Our Town Spotlight: Project CATCH

CATCHing on
Supporting vital work for homeless children

by Jessie Ammons
photographs by Juli Leonard

“There are misconceptions about what homelessness is,” says Traci Farmer, a local artist and hairdresser who serves on the board of the nonprofit Project CATCH. The group – Community Action Targeting Children who are Homeless – is a Wake County project of the Salvation Army. The group works with homeless children and raises needed awareness and understanding of the problem in our area. Farmer and others are doing that with fundraisers and creative events, including a pop-up dinner in July and an upcoming art exhibit.

At the dinner, Farmer recalled a moment, about two years ago, when she faced her own misconceptions about homelessness and became motivated to do something about it. During the busy back-and-forth of dropping her children off at sports practices and running errands, she’d noticed a “village in the woods,” she said. There were tents and tarps – no actual structures – but she had a hunch people were sleeping there. Curiosity eventually got the best of Farmer, so she went in broad daylight to check it out. “There weren’t signs of drugs or alcohol. There were Fisher-Price toys and clearly children had been there. These people had created a home.”

Meeting homeless families wherever they are, villages in the woods included, is at the core of Project CATCH, says co-founder and clinical child psychologist Sarah Sabornie. “Our goal is to really end the cycle of poverty. Our two full-time professionals meet kids in shelters, at (their) friends’ houses, in motels, in cars” to provide behavioral and emotional support; then they educate and equip children’s families for and about future needs. The project’s hyperfocused child-centric approach is distinct, Sabornie says. “We’re all hands on deck.”

To garner support, the nonprofit meets Raleighites in all kinds of places. In July, 85 gathered at HQ Raleigh, a coworking space by day, for a thoughtful six-course dinner presented by The Blind Pig. The Asheville-based nonprofit teams with regional chefs to put together thematic suppers that raise money for a local cause. The July dinner was inspired by Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea; each course was inspired by a line in the novel and featured sustainable North Carolina seafood. Blind Pig husband-and-wife team Mike and Darlene Moore had already developed the dinner’s theme when Sabornie reached out about partnering. The timing was kismet: What better beneficiary for a sustainable seafood meal, they decided, than an organization called Project CATCH?

As guests seated themselves and poured the drinks they’d brought with them, Project CATCH board members, including Farmer and Sabornie, mingled with purpose. “It’s all about connections tonight,” Sabornie said. “If we meet just one new person willing to help, then this evening was worth it.”

Eight years since inception, Project CATCH is determined to keep spreading the word and expanding its work. “There are 5,000 homeless children in Wake County. That’s one per classroom,” Sabornie says. She says the more work coordinator Jennifer Tisdale and outreach case manager Taylor Ward do, the more need they discover. “We need another full-time child case manager. We need to raise $100,000 by the end of September.”

Events like The Blind Pig supper club are an important start. Next up: Farmer’s art exhibition, slated for next year. She hopes the show will continue to expand preconceptions of how it looks to spread awareness.

Project CATCH’s work is endless, but the team is tireless. “We know we can raise awareness,” Farmer says. “How often are your heartstrings pulled, and then you get busy and life goes on and all of the sudden it’s days or weeks later? We want to do more. We want to continue to provide ways for people to act and to support.”