Friday, September 1, 2017

The Gift of Labor

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This is the weekend to celebrate the gift of Labor and all those who have been supported by the labor unions and their initiatives for so many years. As you may know, in 1891, Pope Leo XIII wrote an encyclical on the value and importance of labor. He was particularly concerned with the inequities faced by those working in new found factories, particularly women and children. This encyclical, commonly thought to be the Magna Carta of Human Social Order, is the prototype of Catholic Social Teaching for the last 130 years. The encyclical beautifully proclaimed that people have the right to productive work, decent and fair wages, safe working conditions, to organize, to private property, to economic initiative. 

As one of the principals of Catholic Social Teaching, the Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers, is a very important aspect of our Catholic social tradition. So on this Labor Day weekend, we are cognizant of those who support and raise up the importance of these principals for all people in our country.

At Catholic Charities we are blessed because we see our work as also as our ministry. We take great pride in doing what we do as a way of serving others and yet the work aspect allows us to pay the bills, put food on the table and provide homes for ourselves and our families. I truly believe we are blessed to have jobs that are our ministry and a ministry that is our job. For me it’s never a job – it is a chance to serve and help those who are most in need. That is why I love this “job” so much!

Enjoy your weekend. Thank you for the “Labor of Love” that you provide every day.  May your ministry be blessed as we begin a brand new school year and may those you serve be blessed by the quality of your ministry each and every day.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Looking Forward to Fall

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This past Tuesday, I celebrated mass for the Feast of the Assumption which is one of the holy days of the Catholic Church. We had a nice group at the Hickey Center join us and I was so pleased to see how many people came at the last minute with very short notice. I did mention in my homily that the Feast of the Assumption was not my favorite because, ever since I was a little boy, it reminded me that summer was almost over and that I’d soon be going back to school.

This year I’m looking forward to the fall season for four reasons. In early September, right after Labor Day, I’ve got a trip planned with some very good friends on a cruise which will go from Budapest to Prague on the Danube River. I’m sure it will be great fun. Secondly, we are opening up the Susan Denison Mona Center in Prince George’s
Susan Denison Mona Center set to open this fall
County in late September and after a very long wait, our dental clinic and immigration and pro-bono legal efforts will begin in Temple Hills, MD. It will also house a medical clinic under the leadership of Doctor’s Community Hospital and are we are also looking forward to the Health Equity Center on the second floor which will be managed by the University of Maryland School of Public Health. We are really excited about expanding our reach in Prince George's County. Number three: in partnership with the Catholic University of America we have 10 students beginning their studies towards a Masters in Social Work at Catholic University on August 28th. Each student is receiving a full-scholarship and upon completion of graduation they will dedicate three years to working with Catholic Charities. Their on the ground work in the most impoverished areas in our city will make a lasting impact. Finally, we will be breaking ground very soon for our new Angels Watch shelter for women suffering from domestic abuse. I was thrilled to sign the final construction contracts earlier this week - especially knowing thanks to generous supporters, partners, and government investment we are able to open the building debt-free. Kudos to everyone who has been involved in all of these projects. The Executive Team and the Leadership Team have guided the process from start to finish. Well done! 

So, for the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to the new school year and I’m excited about all we are doing together for the poor.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shamie's Story of Service

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This summer, we launched our Summer of Service - an initiative to increase volunteerism with 70 unique volunteer opportunities. Throughout the Summer of Service, we're getting to know the 7,400 volunteers who share their time and talent with us each year through Stories of Service. Our first story comes from Shamie, a first time volunteer with Catholic Charities. She'll be volunteering with our St. Jude's Project which connects those with Huntington's Disease to social workers and a network of care. We sat down with Shamie during her volunteer orientation: 

Where are you from?

Annapolis, MD

What do you do?

I’m currently a proposal writer, but will be returning to graduate school this fall to study social work.

What interested you in volunteering with Catholic Charities?

I will be attending the University of Maryland to obtain a Masters in Social Work and wanted to get some clinical experience to support my academic training. A friend of mine told me about the wonderful work Catholic Charities does in the community and the broad range of services they offer - from health care programs to immigrant and refugee services - so it was a natural fit for me as I explore different fields within the profession.

