Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"Love is Shown More in Deeds than in Words"

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Fr. John chats with guests at the Caritas Mass. Scroll down
for even more pictures from this annual event!
On Sunday, our Catholic Charities family gathered at St. Patrick Church in downtown Washington to celebrate some VIPs - our incredible volunteers. 

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote, "Love is shown more in deeds than in words." The love of our volunteers for their neighbors in need is evinced plainly in their commitment to service. The annual Caritas Mass and Awards is our way to say "thank you" in a small way for the many enormous contributions of time and talent of these volunteers.

We also recognized in a special a few of our most extraordinary volunteers whose efforts have had a tremendous impact on Catholic Charities' ministry to the most vulnerable members of our community. Our 2012 recipients:

Patricia Wallace Service Award - Stacie and Lou Christopher

Father John O'Connor Empowerment Award - Michael Curtin
Monsignor Geno Baroni Advocacy Award - Ruth Runyan

Caritas Award Recipients pose with Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington (left) and Msgr. John Enzler, President and CEO of Catholic Charities (right)

Doug Donatelli, Chair of Catholic Charities Board of Directors,
welcomes guests to the Caritas Awards.

Our award recipients were cheered on by their family, friends, and
the Catholic Charities community!

Stacie and Lou Christopher received the Patricia Wallace Service Award in recognition
of their services to Catholic Charities as our 2012 Gala Chairs.

Bishop Knestout greets Mike Curtin, recipient of the Father John O'Connor
Empowerment Award. Mike served on Catholic Charities Board for nine years!

Caritas Recipient Ruth Runyan has been described as a "godsend," volunteering several days a week with Catholic Charities' Office of Planning and Performance Improvement.

 Msgr. Enzler greets guests before the Caritas Mass.

Following the Mass and Awards Ceremony, guests enjoyed a reception next door at
Catholic Charities' downtown office. Thank you to all who came out to celebrate with us - and thanks most of all to our incredible volunteer force and all the positive change you help enact in the Archdiocese of Washington. You are a true blessing!

More Catholic Charities!
Meet the recipients of Catholic Charities Caritas awards, and learn about their incredible contributions here!

Be one of many - join our volunteer force! There are many special upcoming projects for the holidays, and we need your help:

Want to stay updated about Catholic Charities' special events, news and more? Subscribe to our emails (we promise not to clog your inbox!)

Stay tuned...we'll have an update on how our programs handled Hurricane Sandy coming your way soon!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Breaking a Long-Held Silence

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Our ILS team is sensitive to the many issues
facing immigrants and refugees
 Morowa (client’s name changed to protect privacy) grew up in Ghana – one of very few African countries with a law against domestic violence, but one of many where spousal abuse is culturally accepted.

“Everyone knows it is happening,” Morowa said. “Women – our mothers and sisters and friends – have black eyes and bruises, but they keep silent. They think they are protecting their family that way. It’s what my own mother did, and I did the same.”

Heidi Boas has seen the dangers of domestic abuse up close. As a senior attorney with Charities’ Immigration Legal Services, Heidi specializes in cases like Morowa’s and even worked for a time in Ghana. She knew the problem of domestic violence was deeply-rooted, and that it didn’t go away for women who immigrated to the United States.

So five years ago, Heidi teamed up with the Montgomery County Abused Persons Program (MCAPP) to hold the first African Women’s Empowerment Workshop, a daylong event to help survivors of domestic violence find their footing in the United States.

Heidi Boas has been coordinating the
African Women's Empowerment
Workshop for the past five years.
“Heidi and the Empowerment Workshop turned my life around,” Morowa said. She had fled to the United States after divorcing her abusive husband in Ghana. Here in the States, she remarried and, sadly, faced even more abuse. “I was not legal in the United States, and he was,” she said. “I thought if I said something, I’d get deported and lose my three daughters. I was struck dumb with the fear of that.”

But one day the abuse was too much to bear. Terrified, Morowa called the police and was referred to the MCAPP, where she learned about the Empowerment Workshop. “I was skeptical of going. I believed I should be ashamed of what happened and keep it private. But at the Workshop I learned this was not the case, and that I can live a normal life.”

