Charities Share the Gospel and Change Lives

How businesses and programs across the country put faith into action. June 17 issue feature.

George Pfaff supports seminarians as part of his charitable work.
George Pfaff supports seminarians as part of his charitable work. (photo: Photo by Suzanne Konopka, Catholic News Herald)

One way people live out Gospel values is through charities, foundations and their businesses. They show there’s no room for an “either/or” response — a “both/and” answer is needed.

One business living Christian charity in a big way is Broetje Orchards of Prescott, Wash. The company’s tagline alludes to Scripture — “First Fruits of Washington” ( As one of the largest privately owned apple orchards in the country — the orchard sends apples and cherries coast-to-coast — Broetje’s stated mission as a Christian organization is founded on a biblical principle: “to be a quality fruit company committed to ‘bearing fruit that will last’ (John 15:16).” “The orchard was founded on the belief that faith and business can be incorporated in a single mission,” states Broetje’s website.

More scriptural foundations came in 1979, when founders Ralph and Cheryl Broetje saw their workforce change quickly. Young Latinos were replacing the typical U.S. migrant families who were no longer traveling because of gas prices. The situation led them to believe God was calling the orchard to live out biblical principles about treating immigrants as native-born people (Leviticus 19:33-34) and others like “God shows no partiality. … He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).

Pope Paul VI’s 1967 writings on migrant peoples also influenced the mission, which the orchard mentions on its website, including Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples). With more than 1,000 permanent employees and a workforce swelling to 2,800 during harvest season, Broetje has invested over $10 million building two communities that include nearly 250 units of affordable housing and seasonal housing for employees, plus home ownership opportunities for them. Broetje built a huge daycare facility for the workers and subsidizes the costs; it also founded Vista Hermosa Elementary to educate Latino students in grades pre-K through 5. In addition, the orchard also founded a youth ranch for struggling teens. And every year Broetje Orchards donates 50% of its profits to the needy around the world. Employees get to direct some of the charitable contributions.

And the Broetje family, through their Vista Hermosa Foundation, has given more than $50 million so far to help developing peoples in East Africa, India, Haiti, Mexico and Central America. Broetje is a model business in what it means to be one’s brother’s keeper.
In the Midwest, Bridges of Iowa in Des Moines is more than a foundation. It’s a ministry that is also its brother’s keeper, but in a whole different way ( This faith-based treatment program acts as the bridge that men and women in trouble with the law because of drugs and alcohol can use to cross from addiction and crime to spiritual well-being and productive lives.

Don Lamberti of the Casey’s General Store chain, Bridges’ founder and chair emeritus, put in more than $2 million to start the program 12 years ago when he saw that jail wasn’t helping change the lives of those incarcerated because of their drug or alcohol addictions. He wanted to do something to help change lives.

When his son Anthony discovered a book on the subject written by Episcopalian priest Frank Constantino, Lamberti went with friends to check out that author’s Bridges of America program in Florida.

One of the friends who checked out the Florida program was Thomas Jackowski, a criminal defense lawyer who was tired of seeing his clients in and out of prison because of their unaddressed addictions.

Lamberti and Jackowski believed they saw a state-of-the art program run from a faith-based perspective and wanted to emulate it themselves with a Catholic perspective. Jackowski well remembers Lamberti saying, “I believe I’m being told by God to do it. I want to be part of the solution. And you’re going to do it for me.” Jackowski did. Today he is Bridges of Iowa’s CEO and executive director.

“Don was the central driving force behind it,” Jackowski says. “He funds it, attends every meeting and graduation, and we speak weekly about it. He and I firmly believe this is part of the New Evangelization.” Jackowski describes the founder and his family as staunch Catholics and credits Lamberti with bringing him back to the Catholic faith.

Faith, in fact, is the indispensable foundation for the Bridges program, which is heavy on the faith journey and personal accountability aspects of additions recovery. “Scriptures tell us we have to be accountable to God and to each other,” Jackowski says. Secular treatment modalities are joined to the faith-based program — all carried out by a staff who have advanced training and international accreditation.

The religious aspect begins on day one. Although people seeking treatment don’t have to be Christians to enter, Jackowski explains, 100% leave as believers.“

We open the door for them, but they have to walk through it,” he says. When they do, they find “the program is heavily steeped in Christ-centered teaching.”

Although founded, funded and run by Catholics, Bridges of Iowa is nondenominational. Working with clients are two Catholic deacons and several Protestant ministers. A Catholic priest sits on the board. There are prayer groups and traditional Bible study. About three years ago none of the clients were involved with the Catholic Church. Today, one-third are, with a number of Catholics wanting to come home to the Church. During their average stay of 12-18 months, clients also learn to become gainfully employed and financially responsible, emphasizes Jackowski. In the last phase, clients move to transitional living, also set up by Lamberti. Bridges graduates 40-50 men and 15-20 women a year, and their rate for remaining abstinent after a drug-treatment program is well above the national average. It’s almost 80%. And 95% of those who might temporarily relapse get back on track.

“We believe this is a God-inspired effort,” Jackowski says.

Certainly the two deacons — Mike Manno and Steve Reed — believe that as well. Bishop Richard Pates encouraged their involvement.

“The faith component is what really takes it over the top,” says Deacon Reed. He points out that a number of the men had previously gone to 60- and 90-day programs. “If there isn’t a faith component, it doesn’t take hold; there’s a lot of recidivism. But not here.”

Reed notes a lot of the program is Bible-based and focuses on the teaching of good, Christian principles. And for added assistance Catholic clients can get involved with the Knights of Columbus or a Catholic community.

“They can’t succeed unless they are in contact with God, and they need other people to support them to this journey back to sobriety,” he says. He adds that graduates are encouraged to go to church at least weekly, and some even become Knights. And the program has a ripple effect because it not only affects and helps the individuals, but also their families.

In Asheville, N.C., George Pfaff, a spry 85-year-old, puts his faith into action. For his Diocese of Charlotte, he still carries on the work that his George and Jane Pfaff Family Foundation started several years ago in their former Diocese of Albany, N.Y., where the Pfaffs resided for 40 years.

Although Pfaff dissolved the foundation after he retired, he and his wife, Jane, continued the same work of helping fund the seminarian programs in various dioceses. That included not only their Albany Diocese, but also in their Florida diocese’s seminary in Boynton Beach when they lived in Delray Beach.

Today, for the Diocese of Charlotte, he’s in the midst of a five-year effort called Friend to Seminarians. Instead of giving them a basic donation, he made a challenge grant. “They have an annual fund drive for the seminary, and I persuaded them they would do better if they made it a matching fund,” he explains. “I provide the match. I’m giving them $100,000 a year for five years, and they use that for getting matching grants.”

The challenge is working better than expected. “This is only the second year,” Pfaff says, “and they gained $33,000-34,000 over the $100,000 they needed for the matching money. So that really helped get the whole activity going.”

“The significance of that kind of generosity is that it encourages other people to make commitments to the seminarians at a more significant level who would not have done that otherwise,” says Jim Kelley, director of development for the Charlotte Diocese.

Explaining the history of his interests, Pfaffs says: “I was reasonably successful in business, and my wife and I decided we would make seminaries the No. 1 beneficiary of our legacies.”

After Jane, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and was wheelchair-bound for several years, died two and a half years ago — the Pfaffs were married 57 years — Pfaff not only continued funding seminarian programs.

Through his parish, St. Eugene Church, he started participating in a Christian-based program at a nearby women’s prison. “Basically, they say if you want to be successful in re-entering society, you have to be a Christian-minded individual and work at it,” says Pfaff, who gives each woman in the program a copy of Father John Bartunek’s book on prayer when she graduates.

“I say to them in no uncertain terms,” explains Pfaff, “one way to make it on the outside is to believe in God and practice it.”

He’s certainly a man who practices what he preaches.

Joseph Pronechen is the Register’s staff writer.