CEO?

GK: I am actually most proud of our staff, volunteers, and our clients who do the hard work of changing their own lives. In my eight years as CEO, I am proud of the agency doubling its capacity to serve more people. I am also proud of having launched community-based anti-poverty networks like Step Up Silicon Valley and the Franklin-McKinley Children’s Initiative. But we should be most proud of the community members who are putting their resources, time and energy to changing the reality of poverty in this county.

SVT: Where did you grow up and go to school and what did you study?

GK: I was born in Denver, and lived in Japan and the Midwest before moving to California. I studied philosophy at Saint Louis University and Loyola University of Chicago and theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (now part of Santa Clara University).

SVT: Please tell us more about Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.

GK: Catholic Charities is a faith-based nonprofit social service agency which provides comprehensive social services, advocacy and convening in Santa Clara County to all people in need regardless of creed on behalf of the Catholic Church. Key areas of service include Children, Youth and Family Development, Older Adult Services, Behavioral Health Services, Housing Services, and Economic Development Services. We also have an affiliated agency, Charities Housing Development Corporation, which builds and manages affordable housing. We serve over 41,000 people a year with a budget of $32 million with a philosophy of “a hand up, not a hand out” as we work to end poverty in Santa Clara County.

SVT: Who has inspired you?

GK: Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa. Pope Francis is my new inspiration.

SVT: What problems are there and what can people do to help?

GK: The reality of poverty in Santa Clara County is bigger than most people think. The federal poverty measure recognizes only about 10% of the population as poor, but based on the supplemental poverty measure as analyzed by Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality 18.7% of our neighbors are poor. This is mostly caused by the high cost of housing, transportation and healthcare. The big problems I see are the lack of affordable housing, the opportunity gap in education, the lack of comprehensive immigration reform, and the overarching issue of the increasing income and asset gap between rich and poor. In such a wealthy county it is shocking that so many people are homeless and so many people earn so little that they can’t afford decent housing and food.

SVT: What can people do to help?

GK: There are five things people can do: 1. become aware, 2. volunteer, 3. invest, 4. advocate, 5. relate. First, it’s important for people to know the reality of poverty in their own community. It is often hidden, so it means asking questions. Second, volunteering time and talents is always needed, not just in direct service but also on boards, committees, and with technical expertise. Third, invest. Of course it would help if more people gave more generously to nonprofits that are effective in helping people get out of poverty. I like to ask people not just to give, but to invest in lives. The return on your investment is priceless. Fourth, advocacy — the underlying causes of poverty are not easily addressed by donating food, clothing, or even volunteer services; it takes changing the rules of the game that keep people in poverty. Finally, relate – get to know your neighbors whether rich or poor and of different cultures. We are a stronger community and more inclined to help each other when we know each other.

SVT: What have you learned and can share about the Non-Profits world?

GK: Great question. This would take too long and could be a whole other article.

SVT: What advice would you share for aspiring students and people of all ages wanting to make a difference?

GK: Start where you are. Start today. Start small. And never give up. Connect with organizations that have experience. You don’t necessarily need to create another nonprofit. Listen first. Be prepared to be humbled by the people you think you want to help. Recognize that poverty and human needs have complex causes and solutions, but one act of charity is the beginning of a journey of compassion and justice. I once wanted to be a missionary. When I was in college, I heard Mother Teresa give a talk when she was asked if we should move to India to help the poor. She told us, “As the song says, ‘Love the one(s) you’re with.’” I’ve found that in Santa Clara County I don’t need to move to another part of the world to find people in need to help, the world has come to us.

For more information about Catholic Charities, our services, how to donate or volunteer, go to SVT: What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s given you? GK: Remember to breathe.

SVT: Do you have a favorite book? GK: The Lord of the Rings. Small seemingly weak beings can overcome evil in the world by being true to themselves.

SVT: What is the last book you read and what book are you currently reading? GK: I just finished The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni and am revisiting it. It’s not enough to have a smart organization; to succeed we need to create a healthy organization.

SVT: What do you do in your spare time? GK: I enjoy hiking and being out in nature. We are blessed to live so close to beautiful public parks.

SVT: Do you have heroes? GK: My heroes are the men, women and children who come to Catholic Charities for help who struggle every day to survive and have the courage and persistence to keep trying to improve their lives against great odds.

