Friday, April 29, 2011

My Brother’s Keeper: Through a new garden, two brothers help each other and educate a community

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Taylor Fairbanks (center right) hands gardening
gloves to a Community Companions student. His
mother, Amy (center), and his brother,
Douglas (center left) helped plant the garden.
Taylor Fairbanks had a great idea for an Eagle Scout Project. Why not work with the staff and kids of our Kennedy Institute’s Community Companions program to plant an urban garden?

For almost two months, he’s worked endlessly to plan, fund and execute his project – building a garden that can be enjoyed by kids with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities. The project is part of his journey to become an Eagle Scout, the highest honor of the Boy Scouts of America. But his real reason for involvement with Kennedy is far more personal – his little brother Douglas. Douglas, 13, was born with autism and spends his weekdays with the teachers and staff at our Community Companions program in Rockville learning and playing.
Through the garden project, Taylor hopes to make an important point: Kids living with autism and intellectual developmental disabilities can and do make valuable contributions to society. In the process, he hopes to teach them more about life, responsibility, and healthy eating – and reinforce Kennedy’s existing curriculum of inclusion and learning.
"I think that he's responsible to care for his own plants, just like all people with autism. This is a great way for Douglas and his classmates to learn more about growing plants and taking care of something," Taylor said.

Taylor and Douglas help Community Companion
students plant tomatoes and green peppers.
It all culminated early this week when the kids got their hands dirty churning soil and transplanting potted plants into their new vegetable garden.  And from the looks of it, you can expect this summer's salad to be loaded with delicious, juicy tomatoes and ripe green peppers. Local nurseries and home improvement stores donated a bulk of the garden supplies, including the plants. Taylor, his parents and a number of moms and dads of the Boy Scout troop contributed more plants and helped prepare the plots.

The troop upped the wow factor of the plot by constructing cedar garden boxes, filling them with soil, and installing a bench and flower pots just a few feet away, where kids, parents and teachers can now read a book or chat near the garden.  An impressive harvest is sure to follow later this summer.

Amy Fairbanks, Taylor's mother, explained that "this is a great way to show citizenship in the community. These kids are ready to take care of something, to watch it grow into new life."

Amy added, "At the same time, we're informing people. So many people don’t know a lot about autism. We're offering them a glimpse into the lives of people who are living with autism or are experiencing another kind of intellectual developmental disability." 

This project represents a wonderful way for our kids to learn how they can contribute, and it's an equally wonderful way our neighbors can learn about our kids and their lives. The message is perfect for a program like Community Companions that focuses on empowerment and inclusion. So a big shout out from The Open Door Blog and the Kennedy Institute to Taylor and his awesome vision and for including us in his Eagle Scout project.  

Now, if you don't mind, pass the salad?

In observance of Arbor Day and National Autism Awareness Month, we invite you to learn more about Community Companions and our other programs that provide support to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities--and we encourage you to support important learning activities like these. To learn more about how you can donate materials to maintain our garden, contact Brennan Gamwell at

Be sure to check out more pictures of our urban garden on Catholic Charities' Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Legal Network brings equal access to justice to all

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Attorney Robert Zink of Covington & Burling, LLP,
advises client Sharon Holquin in an unemployment
dispute. Through the Archdiocesan Legal Network,
dozens of attorneys like Robert provide pro bono legal
aid to thousands of people each year.
On intake days at our Archdiocesan Legal Network, Jim Bishop greets our clients with a caring smile.  Helping them gives him a sense of purpose and renewed motivation.  An attorney of 25 years, Jim has dedicated his life to giving low-income families access to sound legal help or advice they may not otherwise be able to afford.  Every day, Jim and other attorneys like him bridge the gap between inequality and justice for so many of our neighbors.

Jim Bishop delivers an address to attendees of
Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Charities of the
Archdiocese of Washington's annual Dr. Martin Luther
King Mass at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Church in the District.
Jim says that sharing his faith at gatherings like this
is one of the most rewarding parts of working at
Catholic Charities.

As the economic slump continues, the work of the Legal Network is more relevant than ever, according to Jim.  “We’ve seen a huge uptick in clients and a change in the type of clients who seek our help. More and more people are coming in having been laid off, are struggling with credit card debt or are fighting former employers for withholding compensation or benefits.”

