Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Here’s what an immigration attorney does (as well as what we don’t do)

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With much of the nation’s attention focusing so heavily on President Trump’s new Executive Order around refugees, we figured it might be helpful to know more about how our immigration legal program operates.

Immigration attorneys are always working to keep up with the latest changes to immigration law – because new laws or special statuses are often granted based on what’s happening in the world. We do not do criminal or civil law outside of immigration status cases.

It's pretty simple what we do: we help people apply for immigration statuses they are eligible for and educate the community on the latest immigration laws. When we believe someone has a legitimate case for an immigration status, one of our staff attorneys helps them through the process.

We don’t work with refugees per se in this program, since refugees are granted a permanent legal status in the United States before they arrive. However, we can help advise those who have a temporary status such as a work visa or green card, as well as those who would like to become a US citizen. 

Immigration attorneys work with people who have a legal status as well as those who do not.
Many of our clients come to us seeking help reuniting with family. America has long been a nation who provides special protective statuses to victims of war, violence, and persecution. But rarely are those persons able to uproot and bring their entire family. Many people come to us seeking ways to reunite with their family, who may have gone into hiding in their home country.
Other clients do not have a legal status – many came here and declared asylum. In these cases, having an immigration attorney is critically important to help determine if a client has a real case for asylum. Which brings us to our next point…

Immigration attorneys help immigration judges in their work.
You might think this sounds counter-intuitive. But considering how chaotic many refugees and asylees lives are before they flee their country, it can be very challenging for them to gather all of the basic documentation that backs up an immigrants claim. And since many are very unfamiliar with the American legal system and many have only a basic grasp of English, it can be daunting for them to try and make their case alone. Immigration attorneys are critical to gathering these evidence and proof of their claims, organizing them, and presenting them to a judge so that he or she can make an informed ruling. With our immigration system is badly overwhelmed right now, this is a critical service to help judges.

We only take cases where a client has a chance at success.
Due to the overwhelming need of people seeking an immigration status, we hold weekly in-take consultations where anyone can meet with an attorney and see if they or their family are eligible to apply.

Still, we only take on cases where the person has a reasonable path to a legal status. Much of our job is about helping someone tell their story with proof. So many people come to our community having faced incredible heartbreak, pain, and loss.

I want to get more involved in helping. What can I do?
We always need donations to help maintain our program. You can make a donation directly to the immigration legal services program here. We do ask many of our clients to pay a one-time fee of $80 at consultation (this fee is waived for a number of clients thanks to grant funding), but so much more of our work is funded by donations -- nearly 2/3 annually!

If you are an attorney who is interested in volunteering, we can use your help! Contact Jim Feroli at (202) 772-4356 or James.Feroli@CC-DC.org. 

If you aren’t an attorney and you want to do more, help spread the word about our services. Many of the people who need our services are highly exposed to being victims of fraud. Make sure they see an immigration attorney – they can reach us at 202-772-4352 or by visiting www.CatholicCharitiesDC.org/ILS

If you want to volunteer and you aren't an attorney, check for opportunities on our main volunteer page.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Remembering the Holy Innocents of Today

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This column originally ran in the Catholic Standard on Thursday, January 26, 2017.  

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

Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated the birth of a baby in Bethlehem who came into our world to bring all of us the gift of salvation. Three days later, we heard of other babies in the Scriptures on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. King Herod, who was worried about someone taking his power, ordered all baby boys in Bethlehem killed when he heard from the Magi about a newborn king. This feast can be overlooked amid the joy of Christmas, but it remains heartbreaking to think that a jealous and vengeful person would choose to ruin the lives of so many families by ordering the littlest and most vulnerable be put to a violent death.

I think about the Holy Innocents again here at the end of January as tens of thousands of people gather in our city to March for Life. The fact that we need to march for life reminds us that violence against babies continues more than 2,000 years later. The children killed in the womb – some 60 million since abortion was made legal 44 years ago – are our Holy Innocents. How sad that the most innocent and vulnerable are still so easily discarded.

Father John with our Sanctuaries for Life team before the
March for Life on Friday, January 27, 2017.
Several years ago at this same time of the year, I wrestled with whether to talk about abortion in a Sunday homily. I had fellow priests advising me to avoid the issue, that it was just too difficult and divisive. I saw their point, but after prayer and consideration, I felt it was something I needed to do.
I felt it was important to stress two points: First, let’s just acknowledge up front that it is wrong to take the life of another human being, perhaps especially a child in the womb who cannot speak for himself or herself. At the same time, let us also remember that many people have had abortions, oftentimes amid extremely difficult circumstances that may be beyond our understanding. They need to know that they are loved, that God’s forgiveness awaits them, and that they are still a part of God’s family. 

