Thursday, October 27, 2016

Father John: Overcoming the cost of being poor

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This originally appeared as a column in the Oct. 20, 2016 Catholic Standard.

By Msgr. John Enzler, President and CEO, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

We do a lot at Catholic Charities to try and meet the needs of those who are struggling the most. We have multiple food pantries, medical clinics, dental clinics, housing programs, legal clinics, and so much more. You are probably tired of me telling you all of the needs Catholic Charities meets by this point.

But here’s one need we don’t meet very well – yet.

Personal financial literacy. I believe deeply that one of the biggest factors in success and failure comes down to understanding one’s own limits financially. For our social workers and case managers, financial literacy is the bedrock of their work to help families rebuild.

That’s why today, I’m dedicating my column to sharing the exciting news about our Financial Literacy Workshop on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Gonzaga High School, featuring the excellent and nationally-syndicated columnist Michelle Singletary. Additionally, we will have panels led by representatives from “the Big Four” accounting firms – KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young will focus on setting and planning to reach financial goals, learning how to spend money wisely within that budget, planning for future needs, and avoiding the financial scams that prey on low-income families who are caught in a perpetual cycle of financial crisis.

But that is only the start. Building off of the model of our Catholic Charities Legal Network and Catholic Charities, we are creating a network of financial professionals who will be asked to donate their expert services pro bono to provide guidance to low-income families.

For many of the families we help, financial literacy goes one of two ways.

Some of the people we serve are marvelous at stretching a dollar. They know where to get deals on groceries, they minimize extra splurge purchases and they maximize their resources in the community. For these families, they need to know the best ways to start to save and build a foundation.

For others, spending is a major problem. They might be completely unfamiliar with the idea of debt or credit scores. They have never been able to resist purchases.

Both of these situations might sound pretty familiar. That’s because these are issues that affect lots and lots of families, regardless of their income. The difference, of course, is that almost all of the families we see at Catholic Charities are always on the edge of financial ruin. All it would take is a car breakdown, medical emergency or lost job. So we want to help people do more with their incomes while we try to help them grow their incomes.

We’re hoping to help everyone who needs it, but especially those who would otherwise not be able to afford the expert advice and guidance of a financial wiz. Early on, we’re hoping to pair volunteers as mentors to work with clients to set a budget, get a sense of what is possible, and then follow up regularly to be a coach.

There are so many people who could benefit from this kind of help, and so many people in the area who are in a great position to provide it. Our Legal Network depends on more than 500 attorneys to take on pro bono cases to help low-income clients get the civil legal help they deserve. Our Health Care Network takes very ill patients who have serious health needs and places them with a specialist doctor to treat their illness. Both networks have had incredible success in changing the landscape for low-income people in our region.

Why not do the same thing with this vital, but often overlooked, aspect of poverty? We know the need is dire. I believe deeply that one of the largest driving factor in our society between the haves and the have-nots comes down to knowledge of the tools available to them.

If you are someone who could benefit from this network, join us on October 29. The event is free, but seating is limited. Visit  The session will last from 9 am to 2 pm and it includes lunch! If you feel called to volunteer and help build this network up, reach out to Deacon Jim Shanahan at

I’m very excited. I am very thankful to the big four accounting firms for lending their expertise and support. I am very thankful to our own team led by Deacon Jim Shanahan and to Gonzaga College High School. We’re off to a great start and hope to make a real difference for those who need it. Please volunteer if you can and help us achieve great success in the months and years to come. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Letter from a Grateful Mom and Her Healthy Newborn

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Our Sanctuaries for Life program helps low-income mothers through the pregnancy and birth of their baby by providing medical referrals, baby supplies, and emotional support.  Lillian, an immigrant from Nigeria, was facing a high risk pregnancy and the compounding hospital bills left her and her baby in a life-threatening situation. Our Sanctuaries for Life program connected her with a hospital and doctors who were able to help her deliver a healthy baby boy. Mom and baby, David, are doing great and Lillian was so thankful for Sanctuaries for Life she wrote this moving letter:

I am 32 years of age and was born with Sickle Cell disease.

Baby David is healthy and happy!
With great joy in my heart I sincerely appreciate God Almighty who made me a proud mother. God delivered me and made my dream come true through Sanctuaries for Life program. My coming to America was sudden and when I got here it was a big challenge because of the high risk of my health and pregnancy, hospital procedures and bills was also another challenge. When I got here I approached a physician but was turned down by his team because my pregnancy was already 32 weeks old and I was of high risk. This made me almost depressed. A friend directed me to call Sanctuaries for Life for assistance and as God may have it I was directed to see Jessica* and after the interactive session with her, she considered the high risk that was involved with my pregnancy and decide to enroll me for the program, an appointment was set up for another interview session and immediately after that an appointment was secured for me to see a doctor at Holy Cross Hospital.