Intake days are the days attorneys in our Legal Network review new client civil cases – the Legal Network does not handle criminal matters.  Many of these cases are referred to volunteers within our network of more than 500 pro bono attorneys, who advise clients on issues ranging from landlord/tenant disputes to family law to benefits issues.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, and every other Wednesday, volunteer attorneys from law firms across the region come to staff intake at our 924 G St. location, meeting one-on-one to listen to client’s needs and asses how the Legal Network can help.

 “Many of our clients have never spoken with a lawyer before, and everything they know about our profession comes from television. So it is our job to help them feel comfortable, and most importantly, listen to what they have to say,” Jim said.

May Wall, an attorney with Winston & Strawn in Washington, DC, volunteers at least 25 hours a year helping low-income families facing legal issues.  “It makes what I see on the street every day so much more real,” May said.  While May specializes in environmental law and typically works with corporate clients, she said that the opportunity to serve at Catholic Charities gives her a glimpse at “real life,” the hardships that so many of our neighbors face and that are so often ignored by the community.

Winston & Strawn, like dozens of law firms throughout the District, Maryland and Virginia, encourage all of their associates to reach out a helping hand to our neighbors in need, incorporating a strong pro bono component into their organizational culture. 

And it pays off.  Last year, our volunteer attorneys opened 696 cases and conducted 14 law-related education seminars for more than 400 people in the District of Columbia and Maryland. The value of their time donated to the Legal Network is estimated at over $10 million.

For Jim, his career with the Legal Network is a place where his Catholic faith and professional skills intersect perfectly. “We try to shine the Lord’s light in the darkness,” Jim said. “We use this light to help people make good legal decisions and to move on with their lives.”

The Archdiocesan Legal Network needs you! Learn more about how you or other associates from your law firm can provide a helping hand to our neighbors. Visit us on the Web at, or contact Jim Bishop, Senior Program Manager, at (202) 772-4300.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Welcome to the McCarrick Center: Building a Patient-Centered Medical Home

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Learn more about Medical Clinics at the Spanish Catholic Center on our website.

On Monday, we celebrated two major milestones at our Spanish Catholic Center medical clinics. First, we moved our Langley Park clinic into a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility in the Wheaton/ Silver Spring neighborhood. And as if that wasn’t enough, we also upgraded all of our medical and dental clinics to electronic health records. Whew!

“The goal of our new clinic and our electronic medical records is to be even more patient-centered,” said Dr. Marguerite Duane, medical director at the Spanish Catholic Center.  From the clinic layout to the cutting-edge tools now available to our staff, everything is about giving our patients, mostly uninsured and low-income individuals, the medical care that they deserve. While our old location in Langley Park served us well for many years, our new facility was designed to be even more accessible to patients, from the entrances to specially-equipped exam rooms. We also have an on-site room which can handle minor surgical procedures in-house!

The new office is located at 12247 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring, Md., where we already offer a dental clinic, health and education program, food and clothing distributions and an immigration legal services office.  The addition of a new medical clinic on-site makes it easier for our clients to receive the comprehensive, holistic care we seek to offer each and every one of our neighbors who comes to us for help.

The addition of Electronic Health Records (EHR for short) brings all of our clinics – including our two dental clinics – online where doctors at multiple offices can update patient charts in real time and access the same information. By the end of the month, dentists will be able to see medications, allergies and any pre-existing patient conditions. In turn, doctors will be able to see any medications prescribed by the dentists.

EHR systems go a long way toward streamlining information sharing in medical offices, allowing our clinics to interface with other e-records systems, such as the DC immunization registry and the Regional Health Information Exchange Organization (DC RHIO), which will allow Catholic Charities to share patient information with other clinics and hospitals if our clients seek medical care at a different facility.

For our patients, this means far less paperwork each visit – something everyone is a fan of.

The Spanish Catholic Center’s medical clinics provide services to more than 5,000 patients from around the world through about 17,000 individual appointments every year.  We are proud to offer top-of-the-line, comprehensive services in our community, and we’d like to thank you for your support as we continue to do good for our neighbors.

Pictured above: Our very first patient receives a medical examination from clinic staff members.  Below: All-new exam rooms boast state-of-the-art medical equipment.