Friday, January 21, 2011

Remembering Sargent Shriver and celebrating his volunteering spirit

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We wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the great life and work of R. Sargent Shriver, the founder of the Peace Corps who passed away earlier this week. Mr. Shriver was married to Eunice Shriver, a long-time and early supporter of our Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute, who passed away last year.

Through his work with the Peace Corps, Mr. Shriver built a legacy in the 1960’s--which remains a focal point for our response to poverty--while creating both cultural understanding and cross-cultural dialogue, as well as a fostering the spirit of volunteerism that today tremendously benefits Catholic Charities and other nonprofits.

Later, in the Johnson Administration, Mr. Shriver helped expand the government partnership to create more opportunity for low-income families, including the Head Start program to ensure young children are prepared to start school, and Volunteers in Service to America, which remains a vibrant national version of the internationally serving Peace Corps.

We at Catholic Charities applaud a life lived in service and with a vision of a more equal and fair tomorrow for all families. We know that while much remains to be done, much has been accomplished thanks to the efforts of Mr. Shriver.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Recognizing a community leader who walks in Dr. King’s footsteps

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On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington joined with Catholic Charities USA to celebrate mass and honor four community leaders whose work continues to move forward Dr. King’s message. CCUSA presented awards to Joshua Dubois, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Marguerite “Peg” Harmon, Chief Executive Office, Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona and Maria Odom, Executive Director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc (CLINIC).

Locally, we were honored to award the Faith Does Justice award to Jean Hale, whose life isn’t easy to sum up in a blog post (though we’re going to try). Through her parish Our Lady Queen of Peace, she helped found the SHARE Food Network and continued to lead for 20 years. She has volunteered in many leadership roles and, alongside her husband, has opened their home and hearts to helping neighbors and coworkers through hard times.

In short, she’s incredible. For more, here’s the text of her introduction as it was read in full:  

Jean Hale embodies and inspires the life of a Catholic woman – full of love, service and faith. She is affectionately known as Mother Hale around the community and at her parish Our Lady Queen of Peace, where her many years of service in many ways have come to define her and her parish.

In 1990, the SHARE Food Network was just getting started – and the fledgling program needed volunteer and community support to take off.  Thankfully, Mother Hale heard about this new program, which used volunteers to provide low-cost, nutritious groceries to families for a fraction of the cost. She wanted to bring it to her parish.

As she tells it, she went to her priest, Fr. Ansgar Laczko, and suggested that the parish become a host site for the food network.  He was very excited about the idea right off the bat. And then he said, “I think you’ll do a great job as coordinator.” 

Twenty years later, the SHARE Food Network distributes nearly 10,000 food packages monthly, serving thousands of families. But it was largely thanks to the early momentum and excitement built at Our Lady Queen of Peace, led by Mother Hale. She organized an army of volunteers, 30 to 50 people each month that picked up, packaged, and delivered food packages to as many as 300 families a month.  Frequently, the Hale family car was loaded down with food as she delivered to ill neighbors and church members who could not leave their home.

Her involvement in SHARE is only one outreach of a life filled with generosity and compassion. She and her husband Wilfred, married for 60 years, have seven children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. All of them have been to SHARE at some point in their lives.

They have opened their three-bedroom home to provide food and shelter to co-workers, friends and family who have fallen on hard times – even skipping on perks in their own life to ensure a friend in need was taken care of. Jean participates in Meals on Wheels in her community, has served as Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Southeast Pregnancy Crisis Center, serves on numerous church committees including Visit the Sick and the Finance Committee.

Oh, and she also had a 25-year career at the U.S. Patent Office prior to retiring and worked for several years after retirement at Catholic Charities’ Teen Life Choices in the early 90’s.

It is my pleasure and honor to recognize a volunteer whose life has been a profession of her love of Christ and has matched her dedication to equality and love through action in the same manner of Dr. Martin Luther King. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington is proud to present Mother Jean Hale with the Faith Does Justice Award.


View more media from the MLK Day Celebration on Facebook: The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., has posted photos of Mother Hale and Catholic Charities President and CEO Ed Orzechowski.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Hermano Pedro Day program uses Netflix films to educate and entertain

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It is Iona Sebastian’s job to provide help to homeless men and women in the community.  It’s her job to welcome them to the Hermano Pedro Multicultural Day program five days a week for breakfast and lunch, then point them to where they can take advantage of free—and immaculately clean—laundry and shower facilities.

Yet back in 2008 as a newly minted Catholic Charities Program Manager, Iona decided that her program needed the extra oomph to get even more clients inside and learning.  Top-notch case management services, peer focus groups and free meals were great—but not quite enough.

“We had to create a program that would appeal to everyone and would get them to come to the center, stay and learn something in the process,” Iona said.  Technology, she decided, would serve as the perfect tool.  So with a 27-inch analog television and a much-loved but sturdy DVD player, Iona started renting movies and getting clients to interact with staff and one another.

Yet the selection was limited, and repetitive movies became boring for clients.  That’s when Iona decided to get creative with the few resources available to her, and she signed up for a three-at-a-time DVD rental account with Netflix.

“We turn this free time into something productive and educational—and now they get a big say in what they watch and learn,” Iona said.  She encourages residents to give her feedback on the selections to ensure that they stay entertained and happy.  Yet it’s also a small but important way the program’s clients can have a chance to use their voice and exercise their independence.