An important part of the workshop is educating survivors about immigration and family law, as many victims hold expired visas and worry they will get deported if they call the police. “We started inviting a police officer to speak at the event, to help take the stigma of fear away,” Heidi said.

Thanks to input from the participants, the workshop has grown to address other critical needs of this vulnerable community. Survivors learn about housing programs, as many women who leave an abusive spouse are left homeless. The workshop also features a session on education and employment, to help survivors find a road to financial independence.

“The workshop was my first step in becoming a legal citizen,” Morowa said. “Last year in July I got my green card, and I never even dreamed this could happen. Now I have earned my GED, and I’m going to college. And my daughters – the biggest change is in them. I thought I was protecting them by staying silent. But we like being a very loud family,” she said, laughing.

“I teach them all, even the youngest, who is only eight years old – that no one has any right to intimidate them or stop them from being themselves.”

Now, rather than staying silent, Morowa is speaking out. She will be one of the survivors speaking at the Empowerment Workshop this year, and is planning a trip back home to Ghana to help educate women in her community. “Someone needs to speak up. I’m going to be a voice for the women and children.”

More Catholic Charities!
The 5th Annual Women’s Empowerment Workshop will be held on Saturday, October 27. View the flyer here.

If this cause is important to you, please consider a donation. Your financial support will help cover the cost of outreach, materials, refreshments, speakers, and child care, and will help ensure that this workshop will continue to thrive in years to come. To make a donation to support the African Women’s Empowerment Workshop, please make your check payable to Catholic Charities and write in the memo line “African Women’s Empowerment Workshop.”  Checks should be mailed to the attention of: Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services / 924 G St. NW / Washington, D.C. 20001.

If you need information about an immigration legal matter, please visit Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services website.

Read Becky’s story – she’s another survivor of domestic violence who found her strength with help from Catholic Charities.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Mythbusting Poverty and Homelessness

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Kenita's first priority is always her three beautiful children
Kenita Jackson is a myth buster. She takes people’s stereotypes about poverty and blows them out of the water.

At first glance, many might look at Kenita and see a young single mother of three, no job, living in subsidized housing.

And at that point, too many of them might just write her off.

But take another look. You’ll be amazed. And impressed.

Kenita struggled for years to find a safe and secure home for herself and her three young daughters. When she finally had no resources left she turned, very reluctantly, to Catholic Charities for help.

“One thing you should know about me,” she said, “is that I really hate asking for help. I need to be able to take care of myself and my children.”

She didn't want a hand out, but she did need a hand up - and that's exactly what she found at Catholic Charities' Tenants Empowerment Network (TEN). They helped her afford a decent place to live for her family. And she has been thankful for the financial and parenting classes offered through the program.

Kenita with her case manager, Sr. Bernadette,  at TEN
For every bit of help Kenita's received, she’s given back that much or more in effort, initiative, and unshakeable optimism about her future.

For example, she spent more than a year training as a Medical Administrative Assistant. Each morning she’d get up at 4:00 a.m. in order to take her children to two different daycare centers, and then make it to class by 8:30 sharp.

Today, she has completed her courses and is looking hard for work. In this economy it’s not easy, but Kenita says, “I’m not worried. Catholic Charities has equipped me with so many skills, I know I can handle whatever comes. And I know I’ll never be homeless again.”

That’s what we mean when we say Kenita is a myth buster. Her enthusiasm for life, her drive and spark, and absolute commitment to building a better life, are an inspiring contrast to how many people think about the poor.

In fact, she’s been an inspiration to everyone here at Catholic Charities as well. When we see how hard she works, and the effort she puts into making a positive change for herself and her children, we find our own faith renewed and strengthened.

In Mark, Jesus tells us, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave to all. For the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 43-45). Kenita’s living example of optimism and determination can challenge and inspire each of us to do more. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why the Food Stamp Challenge Matters

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Today, Father John finishes up a week-long “diet.”