At 37 weeks of my pregnancy I took ill and a lot of complications arose but I thank God that the Sanctuaries for Life team sent me to the best hospital that was able to handle my case. Different doctors from different departments worked collectively to ensure my safe delivery. The height of the challenges came to the point of delivering. My baby made several attempts but his heartbeat was drastically dropping so the doctors quickly decided to carry out a C-Section and in less than 20 minutes I had my baby, David.

The program Sanctuaries for Life did not only save my life but also saved my baby and I know a lot of other lives must have been saved also. I pray that God blesses me so that I can have an extension of Sanctuaries of Life back home in my country Nigeria to assist high risk pregnancy women too.

May God bless the Sanctuaries for Life team and all that is contributing to this program in one way or another. 

*Name has been changed

Friday, August 26, 2016

Getting 500 kids ready for school with the Washington Redskins

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On Saturday, August 13, Catholic Charities was honored to team up with the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation to hold the second annual Back to School Fair at FedExField in Landover, MD. More than 500 kids, all in elementary school, received a free backpack full of school supplies, a haircut, and a wide range of services and giveaways to have them set for the coming school year.

It was a brutally hot Saturday, even by August in Washington, DC standards, so the cool air of the club suites level welcomed in each family from the oppressive heat as volunteers smiled and welcomed them to the Back to School Fair. After entering, kids had the chance to visit a dentist for a cleaning or get a haircut thanks to the stylists of Hair Cuttery. Four Redskins alumni – Ravin Caldwell, Dion Foxx, Darnerien McCants and Tommy McVean – were on hand to help handout backpacks. Catholic Charities gave out calculators and shared information on how families could get medical care, affordable groceries and more. Our friends at Goya Foods donated coconut water and crackers for snacks.

Children’s National Medical System brought their mobile care van out and provided immunizations onsite. Macy’s gave out socks, lunch bags and underwear. There were tutoring programs, a live drum circle and music demonstration, information on libraries in DC and Prince George’s County and much, much more.

Msgr. John Enzler, President and CEO of Catholic Charities, took a full lap around the club level to take in all of the services and watch the happy kids running from booth to booth.

“This is really special. It’s so great to make sure all of these families – most of whom don’t have much – have a way for their kids to be ready to start the school year,” Msgr. Enzler said. “This is a great example of how a community can get involved in helping raise a child together.”

More than 150 volunteers from the local community, including more than 70 members of the Prince George's County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc joined the effort to help make sure the day flowed smoothly for each family.

Around 35 community organizations in total rallied to help provide services and giveaways.  The event more than doubled in size and scope from last year’s event, the first of its kind. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Behavioral Health Services Earns 5-Star Rating!

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We are very proud to announce that for the second time, The Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) awarded Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services (known for many years Anchor Mental Health) with a five-star rating on its annual Provider Scorecard. A five-star rating is no easy feat- it’s the highest score possible to attain for providers of behavioral health services and identifies Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services as a top-service provider in D.C.
In 2015, CC Behavioral Health Services
 served 1,067 individuals

“The five-star rating shows that the hard work we’re doing is recognized and it really shows how hard our staff works and their dedication to serving those with mental health challenges,” said Karen Ostlie, Director of Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services. 

For more than 50 years, our Behavioral Health Services team has worked in the community to support individuals with their mental health needs and help them find stability. Many of the individuals served at Behavioral Health Services are among the most vulnerable, and face multiple struggles as they seek help treating a mental illness: homelessness, no insurance, no income or work, and often dealing with substance abuse or chronic health problems.

“It’s important to us that when they walk through our doors they feel welcomed and they feel like their voices are being heard. We pride ourselves on providing a safe space for individuals to recover and meet their personal goals by providing the highest quality of service,” said Ostlie.

Our Behavioral Health Services staff is dedicated to providing the highest quality service to those in need day in and day out. The five-star rating is a great accomplishment for this team and we couldn't be prouder! 

To support our Behavioral Health Services program as they serve those dealing with mental health challenges every day, you can make a donation here. And to congratulate the dedicated staff who make it happen, share a comment on our Facebook announcement

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Freed from Death Row: Catholic Charities Staff Hear an Amazing Story on Retreat

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Every year, Catholic Charities employees are treated to a day of rest, reflection, and fellowship at our Spirituality Retreat. For our 2016 retreat on June 16, hundreds of staff witnessed an incredible keynote speech by Brian Stolarz and Alfred Dewayne Brown.

Stolarz, a partner at LeClairRyan law firm here in Washington, DC, has worked with Catholic Charities for well over ten years, always donating his time and talent as a pro bono volunteer assisting with civil legal matters through our Catholic Charities Legal Network (he estimates that he's probably spent north of 500 hours volunteering with us). His love to serve others grew out of his Catholic faith and an early career stop as a public defender in New York.

This same passion for service and faith led him to accept the biggest case of his career as a pro bono attorney– helping get an innocent man off of death row in Texas. The case was referred to Brian's law firm at the time by Texas Defender Service. 

