Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Tears flowed everywhere": A Week Volunteering at a Texas Immigration Detention Center

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From July 25-July 31, our BIA Fully Accredited Representative, Jenny Cachaya, served as a legal volunteer at the immigration detention center for women and children in Dilley, TX. She joined a team of dedicated volunteers from different parts of the country hosted and trained by CARA (CLINIC, American Immigration Council, RAICES and AILA) Family Detention Pro Bono Project, which provides free legal services to the detained women and children. She wrote a special post about her experiences: 

Volunteers at the South Texas Family Residential Center
Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to work with many women on their individual cases. The work ranged from providing short legal orientations and trying to explain in simple terms the complexity of the long immigration process ahead to preparing and representing them during their credible/reasonable fear interviews.  There were a lot of barriers to break through. For instance, the resident women, all of whom are detained with a least one child, have to tend to the needs of their children first and foremost. A lot of the children observed at the detention center were dealing with some sort of cold-related illness.

Because of the brutal Texas heat, the temperature in each of the rooms is kept low and this causes the children and women to get sick since their bodies are not used to air conditioning.  A lot of the women worried their children were not eating because they are not used to the food there and some were throwing up. Not to mention the psychological burden caused by being deprived from freedom, something they never thought they could lose after having lost so much in their native countries.The women’s stories were tragic. As much as the volunteers try not to re-traumatize them, tears flowed everywhere.

There were not enough hours in the day to complete the work that needed to be done. And as much as myself and fellow volunteers worked efficiently so we could attend to the next group of women needing assistance, I focused especially on helping indigenous, non-Spanish speaking women, who, in my opinion, is the second most vulnerable group of residents after the children.

On my last day working at the detention center, I met “Ana” who wanted to find out what was happening with her immigration case. Ana had been detained for over one month and, like many others, felt lost in the process. I spoke in broken Spanish and I quickly realized that Ana’s native dialect was Mam. Ana said she understood basic Spanish, but she preferred to communicate in Mam. Speaking slowly in Spanish, I tried to get some information from Ana to see how I could help. Ana shared with me that the asylum officer who interviewed her had found her not credible and she attributed that negative outcome to the fact that her interview was conducted in Spanish and not Mam as she had requested. Ana was frustrated because she knew that she had left out a lot of the important details of her story because she could not keep up with the Spanish-speaking interpreter who was interpreting over the telephone. Now, she was facing a bigger hurdle because she had to tell her story in front of an immigration judge who would determine if Ana could remain in the U.S. and continue pursuing her asylum case.  Fortunately, Ana did not have to go through that process alone because the team of CARA volunteers will be there each step of the way. I explained to Ana that she had the right to be provided with a Mam interpreter during immigration proceedings. Ana felt ashamed for not being able to communicate fluently in Spanish, but she was reminded that being of indigenous descent is something she should be proud of.

I am very grateful to Catholic Charities for allowing me the opportunity to travel to Dilley and support this very important work. Not only did this experience help me grow as a professional, but as a person as well.

Although tremendous efforts are being made to end family detention, CARA continues recruiting volunteers. For more information on how you can help, please visit:

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Arriving in the US as a refugee means overcoming many more challenges

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Guest post by Mike Gehring

The words refugee and asylee may give the image of safety and the feeling that the worst is behind someone. But, for all refugees, arriving in a new home is only the beginning of rebuilding entire lives and the challenges are far from over.

In 2014, the UNHCR, its office on refugees, reported that 59.5 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide. Forcibly displaced. That’s an astonishing large number of people who must begin the frightening, dangerous journey to find a new life in an unknown land. 

If those 59.5 million refugees and asylees all settled in one place they would represent the 24th largest country in the world.  The pure scope of that many people on the move dwarfs any refugee movements of the past.  Unfortunately, the pace of people being displaced in 2015 will  be even greater than last year

This link to the United Nations website provides the statistical data that graphically defines the worldwide refugee and asylee crisis: (

Thats where Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washingtons Refugee Center steps in. The growing unrest in many countries and continents around the world have made the last 10 years one of the most dangerous and difficult for indigenous people hoping and praying for a safe and secure life for their themselves and their families. More and more, their only path to safety is the difficult journey of emigration as a refugee or an asylee. 

