Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Two lives cross in a cool way

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For Otis Thompson, the temperature in his apartment could be stifling on the hottest days this summer. His apartment, obtained as part of our Fortitude Housing program, is his key to staying out of homelessness. He keeps it clean, helps out his neighbors in the building when he can and relishes this opportunity to reclaim his independence.  

But it can get unbearable in there without air conditioning. 
Case manager Melvin Howard (left) smiles with Otis (right).
The AC unit will make a big difference as the heat picks up.

Across the city Scott Sinclair, a recently retired DC resident, worried about his neighbors who could not afford air conditioning and languished in the heat. So he took action.

He purchased 10 brand-new window AC units and went searching for an organization to help him distribute those units to those struggling in the heat. That’s where Catholic Charities came in. The 10 air conditioning units went to teen parents and youth living on their own with our help, adults and families trying to overcome homelessness. This, of course, included Otis Thompson, whom Scott has never met.

Otis was homeless for more than a year after a work accident left him unable to work and the end of his 13-year marriage forced him to move out of his home. He turned to our 801 East men’s shelter for a place to stay when he could no longer afford to live on his own. He was heartbroken, but never hopeless and found strength and support from the shelter staff.

“I only planned to be there for a few days or maybe a week while I got myself back together,” he said. “But one week turned into a month and a month into a year.” Eventually, Otis was accepted into our Fortitude Housing program. The three-year-old program places chronically homeless individuals into their own apartment and then works one-on-one to address their barriers.

For Otis, those barriers never involved alcohol or substance abuse. His marriage ended in part due to a gambling addiction. Since then, he’s walked away from gambling and has maintained a close relationship with his family, including two children heading off to college soon who frequently visit him. But he has struggled to find work due to his injury. It’s hard for him to sit or stand for long and even moderate lifting is out of the question.

“I get job interviews, but when I tell them about my back problems, I never get a call back,” Otis said. He is working with his case manager, Melvin Howard, to begin receiving short-term disability payments. But Melvin Howard also serves as a coach, friend and advocate – and always as a problem-solver. The two were actively searching for an affordable air conditioning unit when Scott Sinclair called with his 10 units.

“The timing could not have been any better,” said Melvin. “We have to stretch every dollar as far as we can to serve as many people as possible, and this was the perfect gift at the perfect moment.” 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Welcome to Catholic Charities, Father John!

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Today, Rev. Msgr. John J. Enzler "officially" started as our next President and CEO. I say "officially" because there have been many Father John (he told us already that his friends call him Father John) sightings for the past month here at Catholic Charities as he has been preparing to take over the job. With 77 programs serving more than 100,000 men, women and children annually, there is no shortage of required reading and plenty of great staff to meet.

We're jubilant to welcome him. I wanted to pass on this note he's shared as he begins his new job:

Dear Friends,  

It is with great joy that I greet you for the first time in my new role as President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.  For many years, I have admired the tireless and never-ending Catholic Charities and its supporters carry out in service to our neighbors and families who simply need some help.

Each day, the staff and thousands of supporters of Catholic Charities answer prayers and introduce real and enduring hope into many lives. I am honored to be part of this organization.

I come from a large family. I was one of 13 children raised with the belief that you help out a neighbor in need, no matter what. I remember my father taking us to Mass every weekend and often stopping to help someone – even giving away his coat in the middle of winter. He simply could not look past the need he saw before him and this left an indelible impression on me.

I recognize this same spirit of compassion and sacrifice here at Catholic Charities. It is the same love Jesus Christ lived out in his own ministry. Our greatest strength is our abundance of generosity in how we give of our time and talents.

Each year, Catholic Charities in partnership with the community has served well over 100,000 men, women and children in many ways – some in very substantial measures and others in critical small steps. Every time we answer the phone or meet with a client or provide a bag of food, together we are the face and hands of Jesus in our community.

I’m committed to raising the resources we need to succeed and I will do whatever I can to ensure our doors are open and we are ready to help our neighbors succeed. I cannot thank outgoing President Ed Orzechowski enough or give him enough credit for the agency he has helped build over more than 20 years of leadership. I ask for your prayers that I can live up to his example.

So I begin this stage of my ministry full of gratitude for the incredible work you have carried out as part of an 80 year history of service here in the Archdiocese. I look forward to digging into the work, to meeting the people we serve and lending my abilities to this incredible response to Christ’s call to serve.

May God bless you,

Father John

Say a note of welcome to Father John on our Facebook page! And stay tuned for more news as we keep moving forward to provide help that empowers and hope that lasts.