Catholic Urban Programs Welcomes New Executive Director

“His (Joe Hubbard’s) legacy of compassionate service that is rooted in the Corporal Works of Mercy, the Gospel of Matthew, is something I will always have top of mind while leading Catholic Urban Programs (CUP) into the future.”

New Executive Director at Catholic Urban Programs Seeks to Honor Founder’s Legacy While Adapting to Changing Community Needs, and the Non-Profit Landscape

For Toni Muhammad, having the opportunity to join a ministry where the founders were still present in the day-to-day life of the organization is unique. “Being able to spend time with Joe Hubbard, hearing his stories of service, learning of his deep dedication to, and love of the people of East St. Louis has been so inspiring,” said Toni. “His legacy of compassionate service that is rooted in the Corporal Works of Mercy, the Gospel of Matthew, is something I will always have top of mind while leading Catholic Urban Programs (CUP) into the future.”

Listening to Broken Hearts

Joe Hubbard, Sister Julia Huiskamp, Gerry Hasenstab, other religious and community members participating in advocacy work in CUP’s early days.

For most of its 46 years, Catholic Urban Programs ran as a department of the Diocese of Belleville, rather than as a non-profit organization of the Diocese. “We used to spend a lot of time listening to broken hearts,” said Joe Hubbard. “In 2011, we became a non-profit and had to spend a lot more time focused on the business side of things. We had less freedom in our ministry. Things had to be tracked for grants. We had to be more focused so the people would not become so dependent on CUP.” Hubbard, along with several volunteers, would spend a lot of time responding to immediate crisis situations in people’s lives, at all times of the day and night. “We would work all day and then go out in the middle of the night to pray with the dying,” said Joe.

In CUP’s early years, Joe Hubbard, Sister Julia Huiskamp, volunteers, and East St. Louis residents also spent a lot of time advocating in both Springfield and Washington to ease suffering and poverty.

A Love for East St. Louis

“I grew up here [in East St. Louis]. My love is here,” said Joe. “The Church tells us we are all made by God and that we should love and care for one another.
Forgiveness is so important.” During his time at CUP (1973-2013), Joe provided financial assistance that helped bury 1,000 children lost to violence. At the shelter, he saw mothers struggling with issues stemming from mental illness, needing help becoming better parents, needing assistance with employment, medication, and housing.  “Our hope was always to have somebody with the time, energy, and love to develop a strong case management program for the people,” said Joe.

Joe recognizes that while CUP’s foundation in providing direct service to people in times of crisis is important, it isn’t what lifts them out of poverty. “The citizens of East St. Louis deserve our love and care,” said Joe. “They deserve the best we can do to help change poverty.” Joe says he wants to be remembered as someone who tried; someone who cared.

Moving Toward Systemic Change While Providing
Direct Services

“Grant making organizations want everyone to focus their efforts on systemic change,” said Gerry Hasenstab (CUP’s Executive Director from 2013 to 2020). “Somebody has to be there with a safety net for people as they work their way out of poverty. We have always been a safety net organization.” Gerry remembers people asking Joe about the work of CUP being “just a band-aid.” According to Hasenstab, CUP worked to keep people alive, to have their basic needs met, to help sustain them. “CUP was the
sustaining organization.”

In his early years at CUP, Gerry served as a driver for Joe and remembers several occasions where people would approach Joe, remembering the help he provided to their family. “One time, Joe and I were eating breakfast in Milwaukee,” said Gerry. “A young man approached and said ‘aren’t you Joe Hubbard? You helped my mom with her utilities when we were struggling, I’m a student at Marquette University now.’” For Gerry, this is just one strong example of CUP’s efforts to be the safety net for families in need. “Now there are people who have come to depend on CUP’s assistance, almost building us into their budget,” said Gerry. “They can’t do that. We need to be there for people in true emergency situations and the staff understands that.”

While remaining focused on charity and safety net services are important to Gerry, he sees the need for moving toward a focus on systemic change. “We have third generation kids from the housing projects in our Griffin Center programs,” said Gerry.