He pledged, through the DC Hunger Solutions’s Food Stamp Challenge, to spend no more than $30 on food for the entire week. No free food or drinks. No using food already in your pantry. That’s $4.30 a day. He did this to stand in solidarity with the poor, with families and individuals who depend on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to help them put food on the table when they fall on hard times. 

For Father John's work, sharing meals with clients and donors
alike was a critical sacrifice he had to work around during the
Food Stamp Challenge.
Obviously, this is no diet. But the metaphor brings the message home. 

And that’s the point of the Food Stamp Challenge, to put perspective on hunger for those of us who don’t worry about our next meal. I work down the hall from Father John’s office, and I’ve been working with him on his daily video blogs as the Food Stamp Challenge went along. 

I love to stay active and exercise.  It helps me work off stress, sleep well at night and find balance in my life. Until last week, I never realized how much of a luxury it was. I love to eat fresh veggies and fruits every day. I love sweets. And, as I stay very active, I eat a lot of food. Even as I pride myself on saving money by packing a lunch most days and not wasting any food, a quick tally shows just how dramatically I’d have to scale back my activities. Thirty dollars doesn’t get you far. 

The SHARE Food Network is built around providing
affordable and nutritious meals to those on a limited budget.
The Food Stamp Challenge is about much more than food. Like most instances of poverty, it paints a stark picture that low-income families have fewer opportunities for happiness and success. How big can a parent dream when they lay awake worried about feeding their children? How much harder is it to succeed at work or in school for someone who is constantly hungry? There’s a huge opportunity cost for our community coming from hunger.  

The Food Stamp Challenge is hardly an accurate experience of what many families receiving SNAP benefits experience. After today, Father John can resume his normal eating habits, while many families will remain unsure of how they’ll put food on the table and pay the rent. 

Last year, the Southern Maryland Food Bank distributed more
than 800,000 pounds of food to pantries.
But it’s a valuable reminder that we always benefit from spending a little time seeing the world from a fresh perspective. In this case, the Food Stamp Challenge shows us just how challenging food stamps can be to feed a family or even a single adult.

They remain a critically important part of the safety net, but filling the gap between what is provided and what is needed is what organizations like Catholic Charities do – only with your help. 

If you’re feeling inspired by the Food Stamp Challenge, get involved with Catholic Charities. Here are a few of our programs working to help put food on the table for our hungry neighbors:

Days 5-7: Father John's Food Stamp Challenge Journal

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The final days of the Food Stamp Challenge brought a new hurdle: the weekend. For those who do not need to worry about a $30/week budget, the weekend is a time for dining out with friends, grabbing a quick bite during Saturday errands, or enjoying brunch after Mass. But for someone living on Food Stamps, these treats are often out of reach. 

Find out how Fr. John fared:

The Food Stamp Challenge may be over, but the daily challenge people on Food Stamps face is not. Our programs at Catholic Charities help struggling families on Food Stamps make the most of their money, as well as supplement their government aid. Please help us help our neighbors through a donation or get involved here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Day 4: Father John's Food Stamp Challenge Journal

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Senior hunger - it's a huge problem in our community, where many men and women in this vulnerable population face a constant and difficult choice between medication and groceries. It's a choice no one should have to face. 

But there's hope, which Father John hits on today. Recently Catholic Charities' Food Service Program received a two-year government contract to serve nutritious meals to 700-800 elderly DC residents each day. Watch to learn more!

More Catholic Charities!
Catholic Charities' Food Service Program provides meals to schools, community groups, and - more recently - home-bound seniors, all while providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities or mental illnesses. 

Looking for a great way to volunteer in your community, while fighting hunger? Prepare a meal for clients at one of our shelters. Get involved here!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Day 3: Father John's Food Stamp Challenge Journal

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It's Day 3 of DC Hunger Solution's Food Stamp Challenge. Father John makes an important point about eating on only $30 a week: "You can find food at that price. But is it good, healthy food?" By trying to stay healthy with fruits and vegetable, he finds there's very little left in the budget for carbs and protein. Please watch and talk back to us @CCADW and @FrJohnEnzler!