Brian Stolarz shows the key piece of evidence he found that
proved Dewayne Brown's innocence. 
Seated in the front row of the packed auditorium was the man who he first met in a Texas prison with bullet proof glass between them: Dewayne Brown. That was in March 2007. The case would consume much of Stolarz’s heart and attention for the next eight years as he tracked down witnesses from Brown’s trial, sought out records from the district attorney’s office and more. Brown, meanwhile, would patiently continue to live in solitary confinement in jail, spending 23 hours each day in his cell. From the beginning, Brown had always maintained his innocence in the death of a Texas police officer.

Stolarz took the stage at our retreat and shared their story over the course of nearly two hours to a roomful of Catholic Charities employees who dedicate their careers to helping others. Together, the room laughed, sat in silent shock at the injustice of Dewayne’s story, and shed tears at the grace of a man getting a second chance at life after being in jail for more than a decade.
(left to right) Brian Stolarz, Msgr. John Enzler, Dewayne Brown pose after
Brian and Dewayne shared their story.

You can read the full story, as told to the Washington Post,here.

Brian and Dewayne today are as close as brothers. Their case has led to changes in the law and the process for selected grand juries in Texas (this was a key part of the way that Dewayne was sentenced). After they finished taking questions, Brian and Dewayne greeted staff and posed for pictures or answered more questions about their amazing story.

And after that, as planned, the two left to spend an evening together at the movies, cherishing Dewayne’s freedom. 

Finally, if the story inspires you or you want to dig into the nitty gritty details of the harrowing way an innocent man ended up on death row, you can preorder the book here sharing their story (if you have Amazon Smile, set it to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington).

Monday, June 13, 2016

Our counseling services are now available to everyone!

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We are excited to announce our newest service to the community: Anchor Counseling Services. Recognizing the need for more professional counseling for all, Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services team are now accepting appointments to provide counseling to all members of the community.

What’s the difference, you might ask? Our Behavioral Health Services (known as Anchor Mental Health for many decades) operates solely as a “Core Services Agency” to treat District residents who struggle with mental illness and are low-income. A Core Services Agency is a designated program that works closely to handle referrals and provide wrap-around services from counseling to medication management to job training to independent living support and more.

That’s a highly-specialized service that not everyone needs – but many people would like counseling to deal with stress, grief, depression or substance abuse, even if they have a job and a stable home and income.

That’s why we started Anchor Counseling Services.

“Early on, our patients have varied widely,” Wilhelmina Swenholt said, the Senior Clinical Manager for Catholic Charities Behavioral Health Services. “We see everyone from young people starting out in their careers and dealing with setbacks to older adults who have a history of depression they’ve never really dealt with.”

Patients are encouraged to sign-up initially for a 45 minute session with ACS’ professional licensed counselors to determine the best course of action forward. Most forms of insurance are accepted.  

“If we have members of the community take advantage of this service, I think it could be very helpful,” said Swenholt. “I know the demand is already high – many similar agencies to us have a year-long wait list for new clients.”

If you or someone you know is interested in setting up an appointment, please visit the Anchor Counseling Services webpage for more information.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The first step to healthier eating for low-income families? Making it easier to get good food!

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When it comes to eating healthy, for low-income families there's a big question they often have to face: how far am I able to travel for fresh, affordable, and healthy food?

Local carrots for sale from the grand
opening on May 4!
According to the USDA, 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert - geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options (aka fresh fruits and veggies) is limited or nonexistent because grocery stores are too far away. The problem only gets exacerbated if you depend on public transportation and limited income.

Catholic Charities, in conjunction with Miller Farms, is aiming to solve this problem in a food desert right in our backyard. Miller Farms, a longtime staple of southern Prince George's county, operates a weekly farmer’s market in the parking lot of Catholic Charities’ forthcoming Susan D. Mona Center in Prince George’s County Maryland. The idea is simple: provide affordable, healthy, and fresh fruits and vegetables to residents of southern Prince George’s County – including the growing group of low-income families turning to our new Mona Center for assistance.

While the final details of the Mona Center are still being finalized, we know it will eventually be a hub of services and space for the local community. And right now, every Wednesday afternoon and evening from 2-7 pm, it is a place to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Look at those beautiful fruits!
“This is exactly what we want the Mona Center to be doing,” said Msgr. John Enzler, President and CEO of Catholic Charities. “We want to be a community-center that brings people together, providing help to those who need it and creating a lasting bond among neighbors. People can always bond around food.”

The farmer's market will accept EBT and SNAP benefits but all residents of Prince George’s County are encouraged to stop by the Mona Center parking lot every Wednesday from 2 PM to 7 PM to pick up fresh, local food.  We hope to see you there!

Visit the Miller Farm Farmer’s Market

Where: Susan D. Mona Center parking lot

When: Every Wednesday, 2 pm to 7pm 

Why: To get delicious, fresh, and affordable food!