Friday, April 11, 2014

Explainer: Our SHARE Food Network in 4 Steps

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With the SHARE Food Network celebrating its 24th anniversary this week, we thought we'd take this opportunity on the blog to give you a rundown of how the program operates . . . from the food distributors to the dinner table. We hope you enjoy and encourage you to participate!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

9,000 Reasons this was a Warm Winter

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Guest Post: Kevin O'Brien, Parish & School Outreach Coordinator
It was Christmas Eve, and at the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter, a woman came into the building in the mid-afternoon shivering. She had been released from the hospital and had walked across the city to the shelter. 

The high that day barely reach 40 degrees. 

She was immediately taken back to the “coat closet” where staff helped her try on coats until she found one that fit her and was warm. She then went and had some lunch and warmed up from the cold day.

This winter brought with it some of the coldest temperatures the Washington, DC area had seen in years. It was accompanied by some of the warmest feelings and most open hearts.  

Joseph’s Coats of Many Colors Drive, the archdiocesan-wide coat drive which just completed its second year, received more than 9,000 new and gently used coats as donations.  Catholic Charities, in partnership with the Archdiocese of Washington Schools Office worked with volunteers (who came by the hundreds) to make sure that everyone who needed protection from the elements could have it.

Alumni organizations, high school students, and friends volunteered at our “boutique shops” set up throughout the Washington, DC area. At these boutiques, coats could be purchased for the low price of two dollars and even purchased in bulk for area churches and shelters.  One of those coats purchased for a shelter went to the woman who came in on Christmas Eve.

To add to the warmth of the occasion, students wrote and decorated notes to put in the pockets of the coats, letting the coats’ new owners know there are people praying for and thinking of them.

When Mother Nature gave us bone-chilling weather this winter, the community answered back—and the response was incredible. 

 We are grateful to so many for the success of our coat drive. We’d like to say a special thanks to: the students, faculty, and staff at Catholic schools within the Archdiocese of Washington, Fr. Jim Boccabella and St. Francis Xavier Parish in Southeast DC, Fr. Jim Stack and St. Jerome Parish in Hyattsville, MD, and our Super Volunteers—Cathy McCarthy and Karen O’Brien (St. Patrick’s Parish in Rockville, MD), and Lynn Stewart (Blessed Sacrament Parish in Northwest DC).

Friday, March 14, 2014

Young Man Bounces Back from Drug Addiction and Aims For Career Goals

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The second graduating class proudly display their diplomas with mentors/instructors Annette Headley and Mark Harrison.
On Friday, March 14, we held our second graduation for the JOBS (Jobs and Other Basic Skills) Program students to celebrate this memorable day in their lives. Through all of the workforce training, job shadowing and life skills building, Ismael, a young Latino man with drugs and gang violence in his past, learned a lot about himself—career goals, inner strengths and who he wants to be as an person.

Ismael first found Catholic Charities by seeking drug addiction treatment at 801 East Transitional Rehabilitation Program (TRP) and then moved into the Youth Transitional Program (YTP). After hearing about the JOBS program and meeting with JOBS Manager Mark Harrison, he decided to embark on this journey to enhance his skill set and expand his career options.

 “One of the hardest parts of the program was really getting to know myself. There were times where I didn’t want to dig deep into myself because I used to be a nasty person,” Ismael said. “My teachers got to my core and then built me back up again.”

Ishmael tells graduation goers of his growth while at JOBS.
And discovering some of his strengths—some known, some hidden— was just what Mark Harrison and Annette Headley helped him do. Although Ishmael hasn't used his Spanish skills in a professional setting for some time, the JOBS staff noticed he could speak both English and Spanish. They encouraged him to practice his language skills and use this asset in the workforce.

Currently, Ismael works as a courtesy clerk at Safeway and hopes to secure full-time employment in customer service. Now a JOBS graduate, he now sets his eyes to larger goals, including getting his GED certificate and continuing on to college. 

Although the course is five weeks long, the journey for Ismael and the other graduates isn’t finished. The men who received their diplomas today must continue to persevere at their jobs and in their daily lives to succeed. Nonetheless, each man expressed his gratitude to the JOBS program for assisting in finding new or rediscovered talents to apply when entering the workforce. 

