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.