Toni Muhammad visits with Deacon Doug and Geri Boyer at Gerry Hasenstab’s retirement dinner

In 2018, after 43 years of service to Catholic Urban Programs, Gerry made his intentions to retire in 2020 known to the Board. “We all agreed that the new Executive Director would need a full two-years to gain an understanding of the complexities of CUP and be ready to take over,” said Gerry. A hiring committee conducted a screening of all the applicants and brought the four best candidates in for interviews. “Toni Muhammad had an outside vision for the organization that none of us had. She is right in her way of thinking,” said Gerry. “We can do both safety net and empowerment work. Toni appreciates Joe’s vision and will meld that into everything she does moving CUP forward.” Gerry appreciates Toni’s energy, vision, vast experience working with the homeless and her organizational skills. Much like Joe, Gerry sees “listening to broken hearts” as a very significant thread in the fabric of CUP’s history that should continue even though new priorities will be identified. “We can stay committed to making people feel like they have been listened to, treated with dignity and compassion. Even if we can’t help them we can still be charitable and kind in how we treat people.”

Toni Muhammad, Executive Director learning more about CUP’s early days from Joe Hubbard, Founder

Personal Experience Motivates New Executive
Director to Continue the Legacy of Being the Safety Net, While Focusing on Prevention and Empowerment Programs 

Prior to joining the Catholic Urban Programs team in 2018, Toni Muhammad served the Archdiocese of St. Louis as a member of the leadership team for Queen of Peace Center in St. Louis. The Center’s mission is to break the cycle of substance use disorders for
women, children, and families through family-centered behavioral healthcare. “Working for Queen of Peace was my first time working for a Catholic organization,” said Toni. “What I enjoy most about being in a Catholic environment is the focus on prayerful decision making. This is something I came to appreciate during my time with the Archdiocese and is something I look forward to carrying into my role at Catholic Urban Programs.” At Queen of Peace Center, Toni also remembers the focus on empowering clients to see Christ within themselves.

“To me, that is a reminder to those we serve to always see the goodness in themselves, to see that they were made in the image and likeness of God,” said Toni.

The work of Catholic Urban Programs is meaningful to Toni Muhammad because her life experiences parallel those of the clients CUP serves in a lot of ways. “For much of my childhood, I grew up in the Blumeyer housing projects in North St. Louis City,” said Toni. “I was a teen mother, having my first child right after high school.” Having disappointed her parents greatly, Toni chose to leave home, moving from place to place, sleeping on friends’ couches as she was allowed. Hopes of raising her family with her son’s father were quickly shattered when he became the victim of gun violence and he had to live with his family to focus on his recovery. Toni credits social service agency staff and a transitional housing program for helping her turn things around and get her life on track. One of the conditions for living in Good Samaritan Transitional Housing was giving back through volunteer work. Toni remembers her case manager coaching and mentoring her. She remembers blaming everyone and everything but herself for the problems she was facing. At around 21 years old, Toni remembers something changing in her. She remembers realizing her two sons were depending on her to do better. She remembers realizing that her choices led her to her circumstances. “I remember being with my case managers and the song ‘I Will Survive’ coming on,” said Toni. “I remember dancing, and crying, and being at my lowest point realizing I needed to make a change.”

Through her struggles, Toni remembers being a “supported mother” not a “single mother.” Toni’s own mother (who worked in social services) was always there, in the background connecting her with the right resources and guiding her in the right direction while letting her live her life, make her own mistakes, and find her own way. “My mother never allowed me to point the finger,” said Toni. “It was always clear that it was up to me to change my life and that I could if I did the work, and I did.”

Toni wants to be that person for clients served by CUP, especially those served by Holy Angels and the mothers of the children served by The Griffin Center. “I want to empower people like I was empowered,” said Toni.