The critically important work of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Refugee Services Center has never been more important. To better accommodate an ever growing number of refugee and asylee clients, the Refugee Center has recently moved to a larger facility with the Lawrence Street location.  The new facility is now capable of efficiently providing staff, volunteers and our clients with a broader range of counseling, training and support. 

Scott Lewis, the Enterprises, Education & Employment Department Director, said, "The Refugee Services Center is not a destination for refugees and those seeking asylum, but rather a starting point on a continuing journey to personal freedom and security."

A sample of Yosief's beautiful artwork.
Yosief, a political asylee from Ethiopia, has been a client of the Refugee Services Center for over a year. Since arriving in Washington, Yosief has had several minimum wage jobs.  Those jobs had the positive effect of a more rapid immersion into the life and culture of his newly adopted country.  Yosief was happy to be here.  His life was much improved but unfortunately, something critically important was missing in his life.  The heart and eye of the artist was calling for a chance to express his new happiness and joy.   

Yosief is a very talented artist. 

He credits the Refugee Center with helping him not only connect with a job providing steady income, but also the ability to pursue his true passion in art while he learns what it means to live in America. 

You can support the Refugee Center with a donation directly here or consider working with the Center has an employer by contacting them directly here

Monday, August 3, 2015

Five reasons why the #WalkwithFrancis pledge matters

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The Walk with Francis Pledge is off and running, with just under two months until the Holy Father visits Washington, DC, we are in a race to reach 100,000 people taking the pledge.

Here are five reasons why the pledge matters and why you (yes, you!) should take the pledge today:

1. This is the Washington-metropolitan region's gift to Pope Francis when he visits. 
It is common for visiting dignitaries to receive gifts, usually something fancy or rare. Certainly the Speaker of the House and the President will both offer lovely gifts when they get to meet the Pope. But what about all of us? The Walk with Francis Pledge (and the good works that come with it) is our gift. With a goal of 100,000 people taking the pledge, what could be a better gift for the Pope than to share with him the news of 100,000+ committing to pray for him, serve the community or act for social justice in his honor?

2. The pledge will make our community better. 
No matter what you do to carry out your pledge, you'll be making our community better. If your passion is working with animals, volunteer at a local animal shelter. If you care deeply about the safety and future of immigrants, volunteer with Catholic Charities or become an advocate. Or if you have an elderly neighbor, help out with their snow and leaf clearing this fall and winter. If you were moved by the Pope's recent environmental encyclical (Laudato Si), volunteer to clean-up at a river site or plant new trees.

3. The pledge offers you an opportunity to deepen your own spiritual life. 
So much of our day-to-day life passes in a blur. The pledge offers you a moment to step back and take inventory of what your spiritual health is. One of the very first things Pope Francis did was ask the entire world to pray for him. We can all do that.

4. The pledge is open to everybody - no matter your faith, where you live, or anything else. 
The reason Pope Francis has caught the world's attention so profoundly is simple: he walks the walk. He washes the feet of prisoners. He travels to the Mediterranean Sea to mourn those who have died fleeing violence. He even cares for the guards outside of his room! Pope Francis has reminded us all that no one is above service to others. And, when he stands outside of Catholic Charities in two months, we want to show him we stand with him in that service.

5. Do you really want to miss the chance to have your Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in front of the Pope?!
This is why the hashtag is so important: your social media posts using #WalkwithFrancis will be included in a book given to the Pope by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, as a token of the 100,000 people who have committed to service. In the age of social media, that's a pretty incredible opportunity!

So what are you waiting for? Take the pledge now!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Press Release: 100,000 Hope to Take #WalkwithFrancis Pledge

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Here's our official press release from today's #WalkwithFrancis Pledge Launch, scroll to the bottom to see some of the pledge videos from Katie Ledecky, Coach Mark Turgeon and Msgr. Enzler:

100,000 Hope to Take #WalkwithFrancis Pledge

Public announcement includes a wide-range of local personalities and clients of Catholic Charities who will take the pledge to “walk with Pope Francis” by praying, serving or acting in ways that help others.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                        
A joint effort by Catholic Charities and parishes from across the Archdiocese of Washington,  along with people of good will, launches today to encourage Washington-area residents to improve their community however they can, following in the model of Pope Francis. The pledge will be shared on  Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, and other social media platforms, using the hashtag #WalkwithFrancis. Those who pledge are invited to “call out” others on social media to also take the pledge. Videos from local leaders and organizations are available at

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, said “The Walk with Francis Pledge offers people the opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with the Holy Father and answer his call to bring Christ’s love, mercy and hope to others, especially those on the margins of society.  Since being elected pontiff, one of the things that Pope Francis has highlighted in his ministry has been concern and care for the poor and the marginalized. In doing so, he is reminding us of something that the Catholic Church has always done - feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. It is my hope that we can all take inspiration from Pope Francis’s example and our entire community can join together to help brighten our world in this way.”