Respecting life is certainly about the child in the womb, but it’s also about treating with dignity and respect those who come to us for help – even and especially those who disagree with us.
We need to stay strong in our defense of life, and it is incumbent upon us to provide help and viable options to those considering abortion. They need someplace where they will be loved, respected and assisted. 

That’s one reason I am so proud of our Sanctuaries for Life program at Catholic Charities. A few years back, Cardinal Wuerl and the archdiocese made a commitment to provide care and help to women who make a life affirming decision to bring a baby into the world after facing an unintended pregnancy and who are lacking the financial resources or insurance to bring their baby into the world. We will find a way to make it happen. Thankfully, most people do have insurance, but many do not, and our Sanctuaries for Life program is what its name says – a sanctuary to help these moms, oftentimes single moms, choose life.

I am also proud of the long history of adoption services provided by Catholic Charities and St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth and Families. I receive probably at least one letter a month from someone adopted through one of those programs. They tell me with gratitude about how Catholic Charities or St. Ann’s brought them into the world and found them a good home. Now as adults, many are trying to find ways to give back to those in need.

I’ve heard it said that every new baby is a sign that God’s love for the world continues, that God still believes in us even with all of the troubles in the world. Let us use this time around the March for Life and the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to open our hearts to mothers and fathers who struggle with past abortions. Let us also pray for, remember and help the Holy Innocents in today’s world – children deprived of a voice, deprived of the protection of the law, and deprived of life itself. May we follow Mary’s example and ponder in our hearts how we can protect God’s gift of life. 

Feeling inspired? Donate today to our Sanctuaries for Life program. Help us help the next mother who comes to us for support.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Georgetown Basketball honors social worker helping families and kids in crisis

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From the Bronx in New York City to some of the most depressed neighborhoods in Washington, DC, Lovannia Dofat-Avent has always been drawn to some of the toughest areas of service in social work. She has worked with children in abusive homes, foster care children, teenage parents living on their own, families under tremendous stress and more, always helping to care first for the person.

Lovannia and her family sitting courtside at
Georgetown Men's Basketball
Lovannia serves currently as the Senior Program Manager for Children Services at Catholic Charities. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, she was honored for her commitment and work to the community at the Georgetown University Men’s Basketball game.

Attending the game against Providence with her husband, son, and sister, Lovannia was honored immediately before tip-off at center court while the in-stadium announcer shared some of her professional accomplishments. A Catholic Charities video from the visit of Pope Francis was played right before.
On the Jumbotron!

It was inspiring to see so many people in the court cheer and clap for Lovannia, since the work of her and her team takes place away from the spotlight.

“I really have always valued being a role where I get to help people improve their lives,” Lovannia said. “Especially in terms of creating new programs that approach problems in a new way ”
Under Lovannia, several new programs have started at Catholic Charities that take innovative approaches to helping kids and families who are in need.

Our ChAMPS Program is a crisis response team who work specifically with children under the age of 17 who are experiencing a behavioral or mental health crisis.

Lovannia center court receiving an autographed ball
We run three programs working regionally with families who are at-risk of having a child or children removed from the home. These are highly intensive programs designed to prevent a crisis with ongoing social work, counseling and more.

This is the kind of important work Lovannia helps Catholic Charities provide. She does it with grace, leadership, and dedication. After being honored at center court, Lovannia and her family took in the game from courtside, as special guests of the Hoyas. While the home team lost, it was still a fantastic night!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Wow! What a finish to 2016!

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With the help of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of donors, check out this infographic for some of the key ways we helped families in our local community from Thanksgiving to Christmas. If this inspires you, we need your help in 2017! Happy new year! 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

12 Days of Hope: Feeding the Spirit

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This is the final post in our 12 Days of Hope stories. We hope it gave you a wide view of the many stories of hope that happen here at Catholic Charities every single day of the year. Please, if you can, make a donation to help us carry out this work in 2017! Merry Christmas!

By Msgr. John Enzler
Advent is a busy time for all of us. We try to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Jesus into our hearts and lives, and we also spend time on all of the other things we need to do – or think we need to do – like shopping, sending cards, baking, decorating and so on. We are also busy doing more socializing at this time of year with office parties, special dinners with friends and family, open houses, and events at our parishes and in our neighborhoods.

It’s nice to have these opportunities to enjoy time with family, friends, co-workers, fellow parishioners and neighbors. While I sometimes have trouble making all of the events, I try my best because every gathering is a chance to see those who have been a part of my life or are part of what I do now at Catholic Charities.

As I enjoy my time with people, I think about how many of our clients do not enjoy the same opportunities for fellowship. They don’t receive invitations to holiday parties or social events. For them, it’s a matter of survival – trying to find food, warm clothing and a place to sleep at night.

Catholic Charities has a couple of big events around this time every year that try to feed the spirit as well as the body. Both are uplifting for our homeless clients, and perhaps even more so for those trying to make a difference.