SVT: What’s the most enjoyable part of your job? GK: The most challenging? As CEO of Catholic Charities, I like to say that my job requires me to be as entrepreneurial as the best for profit entrepreneur, as compliant as the best government bureaucrat, and as charitable as Mother Teresa…all at the same time. That can be both challenging and enjoyable. It is challenging when we don’t have sufficient resources (funding, staff, services) to meet the needs we see, and its enjoyable when the resources align and especially when I hear directly from our clients about their successes thanks to Catholic Charities’ help.

SVT: What accomplishments are you most proud of as CEO? GK: I am actually most proud of our staff, volunteers, and our clients who do the hard work of changing their own lives. In my eight years as CEO, I am proud of the agency doubling its capacity to serve more people. I am also proud of having launched community-based anti-poverty networks like Step Up Silicon Valley and the Franklin-McKinley Children’s Initiative. But we should be most proud of the community members who are putting their resources, time and energy to changing the reality of poverty in this county.

SVT: Where did you grow up and go to school and what did you study? GK: I was born in Denver, and lived in Japan and the Midwest before moving to California. I studied philosophy at Saint Louis University and Loyola University of Chicago and theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (now part of Santa Clara University).

SVT: Please tell us more about Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. GK: Catholic Charities is a faith-based nonprofit social service agency which provides comprehensive social services, advocacy and convening in Santa Clara County to all people in need regardless of creed on behalf of the Catholic Church. Key areas of service include Children, Youth and Family Development, Older Adult Services, Behavioral Health Services, Housing Services, and Economic Development Services. We also have an affiliated agency, Charities Housing Development Corporation, which builds and manages affordable housing. We serve over 41,000 people a year with a budget of $32 million with a philosophy of “a hand up, not a hand out” as we work to end poverty in Santa Clara County.

SVT: Who has inspired you?
GK: Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa. Pope Francis is my new inspiration.

SVT: What problems are there and what can people do to help? GK: The reality of poverty in Santa Clara County is bigger than most people think. The federal poverty measure recognizes only about 10% of the population as poor, but based on the supplemental poverty measure as analyzed by Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality 18.7% of our neighbors are poor. This is mostly caused by the high cost of housing, transportation and healthcare. The big problems I see are the lack of affordable housing, the opportunity gap in education, the lack of comprehensive immigration reform, and the overarching issue of the increasing income and asset gap between rich and poor. In such a wealthy county it is shocking that so many people are homeless and so many people earn so little that they can’t afford decent housing and food.

SVT: What can people do to help?
GK: There are five things people can do: 1. become aware, 2. volunteer, 3. invest, 4. advocate, 5. relate. First, it’s important for people to know the reality of poverty in their own community. It is often hidden, so it means asking questions. Second, volunteering time and talents is always needed, not just in direct service but also on boards, committees, and with technical expertise. Third, invest. Of course it would help if more people gave more generously to nonprofits that are effective in helping people get out of poverty. I like to ask people not just to give, but to invest in lives. The return on your investment is priceless. Fourth, advocacy — the underlying causes of poverty are not easily addressed by donating food, clothing, or even volunteer services; it takes changing the rules of the game that keep people in poverty. Finally, relate – get to know your neighbors whether rich or poor and of different cultures. We are a stronger community and more inclined to help each other when we know each other.

SVT: What have you learned and can share about the Non-Profits world?
GK: Great question. This would take too long and could be a whole other article.

SVT: What advice would you share for aspiring students and people of all ages wanting to make a difference?
GK: Start where you are. Start today. Start small. And never give up. Connect with organizations that have experience. You don’t necessarily need to create another nonprofit. Listen first. Be prepared to be humbled by the people you think you want to help. Recognize that poverty and human needs have complex causes and solutions, but one act of charity is the beginning of a journey of compassion and justice. I once wanted to be a missionary. When I was in college, I heard Mother Teresa give a talk when she was asked if we should move to India to help the poor. She told us, “As the song says, ‘Love the one(s) you’re with.’” I’ve found that in Santa Clara County I don’t need to move to another part of the world to find people in need to help, the world has come to us.

For more information about Catholic Charities, our services, how to donate or volunteer, go to CatholicCharitiesScc.org.

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