President and CEO Rachel Lustig started at Catholic Social Services four years ago. When she interviewed, the board of directors took her to a food pantry the size of a three-car garage in west Columbus.
Over the past 15 years, it had become a de facto welcome center for the growing Hispanic community. Police officers held classes to educate immigrants on U.S. laws like car seats, while families got flu shots and eye exams. But the space was designed to be a food pantry.
This year, CSS has opened its new Our Lady of Guadalupe Center, which is three times larger, to provide holistic support like computer and English classes, access to legal consultants and more. Lustig says it marries the nonprofit’s individual development with its emergency assistance, because if you ask people to make a change in their lives, they can’t be in a crisis situation.
“Our hope with that food pantry is that we can provide you with the types of skills and support that make it possible for you to not come back for the food,” she says.
CSS, a faith-based social service agency that is part of the Diocese of Columbus and serves Central and Southern Ohio, is continuing its 70-year legacy by going wider for seniors and deeper for families. Lustig says that means serving more low-income senior citizens who want to stay independent and offering comprehensive care for families through two community centers.
“In the poverty arena, you want little wins that are strategic on longer, larger-term issues,” she says. “The questions that we’re dealing with are related to poverty. They are complicated. They are interconnected.”
Compassion and impact
Lustig tends to want to get things done quickly, but she’s developed patience and perseverance when bringing about change within CSS or external initiatives like the expanded community center.
“If we want to do something that’s going to make a difference, we’re going to have to hang with it for a while,” she says. “We’re going to have to invite people into that and engage them.”
Her business education helped her see that the organization could be more efficient. Tools used in for-profit business, such as data systems that help articulate the value proposition, are catching on in nonprofits. However, it couldn’t be at the expense of the organization’s commitment to alleviating suffering for people on the margins.
A balance of compassion and impact shape the way CSS does its work, holding each other in check. Lustig also helps translate the language of business for her staff.
“The organization was committed to quality care — no doubt about it. If I’ve helped to change it, it’s to tell our story in a better way, and helped to say, ‘We’ve got to take this to more people,’” she says.
Today, CSS uses four criteria for excellence. External factors of impact and capacity: “Is it making a difference and running at full throttle?” And, internal measurements of quality and efficiency: “Are clients satisfied with its products? If CSS sends unsupervised volunteers into a vulnerable population’s homes, how does it ensure they are trustworthy?”