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: