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Rosio Gonzalez

Executive Director of Catholic Charities says goodbye

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Idaho is losing two of its staunchest advocates for the needy. Rosio Gonzalez, executive director of Catholic Charities of Idaho, will soon be joining her husband Will Rainford in San Antonio, Texas. Rainford, former chair of Boise State's social work masters' program and co-founder of Interfaith Sanctuary, recently took a teaching position in the Lone Star State. Gonzalez will join him in early October.

Are you and your husband always talking about social work at home?

All the time. It's our life. Our professions and commitment to the community enriches our marriage.

I have a deep passion for working with immigrants and working in the Latino community. Will has a passion for issues involving poverty and homelessness. So, we engage each other with our issues, and we embrace that.

How did you meet?

We were both undergrad social work students at San Jose University in 1994. We've been together ever since. But this is the first time we've been physically apart. Will has been in San Antonio for a month and a half now. It's an interesting dynamic.

Tell us about your replacement at Catholic Charities.

Landis Rossi will start Monday, Sept. 20. She's been serving as program manager for service integration at Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare. She also previously worked with Easter Seals/Goodwill. She has wonderful connections in the community, and she's very passionate about her work.

What influenced your decision to take the job of Catholic Charities executive director in 2006?

I'm a person of faith, and I'm also a social worker by profession. I must admit, as a Catholic, I had no idea what Catholic social teaching was. When I learned more, I thought: This is what I believe in. The teachings focus on values that respect the human dignity of people, and God's creations, including the environment. And I thought this was a unique opportunity to blend my faith perspective with my work perspective.

Can you describe the face of poverty in 2010?

The most recent Kids Count survey indicates that there are more children in Idaho in poverty, and that means more families in poverty. Let me tell you about a man I met about a year and a half ago. He was a leader in the financial market, and he was interested in some volunteer opportunities. He told me: "I've never seen anyone living in poverty in Idaho." He and I started a series of conversations about poverty. And a couple of weeks later, he said to me, "Rosio, I must have walked by them all the time and never seen them. I see them now." I was so impacted by his observation that the homeless had been invisible to him. He was finally recognizing those who may be living on the edge of poverty.

How did the controversy over the Loaves and Fishes fundraiser erupt?

We had held three successful similar events modeled after the Al Smith dinner in New York. It included some political humor, but by no means was it a political debate. We had invited Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, his challenger Keith Allred, Congressman Walt Minnick and his challenger Raul Labrador. We simply looked to people who are prominent in the community, yet willing to make fun of themselves in order to raise funds for charity. [Gubernatorial candidate] Jana Kemp sent an e-mail expressing her concerns and wanting to participate. Some people asked us, "Why don't you just make her happy and invite her?" The response is: This isn't a political forum, and it's not an open invitation to come and discuss politics. Our board met on the issue and because we're in transition and we simply didn't want to spend stewardship dollars in order to defend ourselves, we postponed the event until Jan. 29. But we will review our procedures and purpose so that if we're in a similar position in the future, we can defend ourselves and move forward. Our desire is to have our fundraiser in the fall.

What do you think you'll miss the most about your job and your life in Idaho?

I will miss the community terribly. And such wonderful people here at Catholic Charities. This is such a wonderful organization.

Do you know what you'll be doing in Texas?

I have no idea. I'm open to all possibilities and opportunities.