New name, old mission for social services agency

News-DemocratFebruary 10, 2014 

A charity that has been helping foster children and families in Illinois for decades has changed its name, the second time in as many years.

Caritas Family Solutions was formerly Christian Social Services for the past 23 months, but for 65 years before that it was known as Catholic Social Services.

"We're an independent nonprofit that serves people of all backgrounds," said Gary Huelsmann, chief executive officer.

The organization was forced to separate from the Catholic Church in fall 2011 or lose federal funding in response to the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. The social services agency decided to disband after it said it could not comply with state-mandated rules that it adopt or foster children to nonmarried, cohabitating couples and gay couples without violating the basic tenets of Catholicism.

"So we didn't have time to think through our name change," Huelsmann said. "We changed Catholic to Christian and we moved on."

In December, the group had 830 children in foster care.

But the group offers care, treatment and other family services to 4,400 people.

The organization's annual budget is $15 million for fiscal year 2014, which comes from government funding and donations, Huelsmann said.

The group no longer receives any money from the Diocese of Belleville, but it didn't want to lose Catholic supporters.

After a hasty name change to Christian Social Services, both Huelsmann and board chairwoman Barbara Calandro said there was confusion about the group's mission and possible association with a Christian church.

"We really wanted people to understand who we were and how we will be present in the community," said Calandro, of Shiloh. "We have found that rather than clarify who we were, we kind of muddied the waters a little bit. People assumed we were affiliated with the church, but what church?"

They wanted to clear up the confusion.

"Oh God, isn't there something better than these particular names?" Calandro said she prayed.

So they had a meeting to come up with a different name. They came up with "caritas," which is Latin for charity or love, Huelsmann said.

"Caritas gives a nod to our Catholic heritage but also quantifies what we do with families or individuals," Huelsmann said.

In addition to adoptive services, the organization offers other services like helping families care for abused and neglected or finding assisted living for the elderly. "We're enabling families to find their own solutions," Huelsmann explained.

"We thought caritas would fit some or all of those scenarios," he said.

Contact reporter Maria Hasenstab at or 618-239-2460.

About Caritas

For more information about Caritas Family Solutions, go to or call 800-997-9702. The organization is based at 8601 W. Main St. in Belleville.

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