Friday, May 25, 2012

What did you learn at Target today? Afterschool program combines community engagement and education for kids with special needs.

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Friends at Community Companions!
Brrrrrring! The end-of-day school bell is music to the ears of kids of all ages, signaling the start of their afterschool activities – sports and piano lessons, friends and computer games, and maybe a little homework. The same goes for kids with autism and other special needs living in Montgomery County. For them, the school bell signals the start of one of the best parts of their day: Community Companions afterschool program.

Community Companions fills a gap in services for children with developmental disabilities, who may need extra support to succeed academically. “We try to enhance what the kids are learning in school through therapeutic activities, as well as meet their individual developmental goals,” said Monique Abbott-Davis, Senior Manager of Community Companions. Taking place after school, Community Companions also supports parents and caregivers, allowing them to finish up their workday or get some well-deserved rest. “It’s really a program for the students as well as for the family,” Monique said.
Ben, 9, is a huge fan of the classroom fish tank.

Tawan, an eleventh-grader with autism, described his favorite Community Companions field trips – Montgomery Mall, Wheaton Park, and Target, where he likes to browse the latest DVD releases. These ventures are fun for the kids, and also help them practice important skills. A field trip to the mall encourages kids to use their math skills when they make a purchase, and a gardening activity demonstrates a plant’s life cycle and structure. The field trips also give the kids experience with money management, socialization, and traveling on the Metro.

Fish tank photography courtesy of Ben, 9.
The students also get to enjoy just being a kid. They play games, shoot hoops, listen to music, and hang out with their friends. It’s these kinds of ordinary activities that prove to be an incredible force of good for the program’s participants, who often feel isolated.

“Some children who are autistic are nonverbal, or they may be more withdrawn than their peers,” said Monique. “This can make them more challenging to understand, and oftentimes people are afraid to try. That’s why it’s very important for our students to be around other people like them. It helps them build a community and see themselves as fitting into a group rather than being different all the time.”

Or maybe Ben, another student with autism, put it best: “I like coming here. I’m with my friends Dee, Matt and Joey!” Ben is a not-so-secret Michael Jackson fan, and he also loves science and sports.

The students fall all along the spectrum of autism and other developmental disorders, so their goals are very individualized. Ben is working on his tone and manners, while Tawan, who’s very talkative, is developing his reading skills and time management.

Participants tend a vegetable garden in the backyard!
“The goals may not seem like great, amazing things,” said Debbie Shanholtz, Administrative Manager for Kennedy. “It might be going from Velcro to regular laces when they learn to tie their shoes. Or a nonverbal student will suddenly say something, or sing along to a song on the radio. No matter how big or how small, seeing them reach those milestones is really the most rewarding part of our work.”  

Last month, the Community Companions program attended a fundraiser at the Green Turtle in Olney, MD, to help support the Autism Society of Montgomery County. “It was so great to see our own little community here at Kennedy, supporting the larger autistic community,” said Monique. The kids also coordinated a 50/50 raffle to support their program! You can make a donation online to support our Kennedy Institute’s outreaches to children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Community Companions is not just an afterschool program! They also run programs on Saturday afternoons, winter and spring school breaks, and throughout the summer. Learn more here.

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See some kids from our Kennedy Institute featured in our new agency video, available on YouTube!
Our Kennedy Institute has a full range of services for adults and children with developmental disabilities. Learn more here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Pomp and Circumstance for our Green Construction Training Program's Class of 2012

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Congratulations to our Spanish Catholic Center's Green Construction Training Program Class of 2012! Today they participated in a special graduation ceremony in downtown Washington to celebrate their accomplishments. All graduates are equipped with specialized training in green construction technology, giving them the tools they need to find stable and meaningful employment in a growing industry. 

"You are in so many ways the future. So many organizations and agencies will benefit from your skills. It's inspiring to see how seriously you take your training," said Fr. Mario Dorsonville, Director of the Spanish Catholic Center. 