Not only did Ismael hone in on his skill set (such as being bilingual) during his time at JOBS, he also gained a deeper understanding of the person he is and the man he wants to become. “It’s a great feeling to say I know who I am,” Ishmael said.

We congratulate the second class on their hard work and achievements! We look forward to share more updates with you on our upcoming class!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Our own Jim Bishop named Top Public Service Attorney!

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About two years ago, attorney Jim Bishop  met a man very similar to himself - around the same age, of the same race, and even a native Washingtonian. However, this man, a taxi driver suffering from prostate cancer and diabetes, was facing eviction from his condominium because he could not work to pay his mortgage payments while he was ill.

At a loss what to do, the man turned to the Catholic Charities Legal Network for help. Bishop and his team of volunteer attorneys helped negotiate with the condominium so he would not lose his housing. Today, he is cancer-free, working and grateful for the pro bono legal services he received.

The taxi driver's story is just one example of how Jim Bishop has influenced pro bono legal efforts in the greater Washington, DC area. Working over four decades in public interest law, Bishop, the Director of the Catholic Charities Legal Network, received the 2014 Jerrold Scoutt Prize from the DC Bar Foundation - one of the highest honors given to an attorney working in public services law each year.  

The distinction, as stated by the DC Bar Foundation, “is awarded annually to an attorney who has worked for a significant portion of his or her career at a nonprofit organization providing direct hands-on legal services to the needy in the District of Columbia; has demonstrated compassionate concern for his or her clients; and has exhibited a high degree of skill on their behalf.” 

Jim Bishop: Really hard worker. Really nice guy.
“I am so excited and thrilled to be receiving this award. The work I have done over the years has really paid off for people in need,” Bishop said. “It means a lot to me.”

For the past 20 years, Jim has been critical in providing legal services to low-income clients through the Catholic Charities Legal Network. As if that wasn't enough, he serves as a mediator at DC Superior Court several nights every week.

He joined the Legal Network in 1993 and has helped grow its pro bono legal services for low-income Washington, D.C., and southern Maryland residents into what it is today. Last year, the program tapped into a volunteer pool of more than 650 attorneys to assist over 2,760 individuals in civil matters such as bankruptcy, employment/discrimination, family law, and will preparation -- all at no cost to the clients.

His life in public interest law began well before coming to Catholic Charities, however. Since 1986, Bishop has served as a mediator with the Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division of the District of Columbia Superior Court’s Family Division and has continued that role to date. During his time in college at Lincoln University (where he was a magna cum laude graduate) and law school at Howard University, he volunteered at Neighborhood Legal Services Program and also Legal Counsel for the Elderly.
“Jim Bishop is an unsung hero of our pro bono community and a deserving recipient of the Scoutt Prize,” said DCBF Advisory Committee Member and Prize Committee Chair Fred T. Goldberg, Jr., of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

This award has inspired Jim as he continues to take pro bono cases and mentor volunteer attorneys. “It gives me fortitude and strength to go on helping more people,” he said.

Learn more about the Catholic Charities Legal Network.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Explainer: How Catholic Charities fits into serving those who are homeless in DC on cold nights

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Since New Year’s, our region has been hit with some bitterly cold temperatures. As the cold descends, we receive calls, emails, tweets and more from concerned neighbors asking about those who are homeless.
So here’s a quick breakdown of how the system works on the dangerously cold nights for single adults. To simplify this post, we’ll focus on services available in the District of Columbia, where 60 percent of the region’s homeless currently reside – some 6,865 people according to the 2013 Point in Time Survey (really interesting reading if you are inclined). We’ll also focus on Catholic Charities role in the city’s services to the homeless, but remember we’re part of a team of public-private partners who provide this critical care.

So, are we able to get everyone (who wants to be there) inside on a really, really cold night? Yes!

Right to Shelter

The District of Columbia is one of the few jurisdictions anywhere in the country that guarantees by law that when temperatures drop to hypothermic levels, you have a right to be inside – no matter what. This includes temperatures that may be above freezing if it accounts for wind chill or rain.

