Thursday, December 30, 2010

Two Days Left to Make a Year-End Gift!

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You have just two more days to make your year-end, tax-deductible gift to Catholic Charities! Of course, we understand that you give for many reasons – a tangible sign of your faith, compassion for your neighbors and belief in a better way forward as a community.

Whatever your reason, you can look around your community and see poverty. You know someone who has lost their job or their home. You know someone who has struggled with the staggering cost of health care, or wrestled with mental illness or fought for independence as an individual living with a disability. At Catholic Charities, we are working with more than 100,000 people each year, one at a time, to offer them help that empowers and hope that lasts.  And you can help us make a difference with your gift.

Here are just a few of the many ways your gift will help:

$25 – Purchase 200 pounds of food with a gift of $25 and help the Southern Maryland Food Bank combat the incredible hunger in three counties! We can turn each dollar into eight pounds of food. This gift is especially important as funds can be saved for a time when canned good donations are not meeting the demand solely.

$50 – Provide tools for students in the Pre-Apprenticeship Green Construction Program at the Spanish Catholic Center in DC. This program teaches new construction techniques and skills that include the latest in green technology.

$150 – Cover the legal fees for an individual to apply to become a United States citizen with guidance of our expert Immigration Legal Services staff.

$500 – Help 20 patients cover their $25 contribution fee for follow-up specialty health care through our Archdiocesan Health Care Network – often the pro bono doctors are donating thousands in care to these patients.

$5,000 – Your gift will set up a new business center for the Angel’s Watch Women’s Shelter, which provides housing and support to women and children fleeing abuse. New computers, work space, printers, fax machines and maintenance will allow clients to find or continue employment in an environment free from abuse.

Are you ready to help us? Make a gift here online or you can call us at 202-772-4394 to speak with a member of the Foundation staff.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Very Merry Christmas

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By Ed Orzechowski
President and CEO

Recently I enjoyed lunch at our Dorothy Day Program, a transitional housing program for women in Bethesda, with residents and staff. I asked the woman sitting across from me what Christmas meant to her and if she was looking forward to the holiday.

She paused for a moment, then broke into a huge smile. “Yes, for the first time in a long time, I am looking forward to celebrating Christmas,” she said. “I have a warm place to stay, I have a family to celebrate with here and I have hope in where I am going.”

This is what we do with your help. We give second opportunities. We make Christmas a time for warmth again and an end to the loneliness and uncertainty.

 Across all of our 78 programs Christmas has been unfolding for our families. I am truly awed and inspired by the generosity from the community to support our neighbors.  Christmas gifts have been pouring in for children who might otherwise have nothing to unwrap. Warm clothing and home cooked meals are being donated to our housing programs. At our Kennedy School for children with disabilities, we had a wonderful Christmas party hosted by the great folks at Gallup. Our New York Avenue Men’s Shelter will hand out brand new warm clothing donations to more than 360 residents.

At this time of the year, I often think about how Mary and Joseph must have felt when they were told there was no room for them in the inn. More than likely, Mary and Joseph felt like many of the people who come to Catholic Charities first feel.

Alone. Uncertain of the future. Worried about their family.

Thankfully, as a community, we have learned to live out Christ’s message of love, acceptance and compassion throughout the year. Together, we declare that everyone – regardless of who they are – deserves dignity, respect and an equal opportunity to feel hope.

After all, that’s what my lunch companion at Dorothy Day was feeling about this Christmas. Sure, she still has much work ahead of her to overcome the many challenges with recovering from homelessness. But now she has a plan – a way forward.

And that is quite a gift.

Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 17, 2010

People Making Our Christmas: Georgie and Lawrence Davis

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Way back in September 2009, Washington-area natives Georgie and Lawrence Davis were in a serious car accident on a trip in Wheeling, WV. Lawrence escaped with only bruising, however Georgianna’s forearm was badly fractured in two places and a wrist bone was separated from her hand.

The paramedics said it should have been worse. It was the first time in her life Georgie could not take care of herself, and she realized how much we all depend on each other.

