Friday, October 28, 2011

“Baby Calls” are a real blessing at Sanctuaries for Life

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Ana Menjivar is the Prenatal Care Coordinator at Sanctuaries.
Ana Menjivar doesn’t look much like a grandmother, but she feels blessed to get to experience the joy of one on a regular basis. Ana is the Prenatal Care Coordinator at our Sanctuaries for Life Program, which helps women facing unintended pregnancies get the wraparound support they need to carry their babies to term. When Ana’s phone jangles with the big news that one of those women has delivered a healthy little one, she calls it “a baby call.”

Ana and Jenny Baker, Sanctuaries' Resource Coordinator
Michelle Williams, the program’s Senior Manager, said baby calls are like finding out you’re a grandmother again and again—“you’ve supported a mother through her pregnancy, just like a grandmother would,” she said. But even better is when the mothers bring their newborns into the Sanctuaries for Life office for a visit. “You remember the mom’s story, remember her face, her countenance when she was pregnant and worried. And then you see the big, beautiful, happy baby—and it’s a reminder that although this is work for us, it’s truly a ministry as well. God has called us to this work.”

As October, Respect Life Month, draws to a close, we celebrate this life-giving and life-affirming ministry and remember all the hard work leading up to those jubilant visits and baby calls. The Sanctuaries for Life staff is devoted to helping women who are expecting get access to the services they need. Primarily, participants in their program are abortion vulnerable, grappling with expenses associated with a high-risk pregnancy, or simply struggling financially to get care. Often the women have no documentation, making them ineligible for government programs. Many other women find themselves needing support due to government cutbacks to Medicaid. But no matter how they come to Sanctuaries for Life, the attention and support they receive there is truly remarkable.
Because the staff works so closely with program participants, real bonds grow between them. A pregnant woman’s relationship with Sanctuaries for Life does not end after one appointment. Even if they must refer a woman someplace else, the Sanctuaries staff follows up with her to ensure that she is receiving the services she needs. The staff also checks in with its own participants monthly, oftentimes just to see if they’re doing OK. “Sometimes they’re so happy,” Ana said. “And sometimes they’re struggling with their pregnancy, or with being a new mother. Some have been through a miscarriage, and they just don’t have anyone to listen to them.”

Listening is a major part of the staff’s ministry. “You have to be strong when you are talking with participants,” Ana said. “You have to be there for them. But if affects you, too.” Sometimes women who seek help at Sanctuaries are victims of rape, or are involved in abusive relationships. “They’re sad and scared,” Ana said. “And we talk with them and pray to God to help them make the right decision about their baby.”

Ana shared some poignant stories about some of the program’s participants with us. One woman, who was a victim of rape, was so hurt from the experience that initially she did not want to keep her baby. She sought out Sanctuaries for Life for support and, after talking to staff there, decided she felt strong and supported enough to have her child. Now, Ana said, she has delivered her baby, and she is so grateful to God for her little blessing.

Ana talked about another woman who learned she was at a high risk for miscarriage. Not wanting to give up her baby, she turned to Sanctuaries for Life. They supported her decision to carry the baby to term, despite the risk, and they helped her financially with prenatal care and delivery services. Sadly, the baby, a boy, lived for only one day. But Ana said the woman was “so grateful to God for giving her baby life for that one day.”
It’s stories like these that make work at Sanctuaries for Life so difficult and so gratifying – and their work so very critical. They don’t just connect pregnant women in need to prenatal care and labor and delivery services. Thanks to Jenny Baker, the program’s Resource Coordinator, women who enroll with Sanctuaries for Life gain access to a full range of programs to assist them with their other needs. These needs might be the basics – food, clothing, shelter. Other times, they range from counseling to medical assistance to legal help.

Yet, beyond those services, there’s something more that women who turn to Sanctuaries for Life receive, something they might not have even realized they needed: a shoulder to lean on, a friend to comfort them, a cheerleader who can root them on. Ana said that baby calls are testament to that. “We show them that they are important and valuable. And when they see we care, they keep it in their minds and thank us…it’s the best feeling ever.”