Special thanks to the Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs, Clark Concrete (part of Clark Construction) and the National Council of La Raza for their support of the construction program and the graduates. 

Join us in congratulating the 51 graduates on their monumental accomplishment! Scroll down to see pictures from today's ceremony. 

Graduates process in to the sound of "Pomp and Circumstance".
Fifty-two graduates received diplomas from the program!
Tasty graduation cake - can you believe it's homemade?
Graduates are now prepared for a successful career in the construction industry.

The ceremonial hat toss.
Graduates pose with Spanish Catholic Center, Celia Sterling and Melida Chacon.
Father John addresses the proud graduates.
Spanish Catholic Center staff with Father John.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

What Mothers Mean to Catholic Charities

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Guest Post from Father John
President and CEO, Catholic Charities

Happy Mother's Day!

Earlier this week, I emailed all of our staff to ask them, in light of Mother’s Day, what do mothers mean to our work at Catholic Charities? Their responses really touched me, and I wanted to share them here with you:

"I currently work in supported employment but over the duration of my career in a people helping industry I have worked with numerous mom’s and many mothers. Mother’s Day to me is a celebration of mothers, women who dedicate their lives, their hearts and minds to nurturing a generation of life and hope. These wonderful women endure hardships, suffering, pain and give unconditionally to celebrate in the successes of a bright and loving future."
-Kristina, Catholic Charities' Kennedy Institute

I guess the best words describing mothers are love, care and faith. That is how I always think of my own mom, how she has been the God’s quiet instrument who will always reinforce His presence in our lives. 
-Rev. Dorsonville, Catholic Charities' Spanish Catholic Center

I have 5 sons who have wives, children and significant others. We all gather at my house every Sunday, so, you see, Mothers’ Day for me is year-round. My mother lives with me and is an amputee with asthma. She had 5 sons also, but has lost three of them. The time she spends with my sons and grandchildren is so special to her. 
In my work, I hear stories of mothers who do not have any kind of relationship with their children. I have invited some of them to our family gatherings. Some have formed lasting friendships with my people and now call them family. I am so lucky and blessed that I just need to share my blessings sometimes. That’s why I bring baked goods, candy, etc to work. It’s a great feeling to share.
-Dorothy, Finance
When I was young, I thought my mother was just like everyone else. She was the sweetest, kindest person I’ve met in my whole life, and that’s something that everyone would say. Her life was guided by kindness, faith and love for her church.
-Debi,  Immigration Legal Services

Mother’s Day is special for first time parents who have been blessed to have adopted a child. What a wonderful gift from God!
-Roselyn, Pregnancy and Adoptions 

We had six kids in our family, and when I was young, I remember thinking that I had to compete for attention, love and affection.  And when I was finally old enough to share those feelings with my mother, she made sure to give me some time and attention so she could explain to me about love. Love, she said, was a magical, wonderful gift.  It was the only gift that never ran out.  It was constantly available and renewable, by anyone who needed more, at any time.  She would have all the love I would need my whole life, not only for me, but for each and everyone in our family, and anyone else who needed it.  And she told me that I too, had the ability to call forth as much love as I would need to share with others.This really is  part of our human nature.  It just isn’t always something we recognize.
-Denise, Adult and Family Services

I am a mother but that’s not what makes Mother’s Day special for me, because prior to giving birth I always felt like a spiritual mother to whomever needed me. Mothers are giving of themselves and I pray I will eternally be a selfless giver to those in need. 
-Natosha, Catholic Charities

When I was a child, there were lots of knocks on our back door from people needing a little food, a little bit of money.  My mother gave something to everyone! When Catholic refuges were escaping Communist Hungary in 1956, she was an official 'sponsor' to anyone who needed a US destination, whether they were a relative or not. She housed them, fed them, did their laundry, taught them English and helped them find a job.
-Barbara, Volunteer under Ignatian Volunteer Corp Program