As she lay in the hospital, Georgie prayed to God.

“I said, 'Lord, if you will continue helping me to heal and regain my strength and mobility--so that I can continue to do for myself and others--as a means of giving back to you, I promise to dedicate these hands to making a hundred hats for the homeless,'" Georgie recalled. As a child, she had learned the art of crocheting and knitting from her mother.

As it turns out, knitting was very therapeutic for her recovery. The repetitive motion helped her circulation as well as with muscle memory and repairing damaged nerves. Georgie went all out to live up to her promise to God and heal herself.

And so, in the mysterious way that the Holy Spirit moves us and brings lives from two different worlds together, Georgie was knitting hats and scarves for children who were growing up alone – children she had never met or even knew of. She was making gifts that parents who were homeless could give to their children, to help them have a warm and love-filled Christmas, despite every challenge facing them.

She knit while watching television with her husband. She knit on the long drives to and from Baltimore for physical therapy. She knit on trips to Waldorf to visit friends. Sometimes she was up until the wee hours of the morning finishing an item.

On average, it took her nearly three hours per hat or scarf, and a little less for booties for children. Trips started to be measured in hats and scarves.

By the time she finished, it was early December and she had made 102 sets of hats and scarves for a wide range of sizes – and plenty for infants and babies that included adorable booties for their tiny feet (go ahead and take a moment to look at the picture: awwww!).

I visited Georgiana and Lawrence’s home last week to pick-up the hats and scarves. The front door is covered in bright green wrapping paper – and it only gets better inside. They have two trees, both tastefully decorated for the season. The walls are decorated with wreathes and ornaments. Gift wrapping HQ is set up in the living room.

The hats and scarves and booties are being given to teenage parents and their little ones in our Teen Parent Program and to families recovering from homelessness in our Tenants Empowerment Network.

This Christmas, our parents who are overcoming so many challenges in hopes of living an independent life, have a gift to share and some warm clothing to put on. Our work at Catholic Charities is made better by hundreds of people just like Georgie and Lawrence, who reach out and give what they can, and turn a bad situation into one filled with hope.

During the Christmas season, we are especially grateful for their good health, for their charity and for such nimble fingers!

Are you feeling inspired this Christmas? Let us know how you can make someone's life better in the comments section or email us - we can certainly use your talents at one of our programs!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

DC Attorney leading the charge to protect immigrants from consumer fraud

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I first interviewed attorney David Zetoony of the Bryan Cave law firm about a month ago for a news story on Catholic Charities' involvement in combating notario fraud. He's been involved with Catholic Charities since 2008, working to prevent the widespread misrepresentation of legal services by notarios that has swept through the immigrant communities we serve.

David credits his familiarity with notario fraud to a 2008 report he heard on the local NPR station WAMU 88.5 that highlighted this ballooning problem in the United States. However, he credits one of his own relative's experience leaving home and coming to America for giving him the sustained passion to fight for immigrants' rights.

"Anyone with the right resources can become successful," David said. "After all, we were all immigrants once." Syrian by birth, and without even a shred of knowledge about American culture or the English language, David's grandfather boarded a boat at the age of 16 to join his uncle in Nevada. But the boat he boarded was bound for Cuba—4,000 miles from his uncle’s home in Nevada. As if the mistake weren’t already bad enough, he endured yet another trial when he was stricken with malaria during the voyage. Sick and completely disoriented, he arrived in Havana. He was eventually able to reach his uncle, who made the trip from Nevada to Cuba to rescue David’s grandfather.

The experience of David's grandfather serves as a perfect allegory in this instance, mirroring what so many immigrants experience themselves upon arriving in the United States. They often arrive alone, with little knowledge of language or legal processes, and they seek only a helping hand.

Unfortunately, the help that notarios offer immigrants is not at all what they expect to receive. That's because the title “notario” is understood by native Spanish speakers as indicating that a person has the same, or more, legal education than a lawyer in the United States. In fact, most notarios don't have any legal education or expertise whatsoever.

