CCCAS' 70-year charitable legacy

By Vince Dragone

This December, Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services (CCCAS) celebrates 70 years of dedicated service to the communities within the Diocese of Erie. Offering a broad spectrum of resources, from mental health and addiction counseling to refugee resettlement and adoption, CCCAS has long been committed to strengthening families and fostering resilience across the 13 counties of the diocese.

Humble beginnings

CCCAS was born on a frosty Christmas Eve in 1953 with the help of the Sisters of St. Joseph dedicated to a mission offering “social services of a professional nature to the residents of the Diocese of Erie." Sister Marie Baptiste DeGroat and Sister Kathleen Kirsch of the Sisters of St. Joseph went on to earn master’s degrees in social work from The Catholic University of America before opening an office in what was then St. Joseph’s Home for Children.

sistersUnder the sisters' guidance, the agency started with food vouchers, adoption and counseling services. Between 1958 and 1962, it achieved financial stability with support from the United Way and the Erie Diocese.

Dawn Joy, the current CEO of CCCAS, explains the agency’s original mission. "Catholic Charities began with what we call today mental health counseling, which was initially family counseling," says Dawn. "It evolved to include services like refugee resettlement and pregnancy and parenting support. Over the years, we've broadened our mental health and substance abuse counseling to meet growing needs in our community.”

Staff and leadership throughout the history of the organization have always understood that their work goes well beyond daily responsibilities. Their consistent discernment of the needs of the day and efforts to marshal the necessary resources have made the robust offerings of today’s CCCAS possible.

In 1973, the agency took a pivotal step by launching its Emergency Pregnancy Service at the behest of Bishop Alfred Watson. The initiative served as a compassionate response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion. Between 1973 and 2023, more than 30,000 individuals have utilized the service. The agency remains committed to its core principle that all life is precious, and today, continues to assist families through its pregnancy and parenting support efforts, providing everything from counseling and referrals to maternity clothing and diapers.

Present day: A mosaic of services in modern times

Today, CCCAS has expanded its footprint with main offices in Erie and DuBois, reaching out to the 13 counties of the Diocese of Erie. Notably, the organization is now incorporating traumainformed care — a holistic approach that takes into account the emotional and psychological experiences of clients, aiming for more empathetic and effective interactions.


Their dedicated team of counselors, led by Kolbe Gray, offers mental health and addiction services. Recently, CCCAS has been granted approval by the Erie County Office of Drug and Alcohol Abuse to start small group therapy to better serve the needs of the community.

“We are extremely excited to launch small group therapy that can offer psychoeducation in regard to remaining clean and sober. The idea is that clients are surrounded by other individuals who are experiencing the same kind of challenges and difficulties as they are,” Kolbe says.

But for Kolbe, it’s more than just a job.

“What makes me come to work every day is a passion to help people,” Kolbe says. “It’s the small wins,” she adds, describing those moments when a client achieves a goal or makes real progress. “It’s a good feeling.”


Danelle Stone has seen the landscape of adoption shift dramatically since she started as a caseworker in 1986. Back then, she played a multifaceted role, working directly with birth parents, foster parents and adoptive parents.

cccas staff photo“One of the most wonderful experiences of that time was working with Sister Joseph John from the Sisters of St. Joseph,” Danelle recalls. “Sister Joseph John, along with Sister Mary Irene and Sister Martha, had a beautiful set-up for foster babies at their convent. It was a sanctuary where multiple infants could be taken care of at any time. When the sisters built their current convent on West Ridge Road, they had special rooms designed specifically for the nursery. Those visits were a slice of heaven — so warm and welcoming. It was clear that any baby who was cared for by Sister Joseph John received a great foundation, regardless of whether they were placed for adoption or returned to their birth mother."

Danelle fondly recalls just one of the long-term success stories that make her role so fulfilling.

"The family of one of the first babies I placed for adoption still keeps in touch. The family sends a Christmas card every year, and it's heartwarming to know the children are thriving. They're college-educated, successful and even reconnected with their birth parent. After meeting her grown child, the birth mother felt affirmed that she had made the right decision. Her child had received everything she ever wished for them," Danelle says. "Adoption is often a selfless, loving decision, and it's gratifying to see that validated for the birth parent."

Danelle notes that more social services became available over the years to support single mothers who wished to raise their children. This and changing societal norms made it more acceptable for a single mother to keep her child, which led to a decrease in the number of infants being placed for adoption.

Danelle’s role has evolved during her tenure, particularly in response to the growing needs of older children in the foster care system.

Danelle mentions, "County agencies began to reach out to us and ask if we had families who could adopt their foster children. And that's when we began to get involved with what we would call the child welfare adoption system."

Nowadays, much of her work includes liaising with county agencies to provide child profiles, preparing children for whatever permanency might look like for them, and even creating Life-books that help these children understand their journey. These books can become meaningful mementos for the rest of their lives.

Pregnancy and parenting support

As the Eastern Vicariate office supervisor for CCCAS, Nanci Mattison has seen the organization grow and evolve since her initial role as a part-time counselor in 1994. For Nancy and her team, their roles go beyond a 9-to-5.

"We have a wonderful staff. It's not just a job for them. It is their life's work," Nanci states. Nanci has been instrumental in growing the pregnancy and parenting program, initially serving families with children under a year old.

"We've developed to include what we now call the toddler program, which serves children up to three years of age," she explains. She praises community generosity, particularly through annual diaper drives held across several areas, noting that community support is "how we do it."Nanci reflects on the early days of the organization's pregnancy and parenting program. "I'd lay awake at night, stressing about how we were going to afford diapers and formula for our clients," she says.

She wasn't just worried about money; she genuinely cared about the families they were helping. By the grace of God, her stress didn't last long.

"My boss at the time told me not to fret. 'Just keep doing what you're doing. Focus on offering quality service and the necessary support, and the funding will follow.' She was absolutely right," Nanci recalls with a sense of gratitude and amazement.Throughout the years, CCCAS has continually found ways to meet its financial needs thanks to generous donors throughout the diocese.

A vision for the future: Building on the legacy

When asked about her vision for the next 70 years, Nanci is clear.

"It is to continue our pregnancy and parenting program. To include more support for families, to help them learn how to budget better, to further their education, to get more parenting education, to help them grow as parents, not only for their babies and toddlers but for their teenagers," she muses.

Dawn explains, "From the very beginning, our focus has been on strengthening families and nurturing resilience. That core principle is the nucleus of everything we do.” She further adds, "And that will continue to inform our vision for the future as we look to expand our services."

Dawn expresses her optimism, stating, "I see our refugee resettlement services really taking off. Our focus is not just on maintaining our existing services, but on pioneering new and innovative delivery methods. We're committed to addressing the unique needs of each community within the 13 counties we serve, embracing those regions to support their evolving requirements."

She highlights that the organization’s refugee resettlement program is gradually transitioning from being seen as a small to a mid-sized agency by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), an indicator of the agency's growing impact.

Whether it's bolstering the scope of its refugee resettlement programs, enhancing mental health services or continually adapting to the unique needs of the 13 counties of the Diocese of Erie, CCCAS appears poised to remain a cornerstone in the community. As they forge ahead, the agency is intent on embracing change, while remaining grounded in the principles that have sustained them for the past 70 years.