Who doesn’t feel tears to see the face of a woman in a famine ravaged country holding her starving children – helpless to ease their suffering?  Many of us will never get to a third world county to help those mothers directly.  We have homeless mothers who have nowhere to go with their children and no way to provide for their needs daily.   They too suffer and feel helpless and need others to help them out of poverty and homelessness.
-Sr. Mary Louise, Tenants Empowerment Network

Each woman has the opportunity to act the role of a mother in her life, whether or not she has children. Some women play the role of a mother for our clients; mother for a single father and his children; and mothers of our neighbors.
-Aminta, Refugee Center
When I think about Mother’s Day and what it means to my clients, I think of the sacrifice. A Salvadoran client of mine has been waiting for over 12 years for her immigration case to go through so she can become a permanent resident. Because of government delays, she still has another two years to wait. She recently learned from her family in El Salvador her elderly mother is very ill. My client desperately wants to go home to see her mother before she passes away, but if she leaves, she will abandon her immigration case and have to face a ten-year bar before she can return. She has three children here in the US and five grandchildren she supports. She has to make a choice between abandoning her life here in the US and all the family members who rely on her, or giving up the chance of seeing her mother one last time.This client exemplifies for me what Mother’s Day means to immigrant women – the mothers and grandmothers who bravely and quietly sacrifice so much of their own lives every day in the hopes that their children might have a brighter future. 
-Caitlin, Immigration Legal Services

Mother’s Day is special to me because I remember the VIP women in my family. My mother gave birth me at age 13 years and my grandmother who raised me.
-Tsedale, Hermano Pedro

No matter my age, single or married, or where my parents were living, wherever Mom was, there was Home. The house felt different with her in it in health and in sickness. When she was close by, all of us were well.
-Ray, Facilities and Administration

Mother’s Day is day of pride  and love both for and from your children.  No mother should ever have to feel like a failure.  When we provide a small bit of relief from their crisis, we see the light that should always be in their eyes. I guess Mother’s Day is a chance at rebirth of your love and hopes for yourself and the children you have been blessed with. In a way motherhood means knowing what you need to do for your children and hurting when you can’t provide it.
-Brenda, Southern Maryland Food Bank

Growing up, my mother was a medical interviewer for a study of children with Down’s Syndrome at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. I used to go out to the homes of the families with her and play with the children while she interviewed their mothers. At 9 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher of these children when I grew up. I never really considered any career other than special education. My mom supported my dream all the way, and I am so grateful that she did. At 96, she still is my biggest cheerleader and has encouraged me throughout my career.
-Abby, Professional Development
For me, every single day is Mother’s Day - at home and in the workplace, I function unconditionally with love, respect & kindness…always going the extra mile. I do my best even when no one is watching!
-Cristina, Finance

Mother’s Day has provided the Outreach team an opportunity to connect mothers from different walks of life to each other, in this case mothers in need with those who have resources to share. Based on the Outreach Division’s recent visits with programs throughout the agency, we learned about the Early Head Start program at the Kennedy School. This program works with at-risk young moms and their babies who live in the District of Columbia. One of the needs for this program is basic infant and baby items: diapers, formula, books, educational toys, baby proofing gadgets. These are expensive items and many families struggle to provide them for their children. We reached out to a couple of parishes that we know have mothers groups of one form  or another and invited them to be part of this drive.  Not only will we likely have some items to donate to the Early Head Start Program (drive goes through the end of May) but it was a great way let moms in these parishes know about this CC program. 
-Jackie, Outreach Division

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We’re collecting donations of new and gently-used baby clothes, diapers, and more for our “Beautiful Blessings” Baby Goods Drive throughout May!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Honoring Our Mothers

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Father John recently visited our Sanctuaries for Life program
Guest Post from Father John
President & CEO of Catholic Charities

I have always believed that God endows mothers with special gifts. When I think of my own mother, I think first of her sacrifice. I was one of 13 children, so my mom gave of herself on behalf of her children each and every day. What does it mean to change diapers for so many years, or to patch up skinned knees, or to cook for a big family every single night? It means care, kindness, love, and commitment. And my mom was best at those things.