Sanctuaries for Life is the new name for the Birthing and Care Program, under the Archdiocese of Washington. You can read about the transition in this Catholic Standard article. The program is now located in the Cardinal McCarrick Center. If you’d like to learn more about Sanctuaries for Life, please visit their program page here. They are always in need of donations, both financial and physical, especially baby items: diapers, clothing, strollers, car seats, etc. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Help the Homeless Walkathon: What's Your Reason?

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We won’t lie to you—it is always cold on the morning of theFannie Mae Help the Homeless Walkathon. The event takes place annually on the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving, so it’s just about guaranteed to be cold.

But something about the cold feels inherently right. After all, our homeless neighbors are vulnerable to the cold every day and night they spend on the streets. Unlike us, they don’t have the luxury of waking up in a toasty bed and putting on a pot of coffee to enjoy a restful Saturday morning,and the cold is a potent reminder of that.

Besides, once you start walking, you’ll hardly feel the cold. You’ll be too busy soaking up the sites of the National Mall, enjoying live entertainment from local school groups and chatting with your fellow walkers. Last year, over 100 clients from our housing programs joined us for the walk.

One of those clients, June (name changed to protect privacy) supported us in last year's Walkathon, even though she was using a walker at the time. June, a resident at our Mt. Carmel House, suffers from knee trouble. But she didn’t let that stop her from participating! She wanted to walk to show her gratitude to Catholic Charities for keeping her off the streets. “I never thought I’d see myself homeless, but as life would have it, there I was…the Walkathon was what my heart told me to do.”

June will be walking to support us again this year –“without my walker!” she bragged. Thanks to therapy, she’s more mobile. And thanks to Mt. Carmel House, she has a more stable and fulfilling life. She’s looking forward to the Walkathon as a way to raise awareness about “the new face of homelessness — could be a neighbor, coworker, boss, sister, brother, niece or nephew. Don’t turn a blind eye or put your nose up, because it could be you one day.” She describes the Walkathon as a unifying experience, a time to join her community at Mt. Carmel House, the larger Catholic Charities family, and the public around one very basic reality: we all need good housing. And that kind of bonding, that sense of community, can be pretty warming.

Also proven to warm the soul: providing very real help tosomeone in need. The Fannie Mae Help the Homeless Walkathon is a huge source of funding for our housing programs year after year. Last year, it brought in over $50,000—this money came from walkers across the region, whether they walked with us that day or participated in mini-walks at their school, workplace or church.

Sadly, as the Washington Post reported in August and September, this is the last year Fannie Mae will hold the Walkathon at the Mall. Instead, they will invite people to participate solely through local mini-walks. We share the concern of numerous nonprofits that this change will draw less public attention to the event and decrease the much-needed dollars we raise.

We know it’s easy to find a reason why you can’t attend the walk. But we challenge you to find a reason why you can.

This year is your last opportunity to bundle up, grab a to-go cup of coffee and carry a sign. It’s your last opportunity to walk alongside great people like June whom our programs aim to help. It’s your last opportunity to stand united with thousands of people as together we walk to make a difference.

We hope you’ll join us (and June!) on November 19. Will it be cold? Most likely. Will it be worth it? Definitely.

Interested in signing up for the Walkathon at the National Mall, or in starting a mini-walk? Check out this link:

Related WashingtonPost stories are available here and here

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Looking good, staying warm!

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We wanted to offer a big thanks to the donor who crocheted 108 beautiful hats and gave them to Catholic Charities! Below, Father John models one of the stylish and warm hats. We've already sent 40+ hats to our TEN program, just before the weather cools off! 


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Archdiocesan Legal Network volunteers recognized for outstanding volunteer service at the John Carroll Society's Red Mass Brunch

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Guest post by Jim D. Bishop, Esq., Senior Program Manager for Catholic Charities’ Archdiocesan Legal Network

