Thursday, June 30, 2011

All for Shade, Shade for All at our Early Headstart playground

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Just in time for summer, we were thrilled to learn that the Head Start Body Start National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play will provide $5,000 toward the purchase of a shade structure (read that: awesome, giant freestanding roof) over our Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute Early Head Start program’s outdoor playground. You can see some current shots of the playground to the right.

Our playground, soon to be well shaded, hosts the parents and the children frequently for social activities that allow the children to play in a safe and supported environment and give parents the opportunity to visit, support each other and seek advice

Fun fact about the playground: the bars holding up the swings are made from 100 percent recycled milk jugs!

The Early Head Start program focuses on teaching parents how to work with their infants and children to further their development, starting sometimes when a mother is still expectant and working with children up to the age of 3. Every child goes through an age-appropriate screening meant to detect any delays in natural development that can be worked on while at the earliest stages. 

Our Early Head Start program works with 72 families at a time, for 90 minutes each week in the family’s home.  For children who display an early delay, early identification and responsive, specialized therapy can help the child overcome that delay.

We are grateful to Head Start Body Start for helping us make the environment a little cooler and even more welcoming to our families!

Friday, June 17, 2011

We kick off World Refugee Day in a delicious way

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Okay, let’s get the food report out of the way upfront.
I promise I’m not trying to make you jealous, but as I write this, I’m finishing up a plate of West African ground peanut stew, green curry rice and Ethiopian veggies, cooked by our volunteer chef Carol Tavris.
As is the case with all Refugee Center events, she cooks a blockbuster spread to reflect the clients of the Refugee Center. She even brought a mini-flag for each country where a refugee is from and topped all of the cupcakes with the flag of a country that accepts refugees. Amazing!
But, besides bringing together refugees, staff, volunteers and community members to chow down, the luncheon had a purpose. Monday is World Refugee Day and marks the kick-off of the Refugee Center’s “Do 1 Thing Campaign,” which was revealed at the luncheon to refugees, volunteers and community partners.
The idea behind the campaign is simple: we can all do more, even once, to help a refugee start a new life.
“For those of us who are born and raised here, we often take for granted what we have in America,” said Ed Orzechowski, President and CEO of Catholic Charities, addressing a roomful of current and past Refugee Center clients, volunteers and community partners. “Your struggles to overcome much and restart, leaving behind everything, inspires us. I thank you for being part of our family.”
The one act (which, honestly, we hope leads to one more, and one more, and so on) could be offering one job interview, offering to spend one semester teaching English or making one donation to the cause.
“I know today a lot of you in this room are refugees,” said Jennie Murray, with the Refugee Center. “But you can do one thing for yourself and someone else and make a difference as well. Just one thing to help.”
Through April, the Refugee Center had served more than 340 individuals in its intensive 10-week employment training and cultural orientation program “Job Club.” It also helps to place the graduates into work. Still, with more than 10 million refugees worldwide, the work has only just begun.
“You are strong. You are courageous. You are an asset to the United States and I want you to know you are welcome here in your new home,” said Jeanne Atkinson, senior program manager for the Refugee Center.
So, the question is, are you ready to “Do 1 Thing” for a refugee? Find out how to get involved here. If so, you’ll start getting invitations to join us for lunch cooked by Carol Tavris!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From Homeless Client to Job Candidate: Deloitte volunteers spend a day at our shelter preparing for the job interview

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James Avery knows a job is the key to breaking out of his homelessness. A high school dropout at the 10th grade, he’s battled addiction and a criminal past. He knows how hard it can be to hire someone with that kind of past. But he’s been clean for months and he knows with the right opportunity, he can be a great hire in the construction business.

But how to get through the interview? When should he raise his criminal history? What should his resume list for a current address?

These were the kinds of questions, plus many more, that more than 40 volunteers from Deloitte helped answer last Friday, June 10, during their annual Impact Day. Impact Day is a unifying day at Deloitte, when all of their offices worldwide close for a day of volunteering in local communities.

At our 801 East Shelter, volunteers conducted several workshops in the morning focusing on personal finance and budgeting, self-improvement and soft-skills for the workplace – such as conversation, dress and punctuality. In the afternoon, shelter residents had the chance to interview for one of four jobs (based on real job listings) during a mock interview and receive feedback from the hiring manager.