My mom was my coach – not in football and basketball and baseball – but in the most important things in life. Like how to care for others, how to be nice, how to be loving to my brothers and sisters, and how to see each person as someone deserving of my compassion. These gifts from my mother continue to be a guiding force in my life, as well as a guiding force for the work we do here at Catholic Charities.

This Mother’s Day, please keep in your prayers the many, many moms in our community who are facing tremendous challenges. They may be struggling to feed their children, to shelter them, and to give them the gifts so many of us take for granted: security, happiness, and hope.

Each day Catholic Charities reaches out to these moms to help them in their struggles. Our Sanctuaries for Life program in Wheaton is there providing assistance to women with their pregnancies, helping them make life-affirming decisions for themselves and their children. Our Tenants Empowerment Network in southeast DC provides families who are homeless with an apartment and then works with them to find stable employment and childcare so they can get back on their feet. And our THRIVE program helps young people, often already mothers (and fathers) themselves, transitioning out of foster care to learn to live independently.

These programs exist only because you and others like you care enough to make them work. And so, in the spirit of Mother’s Day, let’s work to help every mother, every child, and every person in need realize the beauty and bounty of God’s blessings.

More Catholic Charities

We’re collecting donations of new and gently-used baby clothes, diapers, and more for our “Beautiful Blessings” Baby Goods Drive throughout May!

Learn more about our programs for mothers and families in need, including Sanctuaries for Life, Tenants Empowerment Network, and THRIVE.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Over $2 million raised in a single night to fund our good works in the Archdiocese of Washington

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Stacie and Lou Christopher, our 2012 Gala Chairs
This week each person who is part of our Catholic Charities family can smile a little brighter, because together, we’ve done something incredible. On Saturday night, for the first time ever, our annual Gala raised over $2 million! 

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes wowed the crowds!
This milestone is an important one for the Gala.  During the most challenging times of the recession, donors to the event helped Catholic Charities raise more than $1.2 million at the event for each of the past three years. These funds were critical as local governments made cuts and the demand for help increased. Thanks to the leadership of Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and Gala Chairs Stacie and Lou Christopher, this year’s Gala has broken through the recession, raising a grand total of $2,009,000 to equip our 77 programs with resources to bring help and hope to even more people in need.

Cardinal Wuerl and Father John
“Now is a critical time in our community. It’s still too hard for a family to get up when they’re knocked down.  This Gala ensures our programs can provide food, offer job training and deliver medical care,” said Msgr. John Enzler (Father John), our President and CEO.
An incredible show of support for Catholic Charities!
The dancing began when Southside Johnny took the stage!

The Christophers, close friends of Father John’s from his time as pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, themed this year’s event “Share the Spirit of Hope – Light the Way.” In a special video presentation, supporters got a glimpse of several individuals for whom Catholic Charities has lit the way to a more hopeful and independent life: a single mother who received support through our TEN program, a group of students with developmental disabilities who are making academic strides through our Kennedy Institute, and Eric Hardy, a young man featured on our blog not long ago, who overcame homelessness through the help of our Fortitude Housing program. 

We were honored to welcome Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, as the recipient of our 2012 Voice of Hope Award, celebrating his enormous philanthropic contributions both here in the archdiocese and abroad. The event, held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, also included a cocktail hour, elegant dinner, and plenty of dancing once Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes heated up the stage with rock-and-roll favorites. 

At one special moment, Father John looked around the ballroom and asked the crowd to raise their hands if they wanted to support the work of Catholic Charities. The sea of hands that swelled in the next moment sent out a powerful message that our neighbors in need are not alone in their struggles – they have over a thousand hands outstretched to help them! 

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Even more Gala pictures are available here
Save the Date: Next year’s Foundation Gala will be held on Saturday, April 27, 2013 with Gala Chairs Jean-Marie and Raul Fernandez.

Want to hear about more Catholic Charities events? Fan us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter! Visit our website!

Missed the Gala, but still want to support our work? Make a donation here!