What do you hope to gain from volunteering with Catholic Charities?

I’m looking forward to gaining real world experience working directly with clients. I want to become a social worker to help underservied communities, and this is a great opportunity to build my skills and to learn about the types of challenges these communities are facing.

Tell me a fun fact about yourself?

I speak three languages!

We're always looking for new volunteers like Shamie - find a volunteer opportunity near you

Friday, July 7, 2017

DC Department of Human Services Guest Blog

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Amanda Chesney is Catholic Charities Executive Director of Homeless and Housing Services. She oversees 26 programs in the District of Columbia, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland Tri-County Continuum of Care. Amanda's expertise in non-profit management and her experience as a licensed clinical social worker affords her a unique perspective on the challenges our region faces in homelessness and housing. She was asked by DC Department of Human Services to provide her thoughts and expertise about modernizing the Homeless Services Reform Act to improve the city's approach to helping serve those without a home.  This post originally appeared on DC Department of Human Services's blog

Right Size at the Right Time 

HSRA updates will increase system efficiency and help individuals and families move through crises and on from DC’s homeless emergency system, and as Executive Director of Homeless and Housing Services at Catholic Charities DC, I support these changes.

Father John meets with a man staying at
Adam's Place low-barrier shelter. 
If we want to end homelessness in the District for the 7,473 persons in this crisis, we must make the most of our limited resources; that requires very difficult choices. Often when a client has exceeded the capacity of a certain program to meet their need, or has shown great progress toward self-sufficiency, it means it’s time to reallocate their slot to the next person in crisis. However, under our current version of the HSRA, the decision to end or continue a person or family’s stay in a housing program is not determined by experts in the housing and homeless services field, nor is it determined by our DHS program and provider monitors. These decisions are currently handled by judges armed with only the outdated 2005 HSRA and a very limited client and system perspective; this needs to change. READ MORE...

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Overcoming the Odds - A Graduation to Remember

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By: Paris Adon, Principal of the Kennedy School

It’s been two weeks since the last day of school in Washington, DC!  All around our area, the school year is winding down and summer break has begun.  Volunteers recently came to do some sprucing up in our hallways as part of the CCDC Summer of Service.  But me?  I’m still thinking about our recent graduation.

At Catholic Charities, we were so proud to be celebrating 3 Kennedy School graduates: DeAndra Brown, Imani King and Christena Juhans.  For each of these students, the path to reach this remarkable milestone was at times a steep, uphill climb.  At some point in their lives, these students were told that they would never graduate from anywhere or anything.  I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments and excited for these students and the futures that await them.  All of them will be attending adult education programs following graduation.

Some people say that the Kennedy School is a unique place.  Our student body is comprised of 31 students between the ages of 6-22 years old.  We specialize in serving students with a variety of disabilities. But at our core, we are like any other school.  We are working to prepare our students for independence and life beyond graduation.  Our primary goal at the Kennedy School is that every student will graduate with either a job or a post-secondary educational opportunity. 

The scene at graduation was as you’d expect—high excitement!  Friends and family everywhere!  Caps, gowns, photos!  We’d rehearsed the day before to be sure we were ready.  The entire student body, some alumni, our staff and a large collection of family and friends turned out at the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center for the ceremony. Catholic Charities’ CEO Father John Enzler spoke and congratulated our students. 

I was particularly touched when DeAndra’s mom came to hug me and burst into tears on my shoulder.  “Without this school, I don’t know where DeAndra would be.”  Our relationship with DeAndra and his family is long and meaningful.  He’s been a student at Kennedy for 12 years and now lives independently.  He’s been a successful intern at both the Department of the Interior and at Yes! Organic Market.  Deandre himself said, “School is like a family to me and I’m going to miss everyone.”

Imani King, another 2017 graduate, has come so far from when we first met her 2 years ago.  Because of her hard work, she conquered paralyzing social anxiety.  She overcame her fears and learned how to navigate the Metro system and find her way around her internship in the cavernous federal building.  Imani came to Kennedy scared, with a full time personal aide, but moves forward today with the skills, training and confidence to find her own way. 

