Sister Karen Bland
Diocese of Pueblo, Colorado
For the last twenty years, Sister Karen Bland, Benedictine Sisters of Chicago (OSB), has served as Executive Director of Grand Valley Catholic Outreach in Grand Junction, Colorado. She is known throughout the state for her leadership in preventing and ending homelessness.
Sister Karen and Grand Valley Catholic Outreach operate under the idea that they don’t help people because those asking for help are Catholic, they help people because they are Catholic and live their faith. Through example and continuous outreach in social justice, they embody what it means to be Catholic. They mirror the ministry of Jesus himself; they never turn anyone away and treat everyone with dignity and respect.
Grand Valley Catholic Outreach began more than 30 years ago when two Franciscan sisters, Marguerite and Claudine, offered bag lunches from their back door to the homeless and hungry. Recognizing one’s right to food, clothing, and shelter, the valley’s four Catholic parishes – St. Joseph, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sacred Heart, and St. Ann – entered into a collaborative agreement in 1988 and formally established Grand Valley Catholic Outreach.
Today with Sister Karen leading the way and support from interfaith and civic communities, the organization offers dignity and hope to those in distress. She empowers and encourages 14 staff members and over 700 volunteers from all walks of life work together to make a profound impact for people in their community.
“For me, each person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Sister Karen in an interview for the Sister to All campaign in 2016. “But you have to be able to obtain those rights. And that happens when we can fulfill our need for food, clothing and shelter.”
The organization provides groceries so that no one goes hungry; rent assistance to help prevent homelessness; and utility assistance to help keep the lights and heat on for families. It provides clean clothes, so people can have what they need and medical assistance to those who otherwise would go without. The soup kitchen provides more than 70,000 meals a year.
Grand Valley Catholic Outreach has built apartments for individuals who have been chronically experiencing homelessness. It provides financial aid, new books for children, an adult day center, and counseling for women who struggle with homelessness and sobriety. These efforts are designed to offer dignity and respect to each person who enters their doors.
The communities love Sister Karen. Her Benedictine hospitality is frequently seen in her ability to connect with all those around her. When you speak with her, she is truly invested in what you have to say. In her ministry, she strives to make a person feel comfortable, wanted and included.
“I was providentially led to this ministry,” said Sister Karen. “It was one of those things. I landed here, and I love it. My faith gives me the foundation I need to carry on the visions of our board and make those visions our reality.”