(l to r) John Carroll Society President Paul Scolese,
Washington Archbishop Cardinal Wuerl
Stephen Murphy of Reed Smith LLP and
Msgr. Vaggi of the Legal Network Advisory Council
On October 2, 2011, the Archdiocese of Washington held its annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC. The Red Mass is held on the day before the U.S. Supreme Court's new term opens. The Mass is offered to invoke God's blessing and guidance on those who work in the administration of justice and serve in government such as lawyers; law professors and deans; and local, state and federal judges. This year, the following U.S. Supreme Court Justices were present: Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito.
Immediately following the Red Mass, the John Carroll Society held a brunch at the Capital Hilton at 16th and K Streets, N.W. In addition to several of the Justices, there were close to 700 people in attendance. The John Carroll Society, which is a network of Catholic professionals who wish to serve the community through their faith, presented its Pro Bono Legal Service Awards to the Archdiocesan Legal Network’s following volunteers for providing outstanding services through the program:
  • Francis T. Coleman, Esq.
  • Mr. John Kirk of Reliable
  • Todd R. Coles, Esq. of Troutman Sanders LLP
In addition, the law firm Reed Smith LLP received the award for its longstanding volunteer service in accepting pro bono cases, serving on the program’s Advisory Council, as well as being a staunch financial supporter.
The Archdiocesan Legal Network is able to provide access to first-rate legal representation as well as educate D.C. and Maryland residents about their legal rights, thanks to its cadre of more than 800 volunteer attorneys and 57 law firms that provide an estimated $10 million annually in volunteer services. The network connects low-income clients with high-quality pro bono legal help for their civil matters. The Legal Network also conducts a number of community trainings each year to advise residents and community groups of different matters and how they relate to the law.
If you are interested in volunteering with the Archdiocesan Legal Network, please contact James D. Bishop, Esq., Senior Program Manager, at (202) 772-1201 or by email at

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Putting family first for 15 years

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Picture your home for a moment, and all the treasured memories you have there. We’re betting most of them involve your family.

Our Tenants Empowerment Network (TEN) recognizes the intrinsic connection between home and family. Since their start in 1996, TEN has been striving to provide a safe, supportive sanctuary where families who are homeless can renew their hope, gather their strength and, most importantly, stay together while they rebuild their lives.

Now, TEN is celebrating a major milestone: their 15th anniversary of service to the community. In that time, they’ve undergone many changes. They’ve dealt with some pretty difficult budget cutbacks. But through it all they’ve stuck to their mission, to develop partnerships with homeless families to empower them to attain lasting stability in housing, work, and community. Through that mission, they have enacted powerful positive change for the families they serve.

For Sr. Mary Louise Wessell, founder and Program Manager of TEN, one of the most rewarding parts of her work is providing each family with a home. “The families come from a lot of disruption,” she said. “They’ve slept on floors and in shelters. So they’re very thrilled to have their own apartment.”

The program provides stability in other forms, as well. Parents who need it attend addictions support meetings—TEN boasts a 92% rate of maintained recovery. Many also receive job training or further their education, which qualifies them for better employment opportunities. These women and men have all the skills for success; they just need an environment to support them. And that is exactly what TEN offers.

The kids are major beneficiaries of a family’s newfound stability in TEN. Sr. Bernadette Longtin, a social worker for the program, said the children really open up and grow more trusting after a few weeks. During the evenings, many of them gather in the common area to play together—over 50 kids! Though the room was quiet and tidy on a weekday afternoon, it was easy to picture the place swarming with little ones.

It’s plain to see these little ones have a soft spot in the hearts of Sr. Bernadette and Sr. Mary Louise. They emphasized that if there’s one thing they want to do more of, it’s programs for the children and family-centered events. With the economic downturn, there’s been less money for fun, recreational activities at TEN—yet these activities are a vital component of community-building within and among families in the program.

TEN is holding a small anniversary event later this week—we’ll be sure to post photos from the celebration here on our blog! In the meantime, if you’d like to support the great work that TEN is doing for families who are homeless in Washington, DC, here are two ideas:

  1. Part of the fun of a new home is furnishing it, right? For only $1800, the staff at TEN can furnish an entire two-bedroom apartment for the families they serve. You can host a small fundraiser and use the proceeds to equip a family in need with all the things that make a house a home.
  2. Be honest—don’t you love getting gift cards? So does TEN! They can use cards from places like Target or a grocery store to buy snacks for the kids’ playtime or to recognize outstanding TEN residents.

Families who enter the TEN program face many challenges. But after two years, they are more confident, more connected and with a great community to encourage their continued success. Thanks, TEN, for all the hope and help you’ve given families for the past 15 years!