Christena Juhans had been with Kennedy for 12 years before last week’s graduation.  At graduation, she said to me, “I’ve never been to a graduation before.”  Her success on graduation day was beyond her imagination, but not beyond ours at the Kennedy School.  We believed in her potential, just as we believe in every student at our school.

Her grandmother wanted to attend the ceremony but had no way to get there.  I wasn’t going to let her grandmother miss seeing Christena graduate, so one of our dedicated staff picked her up and drove her to the ceremony.  Her grandmother walked up to me and said, simply, “This school has gone above and beyond for Christena.”

She’s right, and it’s intentional.  We are called to go above and beyond at the Kennedy School.  And in return, our students exceed expectations. We do whatever it takes because that’s what every student deserves.  Our team’s investment, Catholic Charities’ investment, made possible by generous support of our community and partners, is repaid back in spades by the students’ individual achievements and successes.  Seeing them move forward in their own way in the world is a milestone for them, and a monumental achievement for us all.

Here’s to the class of 2017!

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Best Birthday Present

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Thank God my birthday has finally arrived! Ever since the gala in April, which was spectacular, people have been wishing me a happy birthday. They normally say, “sorry I missed your birthday” but this year I’ve been saying “no, it actually hasn’t come yet” (it’s tomorrow June 10th). I don’t like to make a big deal about birthdays. Not because I’m at all worried about getting older or feeling sad that the years have gone by, but rather, I’m not big on the attention that comes with it and I like to spend every day as if it was my birthday, doing my best to help others.
You already do this but if you want to give me a present, keep serving our
clients, reaching out to others and saying “YES”! In fact, we kicked off our Summer of Service this week. Catholic Charities gave me the best gift - 70 volunteer service projects for my 70th birthday. I'm honored by this initiative and I love the culture we’ve created where we can take great pride in our willingness to respond positively to everyone. As the song goes “ALL ARE WELCOME”.

Speaking of songs, last Sunday night as part of my homily, I invited everyone at my 8pm mass to join in singing Kerry Mooney’s Easter version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. We added an additional verse for Pentecost and it made a big impact on lots of people. You can watch it here

Here is an email I got after the service from one of our friends:

John, I finally got to show up and witness what you have accomplished with this Mass. Arriving at the church, the parking lots was full and overflowing. The percentage of young adults, families and teenagers was impressive and speaks to the value of what you have accomplished. The music was truly a most meaningful form of prayer, the words were new to me and most meaningful, especially that which substituted for your sermon. I was in need of a spiritual lift and a sense of hope for the future of our church and its relationship with our younger members. Had lots of tears of joy Sunday evening. Thank you.

So, today – the day before my birthday – I’m thinking about those words and all of you. When I think of Catholic Charities and all of you, I think “Hallelujah”! Have a great weekend.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Kicking off a Summer of Service

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I love the summer. It’s not just the beach, the warm weather and the cookouts. It’s not only the family time and enjoying friends in a more relaxed atmosphere. It is a chance to catch our breath and enjoy the blessings of a beautiful season but over and above that, I enjoy the many young people who join our team as volunteers and interns for the summer months. They bring enthusiasm, laughter, creativity and inquisitive minds – anxious to learn all they can about the great work we do at Catholic Charities.

On June 7th, we will launch the Catholic Charities DC “Summer of Service,” an initiative developed to encourage volunteerism in the summer season.  This effort is a three-month long campaign that will invite residents of the Washington-area from all walks of life to participate in giving the gift of
Volunteers sprucing up Mulumba House shelter
community service to the community by volunteering in any of the 70 unique service projects we are offering throughout the summer. These opportunities will address a range of issues including hunger, homelessness, community restoration, and more.  They will provide necessary support to meet some of the most pressing needs in our community.  Volunteers will come from our parishes, our high schools and colleges, organizations and corporations. We will be joined by other non-profits and even those who come from out of town to experience the wonder of Washington while also helping those in need.  I dream of families who come together for a particular project, parishes that unite around one issue and companies that have created a corporate culture around giving back.

It’s exciting to set the stage for a wonderful community to give back their time, talent and treasure in support of those most in need. Poverty doesn’t take a summer vacation, but the call to service doesn’t either and we are here to help those in need. I hope you’ll join us too!