Many notarios charge their clients outrageous fees. Some simply take this money without doing any work. Others select and file forms and petitions on behalf of their clients, but due to their lack of training and expertise, fail to provide their clients with accurate advice concerning what should or should not be filed. Often, notarios file forms incorrectly or with inaccurate information, and the repercussions can be dire.

"Notarios can single-handedly end the American dream for some families. They think they're paying for a legitimate service, but then they have to endure possible legal ramifications and extreme embarrassment," David said. These are also two of the reasons why immigrant families often don't come forward when they think they've been defrauded. It's because they're embarrassed, and they're scared to report any sort of crime to the proper authorities for fear of being removed from the country.

Unfortunately, cases against notarios seldom make it to court, precisely because so few defrauded immigrants come forward. David is currently awaiting a response from a petition lodged with the Federal Trade Commission regarding fraudulent notario operations. He hopes that the government agency will issue guidance for how to deal with notarios, as well as advice for Spanish-speaking immigrants to help prevent fraud and deception. He also hopes the agency will bring law enforcement cases against notarios who victimize immigrants in the future.

For the moment, the network of local Catholic Charities organizations across the country makes up the largest team of players working to provide help and hope to immigrants who may be dealing with tough legal issues. We all, however, rely on pro bono assistance from passionate attorneys like David to help protect these immigrants, and we'd like to tip our hat to him. It is a striking testimony of the American Dream that the grandson of a Syrian immigrant who barely survived his journey to America could grow up to be a powerful advocate for other immigrants.

You can help, too. To learn more about what Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington is doing to help prevent notario fraud in the DC, Maryland, Virginia region, call: 202-772-4351.

If you are aware of notario fraud, please report it to the Federal Trade Commission, 1-877-382-4357, or to the ABA’s project.

Read more about notario fraud and David Zetoony's work: The Hometown Annapolis; Southern Maryland Online; City Biz List Baltimore

Additional resources: ABA, Fight Notario, Bryan Cave, Immigration Legal Services

Above: Catholic Charities staff attorneys Debi Sanders (left) and Jeanne Atkinson join David Zetoony at the Bryan Cave Law Firm in Washington, DC.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Remembering a loving and great advocate

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Yesterday brought us the sad news that Sister Mary Ann Luby had transitioned from this life after succumbing to a short battle with cancer – only two weeks after diagnosis.

All of us at Catholic Charities mourn the loss of such a vocal defender of the poor. She was beloved by many of our residents, who saw her as a source of help and hope in ending injustice, and by many of our shelter and housing staff, who knew her to be a compassionate friend. In October, we were honored that Mary Ann was present to help us celebrate the ribbon cutting for the Summit at St. Martin’s Affordable Housing project.

Since 1995, she served on the staff of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless as an outreach worker. She could almost always be found walking the streets and talking with any of our homeless neighbors. Her presence was constant at City Council hearings whenever the services for the homeless were being discussed.

Prior, she had been a Board Member with the Legal Clinic in its early years. She worked as director of Rachael’s Women’s Center and was key in founding the Fair Budget Coalition. Sr. Mary Ann was an Adrian Dominican sister.

Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, as well as her extended family in the homeless community and at the Washington Legal Clinic. In her memory, we must continue on our work as a community to provide not only shelter and a safety net to our most vulnerable neighbors, but our efforts to create a community of equality and inclusion.

Read more about Mary Ann in the Washington Post and leave your favorite memory of Mary Ann:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Catholic Charities celebrates a Thanksgiving tradition of helping others

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Thanksgiving is a holiday with built-in traditions--need I mention stuffing and sweet potatoes?--and Catholicism is a faith with built-in values, one of which requires that we pass some of our blessings on to the most vulnerable members of our community.  Just like the food that families share every year, the compassionate volunteers and employees of Catholic Charities come together to serve hot meals, distribute food for our neighbors to put on the table for Thanksgiving dinner, provide shelter to those who may otherwise sleep in the streets and show our unconditional love to thousands of clients who need most of all to know that they are not alone.