While Iona likes to receive input on what she shows, she also chooses movies with recognizable themes such as overcoming substance abuse and addiction, family issues, homelessness, racism and HIV/AIDS.  Plus, access to Netflix’s 100,000-title library makes it easy for her to find Spanish-language films for the Center’s substantial Hispanic base.

These films may show it tough, but the outcomes are always positive, said Sean Thomas, a three-year client-turned-volunteer at Hermano Pedro. “The movies have the power to show clients what they can achieve if they work hard.”  

In fact, many of the trials film characters face mirror the hardships clients experience on a day-to-day basis.  Equipped with three dedicated case managers and a host of volunteers, the Center aims to address each client’s individual need, getting them clean or pointing them to supplementary services, showing that they’re supported and eventually making sure they can lead independent, productive lives.  And often, seeing their own lives reflected back to them on film galvanizes clients to seek help, work harder to kick an addiction or deal with family issues that have kept them from keeping a stable home.

Sean is particularly active in choosing movies for the group to watch and tries to focus on themes that the clients will find both interesting and informative.  “Secrets of the Mind,” an educational documentary he recently picked out, deals with a host of mental illnesses and peculiarities that some of the clients experience, but work to overcome with the guidance of the Catholic Charities social workers and program managers who make up the Hermano Pedro family.

“This is just a small way I can help out,” said Sean, who credits the all-around support of the program with his decision to take up culinary classes at DC Central Kitchen next month.  “Where else can you get breakfast, lunch, free laundry, showers and movies on top of everything else?”  Now, Sean tries to give back as much as he can by volunteering at the Center, chatting with clients and helping them learn about life and overcoming what sometimes seem like insurmountable odds—through messages delivered by way of Netflix films.

Now, Iona just needs to figure out how to make Netflix streaming work, and she just might be able to if she could get her hands on a digital Roku player and a new television set.  With an expanded, instantly accessible library, just imagine how many more clients she could reach.

But for now, Iona makes do with the resources Hermano has to offers its clients.  And it just goes to show that a little innovation goes a long way.

Learn more about the Hermano Pedro Multicultural Day Center and how you can donate or volunteer here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Recapping a Very Merry Christmas

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Christmas is a busy season here at Catholic Charities, precisely because we have the amazing opportunity to share in the Christmas spirit with our clients across the region.  Thanks to the help of volunteers and staff from all over, many wonderful stories were able to happen!

Here are just a few holiday highlights from our programs over the past few weeks:

  • Catholic Charities employees provided Christmas gifts to more than 80 kids through our Angel Tree. Special thanks to Catholic Charities Foundation Board Member Julia Hopping for her beautifully wrapped gifts that ensured everyone on the tree received something for Christmas!
  • At the Refugee Center, volunteer Carol Tavris coordinated the annual Christmas party for our clients – including tons and tons of food – plus mouthwatering roast turkey! She also organized the “Winter Wear Sale” – a warm clothing giveaway for refugees in the program.
  • The Southeast Family Center had a rough year when our building was both vandalized and burglarized. However, when we were able to distribute 292 gifts from staff at Georgetown University Hospital to dozens of families, we were back in the spirit!
  • Kids and mothers who are homeless or fleeing domestic violence at our Angel’s Watch Shelter in Southern Maryland were treated to a thrilling visit by Santa and a bunch of awesome Harley Davidson motorcycles, toting gifts from the Harley Davidson showroom in Hughsville.
  • For the second year in a row, Gifts Inkind donated an overwhelming amount of warm clothing items—enough to ensure that every man staying at our New York Avenue Men’s Shelter (which houses 360 men each night) received many items in their size with plenty left over to use throughout the winter.
  • The Southern Maryland Food Bank received $20,000 in donations and over 12,000 pounds of food from more than 20 schools in St. Mary’s and Charles Counties participating in the annual “Kids Helping Kids” program. Also, a big thank you to the additional 25 local businesses that held food drives to help ensure that not one family goes hungry this Christmas.
  • Parish Partners received gifts through a number of our parishes in Montgomery County and distributed presents to families in time for Christmas.  Employees at the Carlyle Group adopted several families and more than 20 kids for the holidays.
  • Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown provided gifts to Catholic Charities’ Tenants Empowerment Network this year – a transitional program for homeless families. 
  • Gallup hosted a Christmas party, complete with a visit from Santa, at our Kennedy School, which works with children with developmental disabilities. 
  • Incredibly loving church and family groups cooked dinner at all of our emergency shelters on Christmas Day. Thank you for the love you have shown to bring a home-cooked meal into our house.
  • At our Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter, Sister 4 Sister donated nearly 40 warm jackets to our ladies – we are looking good!
  • The Teen Parent and Independent Living Programs received more than $3000 in gifts and donations from local organizations, including the Howard University Comptroller's Office, Catholic University Law School and Beltsville Elementary School.
  • St. Andrew Kim Korean Catholic Church in Olney, Md., headed up a clothing drive at local dry cleaning stores, donating like-new items to the Hermano Pedro Day Program. Hermano Pedro also received from the church new hats, scarves and other winter apparel for 150 clients. Plus, any clients starting new jobs got warm sleeping bags, new pants and shirts.