Former teacher’s nonprofit aims to educate Catholics about rural poverty


Ruth Kulick grew up in Arlington and was a university theater student; her high school sweetheart, John, was an art history student.

We have this hidden blindness towards our own poor. Ruth kulick

“We were two fairly unemployable people,” she said. She loved to build theater sets, so she became a store teacher, while John taught art.

They married and found teaching jobs near Madison, a small rural town nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Shenandoah National Park.

“We stayed here because we just love it,” Kulick said. They have lived a mile and a half from Highway 29 for over 40 years and are raising four children. They now have 14 grandchildren and still enjoy “the fun of having animals”, especially chickens.

Many Northerners flock to Madison County to hike, visit local wineries, or just have a drink in the idyllic countryside scenery around Blue Ridge. But they may not know that amid the pastoral beauty, many rural families barely make a living.

When Kulick first moved to the area, “I had never seen this kind of poverty in my life,” she said, citing three interconnected issues: lack of transportation, lack of housing and lack of job opportunities. “The area is so pretty, but if you’re not a qualified teacher, accountant, lawyer, dentist or pharmacist, there just aren’t many places to find a job and there aren’t many places to find a job. there is no public transport. ” Low-paying part-time jobs can be found 20 or 30 miles away in Culpeper or Charlottesville, but with the cost of gasoline and car maintenance, the economics often don’t add up. .

“You would earn more money if you were just unemployed. It’s a serious conundrum, ”Kulick said.

The poverty rate in rural Virginia is 16 percent, compared to about 9 percent in urban areas; according to federal statistics, more than 17 percent of the rural population has not completed high school. When she taught commerce, many 13- and 14-year-old boys in her classes were functionally illiterate, familiar with the tools but unable to read instruction manuals. Without work nearby, their parents became long-distance truckers, leaving the children alone for long periods of time.

“These were realities I didn’t know existed,” she said, adding that rural Virginia’s poor are often underestimated because so many families live in the hills. Others rent substandard trailers “that should be condemned”.

Kulick, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Blue Ridge Church in Madison since its founding in 1977, has become an advocate for her new neighbors, traveling to churches in Arlington and Fairfax counties to speak the Sunday after Mass in order to bond and seek donations. She works closely with her parish, which does her own outreach, and with the Madison Emergency Services Association, a small local nonprofit that runs a pantry and thrift store.

Kulick knows that Catholics in Northern Virginia are generous, raising tens of thousands of dollars a year for global appeals – but many have no idea of ​​the poverty that exists in their own diocese, just a two-hour drive away. “We have this hidden blindness towards our own poor,” she said.

His four children, three of whom are alumni of Christendom College at Front Royal, realized that technology could greatly contribute to Kulick’s mission. They recently created a nonprofit called Catholic Outreach for Rural Virginia, or CORV, and created an information website to help educate people about rural poverty. A “Donate Now” button makes it easy to make tax-deductible online contributions.

The website also promotes donation drives held throughout the year to provide food aid and other needs. One collection focuses on personal care and hygiene products, which cannot be purchased with food stamps. Another, coming in August, is collecting children’s backpacks and school supplies. A campaign in December solicits Christmas gifts for children and the elderly in the region. Donations are accepted for gas cards and other transportation aids throughout the year.

Northern Virginia has poverty, but in rural areas “it’s serious so people just wanted to help,” said Father Dennis W. Kleinmann, pastor of St. Veronica Church in Chantilly, one parishes visited by Kulick. Over the past six years, the St. Veronica Knights of Columbus Council has collected over 10 tons of diapers, deodorants and other hygiene items, as well as cash donations and gift cards.

At the end of June, St. Veronica also sent 22 young people to Madison to help with the retirement home and pantry and to work on small construction projects. “We are not the richest parish in the world, but charity demands that we try to be generous,” said Father Kleinmann.

St. Agnes Church in Arlington and St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield have also supported Madison for many years, and Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester is involved in new projects. Diocesan Catholic Charities’ St. Lucy Food Project provides food support. “We have a lifeline called Route 29 to Northern Virginia,” Kulick said.

She hopes the CORV website will help spread the word and get more parishes to focus on the issue of rural poverty – perhaps even inspire Catholic entrepreneurs to come together to brainstorm creative ideas for doing so. in the face of the rural housing crisis and create new jobs.

“You can’t ask people to help themselves when they don’t have tools,” she said.

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