Friday, August 26, 2016

Getting 500 kids ready for school with the Washington Redskins

Best Blogger Tips
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!

Best Blogger Tips
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

Best Blogger Tips
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!

Best Blogger Tips
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!

Best Blogger Tips
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! 

Monday, May 2, 2016

$2 Million Dollars Raised for Catholic Charities

Best Blogger Tips
On Saturday, April 30, the main ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel was filled with more than 1,000 people at the Catholic Charities Gala, laughing and dancing much like a large, albeit fancy, family reunion. The annual event is the most important night to fundraise for the 83 programs working locally and it did not disappoint. Gala Chair James V. Reyes announced the evening had raised $2,000,000!
Cardinal Wuerl shares his thanks for our supporters

But the highlight of the evening was watching three Catholic Charities clients who had the chance to greet Pope Francis share their story during a short video. Spontaneous applause broke out several times as stirring images of the Pope flashed across the room. Each client spoke of the excitement and peace at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they had experienced while getting help at Catholic Charities.

Amidst the tuxedos and gowns, the theme of the night was clear; Catholic Charities is able to help 120,000 men, women, and children each year because of the generous support of the community. Father John, James V. Reyes, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl each expressed their gratitude for the people who donate their time and their resources to help Catholic Charities reach the marginalized and poor in our Archdiocese.

Chair James V. Reyes (top left), Father John (top center)
Cardinal Donald Wuerl (top middle) and honored guests
The funds raised by the Gala, considered “unrestricted”, meaning they can be plugged into any use needed, are vital for supporting many of the services that our clients could otherwise not afford to pay for. 

As Pope Francis said during his visit to us, "Charity is born of the call of a God who continues to knock on our door, the door of all people, to invite us to love, to compassion, to service of one another." It's times like the gala that remind us of all the people who answer this call every day. Thank you!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Quick Note of Thanks to Randy Wittman

Best Blogger Tips
Today Randy Wittman was notified that he will not be returning as the head coach of the Washington Wizards next season, ending four-plus seasons as the coach. Now, I’m a Wizards fan, but I’m not the most savvy basketball fan – most of the X’s and O’s go right over my head and I’m happy to watch the eye-popping talent and athleticism on display.
Randy Wittman (left) with Wizards players delivering
Christmas gifts before the holidays.

But I do know a little something about charity, compassion and volunteerism. And I wanted to say a big thank you to Randy for always making time when the Wizards partnered with Catholic Charities (along with the outstanding folks at the Monumental Sports Foundation).

For the past three years, we’ve had some incredible opportunities where families being served by Catholic Charities have been able to meet and greet Wizards, Capitals, and Mystics players, either in the families’ homes or at the Verizon Center. And without fail, Randy Wittman always made time to greet our families and offer some kind words.

Last year, the Wizards invited wounded veterans and their families to attend and watch a full Wizards practice and then afterward join in with players and staff to do a Cup of Joe volunteer event with us. And again, I was struck by Coach Wittman’s compassion and interest to spend time with some of those who had given so much to our country. His graciousness was genuine.

Post-practice Cup of Joe with Wizards players and coaches!
All of these events took place during the season, by the way, when I know the coaching staff had many other priorities. Professional sports is obviously a high-pressure situation where a lot changes fast. Coaches and players come and go. I am just so thankful that with Monumental Sports, we had a coach who knew the value of giving back.

Best of luck to Coach Wittman on his next steps, and thanks for some really fun years as a basketball fan.



~Father John
President and CEO, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington