The mustard seed. Those words best describe the 1986 foundation of The Northwest Catholic Counseling Center (NCC). A recession hit the country, resulting in layoffs with limited resources and opportunities. As always, a financially shaky climate significantly impacted the most vulnerable in our community. Opportunities for mental health services were no exception. Four Portland parishes, St. Charles, St Rita, St. Rose, and St. Therese, along with the Grotto, recognized a need for professional and affordable counseling rooted in the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church. An invitation was extended to Srs. Barbara Kennedy, OSM, LPC, and Sarah Deeby, OSM, LPC to join the grassroots efforts of these dedicated parishioners and priests. At the same time, this impractical but idealistic goal grabbed the attention and commitment of Lisa Sheridan, OSM, LPC who later entered the community of Servants of Mary. The mustard seed began to grow.
“I remember one of my very first clients paid in firewood,” recalls Sr. Barbara. “We gave that firewood to another client, a single mom, so she could heat her home.” As the small staff began to grow, moving from parish to parish to see clients was confusing and time-consuming for staff as well as clients. The thought of renting space and being under one roof was considered financially impossible until a former client, a single mom called Sr. Sarah. While a client, this woman was living in poverty and dug deep to pay $5.00 a session. When Christmas was fast approaching and she was unable to buy a gift for her son, the staff responded by getting gifts and a winter coat for her young boy. As the years passed, she had not forgotten the kindness and wanted to share her financial recovery. She gifted NCC $10,000, enabling the Center to rent space at the current location on Northeast Sandy Boulevard and purchase necessary furniture.
Thirty-six years later, what started in borrowed parish offices with second-hand furniture and very little seed money has grown into a much-needed mental health center, with nearly 20 staff members, providing more than 7,000 counseling sessions each year for people all over the greater Portland area.
Although the founders were called back to Omaha in 2019, their original mission and spirit are alive in the work we do at NCC every day. Many things have changed over 30 years, but one thing has remained a constant: a commitment to provide quality, compassionate mental health services to all people in need, regardless of ability to pay, social standing, or faith background. The mustard took root.