     Catholic Charities operates five low-barrier shelters that operate year-round – three serving men and two serving women. These shelters are for any single adult over the age of 18. They are welcomed in on a first come, first serve basis on a typical night.

On a night when the temperature drops to near or below freezing, the city issues a  “hypothermia alert” which sets into motion several steps for us. We open up six hypothermia sites that provide extra cots. Several of our year-round shelters are able to expand with cots the number of beds provided. Last Tuesday, Jan. 21, when the region was hit hard with snow, we had 1,217 men and women come in from the cold.

The United Planning Organization operates the DC Shelter Hotline (202-399-7093) and a network of shelter vans and buses that help move folks from central locations to shelters, as well as to open bed spots when one shelter fills up. However, if all of the allocated beds in the system are full, no one is turned away.

Life at the Shelter
Our 801 East Men's Low Barrier Shelter during warmer days.

The vans and buses operated by the United Planning Organization (UPO) check areas of the city for men and women who are sleeping outside, as well as deliver them to our shelters. All of this takes place with funding from the District of Columbia and management by The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.

Upon entering our low-barrier shelters, staff provide a bed, clean sheets, access to a hot shower and a hot meal. We have case managers onsite who help residents with any number of issues, including enrolling in more stable, long-term programs or housing or reconnecting with family. On days when the weather is dangerously cold during the day, many shelters are able to stay open for 24-hours straight, instead of in 12-hour shifts.

A quick tour on a recent cold night at our New York Avenue Men's Shelter shows the range of needs staff address to make each resident comfortable -- one man waited patiently to see the doctor at the Unity Health Care Clinic, another was directed to the donated clothing room for a suit he could wear to church on Sunday, and another was looking for help with keeping up with vital health medicine. 

Having more people in a shelter than normal provides challenges, but also unique opportunities to engage with those who have been living outside for a long time, away from services and support. Some of the great volunteer efforts at Catholic Charities such as Cup of Joe breakfast bags and the annual Coat Drive help staff provide additional food and warmth, as well as remind the clients that many people care about them. We also have been blessed recently with volunteers in our Shelter Hospitality Program, who provide extra hands to get tasks such as serving food or handing out sheets and blankets done. This allows our staff to spend more time working with clients and trying to help them progress out of the shelter system -- ultimately the goal of our programs.

Okay, now that you're up to speed, it's time to get involved:

Make a donation to our shelter programs – the extra funds allow staff to meet more needs for the clients.
Host a Cup of Joe session to fill bags – we need to make 30,000 bags every month to ensure everyone gets breakfast every day. Perfect for large groups!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Washington Wizards and Capitals players deliver Christmas to our families!

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Following practice, a whole crew of Wizards and Capitals players, Red Rockers and Wizgirl cheerleaders, sports media and more piled onto a bus and spent the afternoon of Wednesday December 11 delivering Christmas presents. 

(Update: See video from Comcast Sportsnet and Monumental Entertainment covering the event!) 

Two of their stops were for families being served at Catholic Charities. The families were in shock as players bounded into the room bearing armfuls of gifts.

The Wizards players of John Wall, Nene, Martell Webster, Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker joined Washington Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom, Eric Fehr, Mike Green, Steve Oleksy and Joel Ward. 

Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld, Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault, Wizards mascot G-Wiz, Wizard Girls and Capitals mascot Slapshot and Red Rockers also joined the group. 

"We couldn't believe it, I didn't think it was real. Then a bus pulled up and suddenly my apartment is filled with all of these athletes. I can't believe John Wall was here!," said one of the families' father, Darion. 

Wherever they went, the players hugged the families, talked with the kids and parents, signed autographs and of course left behind a room filled with wrapped Christmas gifts. 

Check out some photos: 

All of the players delivered gifts to each family.

Wizards' Trevor Booker comes bearing gifts.

Washington Capitals star center Niklas Backstrom.

Wizards Nene and Martell Webster getting to know
one of the children who received gifts.

Wizards' Nene poses with a young man whose family is being
helped at Catholic Charities.