Pathway to CUP Executive Director Role
Toni’s most recent positions, broader community involvement, and significant achievements are outlined below:

Assistant Executive Director – Catholic Urban Programs, East St. Louis

Director of Human Resources – Catholic Charities Queen of Peace Center, St. Louis

Foster Grandparent & Retired Senior Volunteer Coordinator – Programs and Services for Older Persons (PSOP), Belleville

Program Director – Gateway180 Homeless Shelter, St. Louis

While at Gateway180 Toni led to pilot initiatives in collaboration with the St. Louis City Department of Human Services, Homeless Service Division. Through the BEACH Project, Toni and her team placed 120 chronically homeless individuals into permanent,
independent housing. This program held a 75% success rate for families remaining permanently housed. Operation Reveille was an Obama administration initiative aimed at ending homelessness among our nation’s veterans. Piloted  in St. Louis, Operation Reveille housed 53 homeless veterans into permanent housing in one day. Toni was invited to Tampa, Florida in 2014 to assist with their kick-off initiative.

Toni holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in human resource management from Lindenwood University and a certificate in Well Being, and Coaching from the Anthropedia Institute at St. Louis University.

Moving Ahead While Honoring Our Foundation

“As the new Executive Director at Catholic Urban Programs, my plan is to honor our founder, Joe Hubbard’s legacy in all I do,” said Toni. “I believe it is my responsibility to move us toward strengthening our programs and adding components that truly lead us to moving people out of poverty. As we do that work, we may find that our focus needs to change in some areas. We will never loose sight of treating people with dignity and compassion and listening to broken hearts. We will stay rooted in the Corporal Works of Mercy.”

Toni also recognizes that Catholic Urban Programs has a tremendous base of individual donors that support its work every year. “We could not deliver our vital services without the generosity of our individual and family donors,” said Toni. “I look forward to having the opportunity to personally thank our donors.” 

The Need for a Future-Focused Development Plan

Toni knew that in order to be successful as CUP’s Executive Director she would need strong leadership in the area of development. Toni reached out to her former colleague, Jenn Lyke who had been serving as Althoff Catholic High School’s Director of Advancement for nearly six years. “Jenn and I were colleagues at Gateway180 homeless shelter in St. Louis,” said Toni. “We always worked really well together.  I watched Jenn bring the right people in as supporters of our mission at the shelter. Jenn can tell the story and help motivate people to support organizations like CUP who are dedicated to helping meet basic human needs while moving people toward self-sufficiency.”

Starting the Next Chapter with the Support of Allsup Charitable Services

Jim Allsup grew up in Cahokia and has strong family connections to East St. Louis. A graduate of Assumption Catholic High School, quality education was very important to Jim’s parents and has remained a priority of his. “Jim has always supported places like CUP, Sr. Thea Bowman School, and Christian Activity Center,” said Phakisha Horne, Vice President, Executive Director of Allsup Charitable Services. “The creation of Allsup Charitable Services is an expansion of Jim’s continued commitment to East St. Louis.” Phakisha describes Jim Allsup as a person who goes where others don’t. “He knows the community’s struggle and looks for ways to help fill existing voids.” In addition to working with Catholic Urban Programs, the Allsup Charitable Services team is currently assisting Sr. Thea Bowman Catholic School, St. Vincent De Paul, Christian Activity Center and the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center. “The whole team at
Allsup Charitable Services has been amazing,” said Toni Muhammad. “Their expertise, business savvy, support, and leadership have been invaluable to me in this transition. ‘Our Time. Your Mission.’ is their tagline. I just don’t know what I would do without them.”

Allsup Charitable Services has been involved with Catholic Urban Programs on a weekly basis since June 2019 and have provided business consultative services in strategic planning, budgeting, grant research, data analysis and human resources support.

Moving Forward

In the coming months, Catholic Urban Programs looks forward to hosting a donor appreciation event, speaking to community groups about our work, and introducing new volunteer opportunities. To learn more about Catholic Urban Programs visit our website or follow us on Facebook

Will you support the safety net, prevention, education, and empowerment programs of Catholic Urban Programs? Your one-time or monthly gift can support our neighbors in need of food and utility assistance; it can provide nights of shelter for women and children at Holy Angels; after school academic support for more than 300 children living in East St. Louis Public Housing and so much more. Every gift matters. It all adds up. Thank you!

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