The first happened on Wednesday when we gathered inside of our headquarters with 400 of our homeless neighbors for an awesome Christmas dinner. Through Catholic Charities Enterprises we are able to provide a special meal that goes beyond what we can do day-to-day in shelters and food kitchens. The tables are covered in table cloths with silverware and nice plates, and each guest left with a gift card to get a pair of shoes from Payless Shoes thanks to Jim and Cece Koons. It is a wonderful event that has become a highlight for our homeless friends.

Each room becomes a dining area for our clients, and the staff and volunteers go all out getting everything ready. Each department decorates a different area of the building, and it is special to see the entire building so beautifully and festively decorated for our Christmas dinner.

One of the things I especially love about this event is that people can sit in smaller groups and are joined by volunteers who take the time to visit with them and truly enjoy a meal together. There is a strong sense of family – the family of God. We gather as brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and religion, race, income or anything else doesn’t matter.

Finally, I have to tell you about our Angel Tree. Through the support of hundreds of donors, we provided almost 1,000 children with Christmas gifts this year. Most of these children are part of families being helped by Catholic Charities programs in DC, Montgomery County and southern Maryland. But, due to such incredible generosity, we were able to also help 90 additional kids whose parents called us desperate for help providing a gift.

More than helping meet immediate physical needs, these events are reminders of God’s love that breaks into our world in the person of Jesus among us. This love is experienced by those being served as well as those who are serving. One of the nicest comments we’ve received in recent years came from the young daughter of one of our leaders, who said that the best part of her Christmas was not the presents she received but the chance to help serve and spend time with the homeless at our Christmas dinner.

That’s a great lesson for all of us. By all means we should enjoy the season and everything it brings – time with family and friends, giving and receiving gifts, and celebrating the birth of our Savior. May we also make time this season and throughout the year to open our arms and hearts to those who are less fortunate. I promise you that every time you make a difference for someone in need, Jesus will be born again in their heart and in yours.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

12 Days of Hope: Breaking free from an abusive relationship

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When you first meet Zanetta her confidence and self-assuredness pulls you in. It’s shocking to then hear her speak of a time when she felt powerless, scared, and alone. Zanetta was in an abusive relationship for several years. She feared for her life. But like many men and women in toxic relationships, Zanetta felt trapped.

Then she had as she calls it a ‘light bulb moment’ when she decided enough was enough.  She’ll tell you it wasn’t easy to walk away but she slowly started to re-build the strength to be on her own and thrive. Leaving the relationship was like starting from scratch so Zanetta turned to Catholic Charities for help on many things, from legal advice to transitional housing while she searched for employment. 

Instead of having to go from organization to organization for difference services, Zanetta was able to get comprehensive help at Catholic Charities and be able to fully focus on herself. We'd tell you how it paid off but let Zanetta show you herself:

Friday, December 23, 2016

12 Days of Hope: She overcame 50 years of addiction to be here today

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On one hand, Denise’s story is one of the very best we can share on how all of our housing programs work together to help someone overcome homelessness and addiction. On the other hand, it’s a story unique to Denise, a testament to her own personal determination.

Starting at the age of nine, Denise says she started to drink. She would sneak leftover drinks as she helped her parents clean up after they hosted friends for parties. As she describes it, she spent the next 50 years “drinking and drugging.”

Denise is quick to point out that she was always able to get a job. The challenge was staying sober and focused before she lost the job. Eventually, the wear and tear of such an erratic lifestyle wore her down.

“I said enough,” Denise said. “I was tired of it and I needed to get out of that environment.”  So, Denise put her belongings in storage, left her apartment, and entered a rehab program. It was the start of a long journey toward sobriety, with many pitfalls along the way.

She was in and out of programs a few times, often trying to find the one that fit her best. She came first to Catholic Charities Harriet Tubman program before she was enrolled in Catholic Charities Mt. Carmel House.

Mt. Carmel House is a longer-term program that places homeless adult women in their own room within the building and then spends time helping them focus on what they need to live independently. For Denise, it was the right environment for her to maintain her sobriety and maintain a barrier between her new life and her old, more destructive one.

Today, Denise has been sober for several years. She feels free. She lives in yet another Catholic Charities housing program, called a single room occupancy program, that is considered the final step on the road to independence. She hopes to have her own place, maybe as soon as 2017.

Along the way, she experienced what is known as the “continuum of care” in housing – shelter, transitional, SRO – aimed to help a person overcome homelessness and the underlying causes, before living on their own again.

And while Denise knows she’s accomplished much, she also knows where she still wants to go and she isn’t resting or waiting. 

Feeling inspired? Make a donation to all of the programs who helped Denise on her journey:
Rock Creek Church SRO (under McKenna)