"It felt like Thanksgiving day--dinner was beautiful and done out of thought and love," said one resident of Mt. Carmel House transitional housing program in Northwest after volunteers came to serve a traditional holiday dinner last Saturday.  "They had to teach me how to use a place setting, and I was grateful to learn," said another.  Perhaps calling this dinner "traditional" doesn't really do it justice. Twenty energetic, compassionate volunteers from Deloitte spread linens over tables, lit votive candles, mashed potatoes, baked pies and served the ladies of the Mt. Carmel House program, who would otherwise have had little opportunity to celebrate the holiday on their own.

"I connected with two special ladies who shared their personal stories, triumphs and trials," one volunteer said.  "It allowed me to appreciate the little things we sometimes take for granted."  At Catholic Charities, we also value the little things, and the program at Mt. Carmel House is just one example of the blessings we share during the holiday season. 

Hermano Pedro's Day program staff open their doors to hundreds of people on Thanksgiving day, many of whom would have nowhere else to turn for a warm meal or a loving smile.  For five years, staff have celebrated the holiday in the best possible way--by helping others. 

Tiffany Tan, Program Director at the Montgomery County Family Center, has worked tirelessly with the Holiday Giving Project to secure food donations so families can celebrate the holiday with a true meal on the table.  And her efforts have paid off--the Center will distribute food to more than 450 families this Thursday. 

Across the region, the SHARE Food Network distributes more than 10,000 packages of food to low-income families every month.  Last week, families in need living in DC, Virginia and Maryland accepted low-priced packages of quality turkey, stuffing, pie, fruits and vegetables and dessert--the menu looked so good that it made my mouth water!

These are but a few of the ways Catholic Charities will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this year.  We hope that you, too, can make helping others part of your own holiday tradition.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Check out photos from the Nov. 20 holiday dinner at Mt. Carmel House on our Facebook page!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Going Pink: Local Catholic school students raise over $500 supporting moms with cancer

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No one expects to get cancer.  But the girls of the "Think Pink" Club at St. Bernadette's School in Montgomery County know just how hard it is to get the bad news--and to pay the bills that come with that bad news.  And that's especially true if you're a single mother.

The "Think Pink" Club wanted to show their support for single mothers with cancer by raising money for Catholic Charities’ In the Name of the Mother Fund, and they had a great idea.  Anyone who went to Catholic School will remember how uncomfortable--and sometimes embarrassing--the school uniforms were.  Well, the students at St. Bernadette's academy had the option to trade those boring, plaid outfits for PINK on the last Friday before Halloween.  The catch?  They had to donate $1.50 to the "Think Pink" club's In the Name of the Mother fund.  The program was a HUGE success--on Nov. 10, "Think Pink" ceremoniously and proudly presented Kevin McConville, from In The Name of the Mother, a check for $516.

So let's do some math.  St. Bernadette's enrolls 476 full-time students in grades K through 8, and collectively they donated $516 (many gave over the $1.50 requested donation).  That means at least 300 students got decked out in pink on Oct. 29--that's a lot of a pink, an awesome way to show support and an ingenious way to raise awareness of the difficulties single mothers with cancer face.

In the Name of the Mother was created by Kevin to honor his late wife, and mother of three daughters and one son, who passed away from breast cancer in 2004. The fund is administered through Catholic Charities' Montgomery County Family Center, where staff can connect mothers who are being treated for cancer to the assistance of the In the Name of the Mother fund.
“This is such a great thing these St. Bernadette’s girls have done. This money will make a huge difference in the life of a mother struggling to put food on a table or keep a roof over her children’s head while she undergoes cancer treatment,” Kevin said. “ It is really inspiring what impact these girls will have on a family.”
The fund recognizes that many of the expenses that come with a cancer diagnosis aren't necessarily things we think of with cancer.  Mothers who are tired or just need to relax may need help with tasks that many of us think of as routine: caring for children, cleaning house, grocery shopping--just to name a few.  Since Kevin started the fund, he's helped to raise more than $200,000 to benefit single mothers in the DC area who need everyday help.