More Catholic Charities!
Today we're highlighting Catholic Charities' Southern Maryland Bank. Last month alone they distributed an incredible 61,000 pounds of food to families in need, including fresh produce and nonperishable staples.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Day 2: Father John's Food Stamp Challenge Journal

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Day 2 and Father John is already feeling a little hungry...

More Catholic Charities!
Father John's not the only one on the Food Stamp Challenge! Check out the Challenge Diary, updated often to give you participants' perspective. Our very own Family Support Specialist Briena Jordan is participating too!

Save money on your groceries while helping your neighbors in need through our SHARE Food Network


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Day 1: Father John's Food Stamp Challenge Journal

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We all know what it feels like to be hungry. But do we know what it feels like to suffer from hunger? 

Right here in the District, one in eight households face a constant struggle to get food on the table. For families who qualify for Food Stamps - totaling $30 a week per person - the expense of healthful foods is often out of reach. 

To help raise awareness about the situation, Father John is taking the Food Stamp Challenge from October 9 to October 15 - trying his best to eat on only $30 a week. Please follow his journey with us here!

More Catholic Charities!
We help people stretch their food budgets with a variety of programs. Know someone in need? Want to volunteer? Learn more here!
The Food Stamp Challenge is famous! Check out coverage on ABC7.
Find out more about the Challenge from DC Hunger Solutions.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Judgment-Free Zone for Moms in Need

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Sanctuaries for Life is helping Trinity (not pictured) to have a
healthy delivery for her twins, despite having few resources.
Trinity (client’s name changed to protect privacy) is convinced that God works through Google, because when she went online looking for an abortion clinic, she found instead a world of help and hope for her and her unborn twins.

“Once I came to Catholic Charities, I stopped being nervous,” Trinity said, then laughed. “Well, I’m not nervous about my pregnancy anymore. Of course I’m a little worried about raising twins, right?”

Trinity is a client at Catholic Charities’ Sanctuaries for Life (SFL), a program providing all-around support to pregnant women who are financially strapped, facing a medically risky pregnancy, or abortion vulnerable.

“We do our best to help a woman overcome whatever might hold her back from carrying her baby,” said Ana Menjivar, Prenatal Care Coordinator. “Sanctuaries shows women that they are not alone, and we help with their very real needs – physical, financial, and spiritual.”

Sanctuaries for Life can connect families
with many resources besides the prenatal care
many expectant mothers come for.
Like many clients at SFL, Trinity believed that an abortion was her only choice. Originally from Jamaica, she came to the United States on a work visa, yet she can only find part-time restaurant work to support herself and her two-year-old son, whose father passed away.

So when Trinity suspected she was pregnant, she panicked and went online to find an abortion clinic. Miraculously, her search yielded Birthright of Montgomery County, a prolife agency. There, Trinity received a free pregnancy test and sonogram.

That’s when she discovered she was carrying twins.
“Seeing that sonogram was scary at first. I knew I couldn’t go through with an abortion anymore after seeing my two babies, but I still didn’t know what to do, how I would afford the medical care. So Birthright referred me to Catholic Charities for help.”

Sonograms alone can cost up to $500 each for an uninsured mom-to-be, but our SFL covers the costs of all Trinity’s prenatal care.

Father John visited Sanctuaries for Life to
meet some of the women and their children who have
been helped in the past.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Trinity. “At Sanctuaries no one judges me about my past, or makes me feel like I did something wrong. They only look at my needs and how they can help. I’m glad I found them, even though it was sort of by accident. I guess that’s just how God works.”

Trinity’s due date is at the end of February. A recent sonogram confirmed the sex of one of the twins – a boy. “My son will be so happy to have a little brother.”

More Catholic Charities
Do you know someone experiencing a crisis pregnancy? Please refer them to our Sanctuaries for Life to get the help they need.

October is Respect Life Month. Learn more from the USCCB!

Donations ensure that Sanctuaries can help women get prenatal care for their baby’s health. Please give to help moms, and babies, in need.

How will you make a difference? Just a few ways to help our clients: our Joseph’s Coats of Many Colors Drive and Adopt-a-Shelter Program.