Pledge takers can visit to take the pledge in whatever area is best for them – through prayer and learning about the Gospel message, through charitable service to others, and/or through taking action to spread the Gospel in our families, workplaces and community. During his visit in September, the Pope will be presented with a book highlighting thousands of social media posts with the #WalkwithFrancis tag as a way to demonstrate the region’s commitment to the Holy Father’s message of service, prayer and action.

Msgr. John Enzler, President and CEO of Catholic Charities, will take his pledge at the launch. A number of local leaders in public service, sports, television, and even a few clients and volunteers at Catholic Charities have been invited to join Msgr. Enzler at the conference to demonstrate that everyone can #WalkwithFrancis.

“At the very spot where Pope Francis will stand in just over two months, we are going to launch a major effort for 100,000 people to commit to improving our community,” said Msgr. Enzler. “I can’t think of a better gift for his Holiness.”

See some pledge videos from our early pledge takers! 

About the Archdiocese of Washington
The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 95 Catholic schools, located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.
About Catholic Charities

Catholic Charities meets the most pressing human needs,  serving tens of thousands of people annually through 65 programs in 47 locations throughout the District of Columbia and Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties in Maryland. For more information, visit  

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pope Francis is coming to Catholic Charities!

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You may have heard the amazing news, but if not, Pope Francis has announced he will include a stop at Catholic Charities to meet with some of our clients and maybe even join us in serving lunch with our St. Maria's Meals Van during his visit to Washington, DC in September.

This will be the first time a Pope has visited Catholic Charities since we first opened our doors in 1922.

I keep saying this out loud, but it still seems unbelievable: Pope Francis will visit our clients, in-person! It will be a historic visit, and I am truly humbled the Holy Father has chosen to spend some of his time to visit the people we serve on the same trip where he will address a joint session of the US Congress. What a powerful message.

In the coming weeks, keep an eye on We're putting together some fun ways to celebrate the coming visit of the Holy Father to Catholic Charities. It is our hope that his visit will be a huge boost to all of the low-income families and individuals in our community.

Check out some of the media coverage from yesterday's schedule announcement:

CBS 9:

ABC 7:

Catholic Standard:

Friday, May 22, 2015

Rave Reviews: What local employers say about our JOBS program

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Our JOBS Program was started to try and solve one of the biggest issues facing those who are chronically homeless: unemployment or maintaining employment. JOBS (Jobs and Other Basic Skills) takes the traditional job training program and goes one step further by placing most of its graduates into full or part-time work with employers after completion. 

The employers who we partner with, many of whom started with us at the very beginning, are the lifeblood of the program. Program Manager Mark Harrison recently received several letters back with glowing praise for the program from some of our employers as part of his quarterly check-ins. 

"I wanted to take this time to send a note celebrating our partnership. Over the last year you have referred several strong candidates...from those referrals we have made hires of new associates. Our partnership has grown into a very strong one." ~ BB&T Bank

"We are very pleased with your referrals that we have hired on a full-time basis, and with the others that have worked on an as needed basis." ~Ridgewells Catering

"Proof of Mark's efforts is the constant contact he maintains with us to ensure the employee/employer match is the right fit. It is good to know we are working with someone who cares about the long term goal and just about placing an individual." ~Worcester Eisenbrandt, Inc.

Before placement in a job, the students must first complete the class. The class is an intensive five-week program, Monday through Thursday, 9 am to 4 pm. The schedule is maintained strictly to start to drive home the importance of punctuality. But rather than teach a single job skill, the class focuses on addressing each person's history, past work experiences as well as some of the challenges which have led to job failure in the past. 

"I'd say just as important as the skills we teach is the time we spend breaking down each person and helping build them up right," said program manager Mark Harrison. "A lot of our people are carrying baggage with them that can lead to very negative reactions to typical workplace interactions. There's a lot of success for us when we help work past that." 

Are you looking to give back to the community and help make your business stronger through new hires? Consider partnering with our JOBS Program.