Kevin McConville and "Think Pink" are reaching out to mothers to offer financial assistance for everyday costs that most of us take for granted. These helping hands are especially important, since one in eight women will be diagnosed with cancer in her lifetime--that's nearly 13 percent.  The statistics may look grim, but with the work of In the Name of the Mother and the welcome generosity of St. Bernadette’s, we can make a big difference at a very hard time in the lives of many mothers and their families.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Miracle at the Summit: Mixed-income affordable housing opens for families and adults in DC

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Looking for a modern day miracle? What if we told you that during a recession, a building with 178 units of high-quality construction and beautiful design had just opened in a great neighborhood in the District – and that every single unit would rent at an affordable rate to families and individuals on modest incomes? 
We think that counts as a miracle – can we get an amen?

Last month, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, in close partnership with the DC government and several private supporters, cut the ribbon to officially open The Summit at St. Martin’s. In doing so, more than 125 gathered supporters celebrated the success of a crucial community effort to tell families high-quality housing could also be affordable housing.

The Summit opens at a time when 33 percent of children live beneath the poverty line in the nation’s capital. We know already that good and affordable housing is central to the life and strength of a family – families can provide more opportunities for their children and ensure healthy meals are on the dinner table each night when they do not have to spend a disproportionate amount of their income on rent.

Located in the Eckington neighborhood, each of its 178 beautiful apartments (check out the photos on our Facebook page if you don’t believe us) are set aside for families and individuals who have an income, but still cannot afford many of the neighborhoods in the city. The land, owned by St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church through the Archdiocese of Washington, was leased to the project for $1 for 99 years.

The Summit provides the community mixed-income, affordable housing by reserving 128 units for working families who earn up to 60 percent of the Area Media Income (AMI, as defined by HUD). The remaining 50 units will go to individuals who earn up to 30 percent AMI. The annual rate for a 2-bedroom apartment at the complex falls well below the $2,000 ballpark rate for the Washington region.

“The Summit at St. Martin’s is a natural extension of our work and mission at Catholic Charities – helping families with opportunity to break the cycle of poverty with serves that reflect the dignity within each of us,” said Ed Orzechowski, President and CEO of Catholic Charities. “Having worked through the full spectrum of housing – from emergency shelters to transitional to permanent supportive housing, we know that housing is central to serving the family in a meaningful way.”

In 2004, Catholic Charities began exploring the notion of creating an affordable housing on the site of the St. Martin’s Convent, which at the time housed a single room occupancy program for formerly homeless men. Groundbreaking took place in November of 2008. In January of 2009, the St. Martin’s convent was moved intact more than 200 feet to be incorporated into the new building – check out still-frame video of that amazing feat here. And as of October 2010, families are moving in to their new home.

Pictured above: Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, is joined by Mayor-elect Vince Gray, Councilmembers Harry Thomas Jr. and Michael Brown and Catholic Charities President and CEO Ed Orzechowski in cutting the ribbon.

Look for more posts about affordable housing issues here in the near future. If you have any thoughts on the Summit, send us an email at

Media Coverage! Check out some of the great media coverage from the ribbon cutting ceremony – NBC 4 has video and the Washington Post ran a Metro section story as well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Welcome to "The Open Door"

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Welcome to The Open Door, a blog about help and hope at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.  Our new blog will serve to showcase the voices and stories of front-line staff and clients in order to highlight both the successes we achieve and the difficulties we face in our programs as we provide assistance to some of the region’s most vulnerable families and individuals.

The Open Door can only make its most meaningful impact when individuals from within Catholic Charities provide stories to share with the public.  We encourage you to submit success stories, announcements, articles, photos and suggestions to Brennan Gamwell, Catholic Charities’ Online Communications Specialist, at  As people begin to see more and more how their involvement with Catholic Charities helps the neediest among us, we hope that they will be moved to continue to support the truly compassionate efforts of our dedicated, driven staff and volunteers.

Welcome to the conversation.