“A lot of the things they have been talking about, I know it’s what you are supposed to do already. But it is good to be reminded and to have someone guiding you and rooting for you,” James said, who agreed to let me sit in on his interview.

James was interviewed by Natalie, a Deloitte volunteer. After shaking hands, James begins by handing over his resume, typed (with a few pen edits). He talks fast and eagerly, smiles big and maintains eye contact. Natalie asks questions of his past work. After they finish, Natalie walks him through his strengths and areas for improvement.

Strengths? Good eye contact and projected confidence in his body language. Areas to improve? Keep his answers shorter and more to the point. Also, slow down his speech so that the interviewer understands him clearly.

They also discussed the appropriate time to present the resume to the interviewer and how he should end the interview.

Afterward, James smiled broadly and had an air of excitement. “I feel real good right now,” he said. “I know I can make this happen.”

For three years running, Deloitte has partnered with Catholic Charities as a site for its Impact Day locally. Projects have included work at our Anchor Mental Health facility, a new playground last year at our Kennedy School and beautification at several group homes for adults with developmental disabilities.

Last year, the group expanded to work at 801 East men’s shelter with a series of workshops, working with both men and women. This year, seeking to better use Deloitte professionals’ unique skill sets, the work was expanded to include the mock interviews.

“Throughout the year, our clients refer back to the Impact Day with Deloitte,” said Paul Amara, Director of Men’s Shelters at Catholic Charities. “In addition to the knowledge and coaching, the simple opportunity to be treated and viewed as an equal means so much to our folks.”

With Deloitte’s help, we’re praying that more and more of our neighbors who are homeless will be asked, “When can you start?”

Learn more here about our 19 programs for the homeless. Donate here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Serving Haiti’s evacuees: knocking down barriers to safety as Haiti struggles to rebuild

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Guest post by Debi Sanders, staff attorney for Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services Program.

Two weeks ago, our Immigration Legal Services staff celebrated the announcement by the Department of Homeland Security to extend “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS) for another 18 months to more than 40,000 Haitian evacuees living in the U.S.  For our ILS staff, this was a breakthrough moment following months of advocacy by more than 50 agencies seeking to help evacuees following the devastating 2010 earthquake that rocked Haiti. 

What is Temporary Protected Status (TPS)? TPS is exactly what it sounds like. The U.S. government temporarily recognizes and welcomes evacuees from a country that has suffered a severe natural disaster or political upheaval. It is not granted lightly – the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and the Department of Homeland Security all must agree.

It allows evacuees the freedom to work, earn a living and provide for their families when returning to their home nation is not safe or possible. Last week’s announcement by the U.S. government also included a re-designation that extended to people who were evacuated from Haiti in the following weeks. 

For Haitian evacuees, the extension and re-designation are key steps. Yet even after everything the United States government has done to help Haiti over the past year, there remain many problems to address, and that’s where we have stepped in along with a network of advocates for immigrants and evacuees.

The barriers we are trying to knock over are very practical. For example, evacuees covered by TPS have to pay up to $515 in application fees and the cost of a work permit before they can move on to get a job. Someone applying for a work permit in the first place isn’t likely to have this kind of money just lying around.  Many evacuees living in the U.S. are sending home as much of their wages as they can to support family at risk in Haiti.

Catholic Charities partnered with more than 50 organizations around the country, including the law firm Hunton & Williams, to bring the plea for evacuees directly to Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. These are ongoing items that our ILS team will be working on in the months ahead.

1.  Help the evacuees as they make a life in the United States

Many evacuees had no way of helping themselves—in fact, many of them were thinking only of leaving Haiti to reach safety, not about legal applications or paperwork.  We trust Homeland Security will continue to be generous in granting work authorization.

2.  Reunite Haitian families

The list of children, women, and men waiting to be reunited with their families in the United States is so long that, from sign-up to admission, those seeking reunification may have to wait up to 12 years. We are asking Homeland Security to unite these families now.

3.  Stop deportations for people with minor convictions

We note that not all of these criminals are dangerous. In fact, one Haitian evacuee from Florida was charged with “felony littering.”

We applaud the hard work of all our ILS staff attorneys, our partner organizations and our pro bono neighbors at Hunton & Williams for making such a tremendous difference in thousands of lives as they recover from one of the most devastating natural disasters of the decade.

Want to learn more about how ILS supports immigrations and evacuees? Contact me at