“Mind-boggling!” Is how one person described Cathleen Lawler’s “positive, impactful influence in Kingsburg and the surrounding communities.” The broad consensus of that perspective has won Dr. Lawler the Kingsburg District Chamber of Commerce 2023 Citizen of the Year Award. Dr. Cathleen Lawler is the FPU Center for Community Transformation’s (CCT) South Valley Resource Specialist.
Dr. Cathleen Lawler combines both an impressive academic pedigree (a doctorate in Transformational Leadership) with an active, lengthy track record of deeds done in the community. She has been a police chaplain, a trainer in church collaboration, a mission trainer, and a non-profit resource connector, producing a comprehensive Community Resource Guide that serves victims of trauma in Kingsburg. She created the Kingsburg Adopt-a-Cop program, empowering churches to support and encourage every officer, a model that other valley communities are now seeking to implement. She initiated the Chaplain’s Fund, as well as a summer recreation program for kids in the community. Dr. Lawler also serves as a marketplace chaplain, working with the employees of several businesses that depend on workers with limited English skills, helping connect them with resources, and walking with them through a host of challenges. One community leader said, “Her dedication to serving her community is not measured in the normal sense of a 9 to 5 workday, as she has called to serve anytime 24 hours a day seven days a week, providing not only practical resources in times of need, but spiritual support and encouragement as well.”
As the South Valley Resource Specialist for the Center for Community Transformation (CCTfresno.org), Cathleen’s work goes beyond emergency response and trauma care. She is instrumental in helping communities implement longer-term solutions to their greatest challenges. For example, she is training local faith leaders in a financial literacy system (Faith & Finances) designed to help stabilize the financial lives of extremely low-income residents, especially in the rural communities of the valley, many of whom are routinely exploited through predatory lending practices. As a certified Faith & Finances facilitator, she has walked with countless families in the midst of tremendous financial vulnerability, providing connection to best practices and resources to help them improve their economic lives. She has also helped extend the resources of the CCT’s microenterprise (Launch Central Valley) and social enterprise (Spark Tank) training systems to help individuals and institutions start small businesses that are life-changing. This includes a tree trimming business in Selma that hires people experiencing homelessness to give them a reconnection to employment, a local community theatre, creative learning centers in Visalia and Kingsburg, as well as entrepreneurship courses for women at a local church, in addition to many other micro businesses. And she has helped to connect Spanish-speaking leaders who have not had the privilege of theological education or leadership training to gain a Certificate in Community Transformation from the FPU Biblical Seminary, which has led to churches being equipped as on-the-ground change agents in the valley’s most neglected communities.
For someone so deeply and broadly involved in the well-being of valley communities, one might expect Dr. Lawler to fit the stereotypical profile of a grim advocate grinding away at the overwhelming challenges of the valley. But those who have worked with her report how much fun she makes it to meet these challenges together, how encouraged and hopeful she is about the solutions emerging, and how much strength there is in a collaborative approach where the load is shared. They marvel at the way Cathleen balances her care for the community with appropriate self-care as well, and the amazing relational network she has built around the world that forms a key to her own well-being and perspective. In an average year, she might be found hiking with a friend across Azerbaijan, swimming with a friend in Cuernavaca Mexico, or supporting missional work in Cairo or Alexandria. Her global perspective helps to expand her sense of what is possible locally.
Staff at the Center for Community Transformation express delight that Cathleen is on the team. Executive Director Carlos Huerta says, “Dr. Cathleen brings so much depth to our team – depth of discernment that comes from broad experience, from a commitment to shalom, and from a vast and diverse network of community leaders whom she has earned the respect of. She is an amazing steward of the gifts God has given her. We are fortunate to have her as a colleague.”
The CCT congratulates Dr. Cathleen Lawler for being named the Kingsburg Chamber of Commerce 2023 Citizen of the Year. Her work is truly mind-boggling.