Friday, April 27, 2012

Archdiocesan Legal Network recognizes their fleet of volunteers, whose pro bono contributions total $10M!

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Scovia Namutosi of our ALN greets Todd Coles
Imagine how scary it must be for a family living on a very tight budget and feeling alone to try and face a complex legal situation – like a landlord who won’t make critical repairs at your home, or being wrongly fired from your job, or having to fight for the right to keep your child.

This is the need our Archdiocesan Legal Network meets. More than 1,400 people received some form of legal assistance last year with a civil matter. And that’s only possible thanks to the 600 attorneys and 60 law firms who step up and offer their services pro bono.

So, on Tuesday, April 24, we said thank you.

Renee Stake (2nd from left), an ALN volunteer award recipient
“These volunteers are the lifeblood of the Legal Network,” said Jim Bishop, Senior Program Manager for the Archdiocesan Legal Network. “They know the critical legal issues that people may be facing, whether it’s domestic violence, or benefits disputes, or custody issues. It’s hard to get through those situations without professional legal help, which can be difficult to afford for people with limited income.”

The Legal Network honored several corporate and individual volunteers for their outstanding contributions to the program’s work:
  • The Milan C. Miskovsky Award was presented to Hewlett Packard Company, whose employees regularly assist the Legal Network’s with its intake clinic.
  • The Cardinal Hickey Award was presented to Renee M. Stake, Manager of Marketing & Client Services at Troutman Sanders LLP, who organizes a benefit golf tournament each year for the Legal Network; and to William E. Lawler, III, of Vinson & Elkins LLP, the Legal Network’s outgoing Advisory Council Chair.
  • The Legal Network also recognized outgoing Advisory Council Members: H. Christopher Bartolomucci, William A. Geoghegan, Gregory J. Granitto, Joyce T. Gwadz, Terence M. Hynes, David M. Orta, and Thomas D. Yannucci.
Julie LaFave from HP accepts award from Jim Bishop
Both Bishop Barry C. Knestout, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, and Father John, President and CEO of Catholic Charities, were in attendance to thank these volunteers for their enormous contributions. “The people we serve here at Catholic Charities have many complex needs,” said Father John.  “We are so grateful to these volunteer legal professionals, who recognize the gifts they’ve been given with their talents and educations, and now are giving back to their community through our Legal Network.”
Raymond S.E. Pushkar, Susie Hoffman &Chris Bartolomucci

Read On!

Read more great stories about our Archdiocesan Legal Network.

Interested in the services offered by our Legal Network? Are you a legal professional who is interested in helping out? Visit their program page here. You can also make a donation directly to the Legal Network here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Your All-Access, Do-Gooders' Pass to Saturday, April 28!

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Students will do beautification projects at program sites!

We are pumped for Saturday, April 28. Are you?

It’s one day with two big ways to support the people we serve. Whether you’re doing volunteer work with fellow high-school students as part of our first-ever Youth Service Day, or dancing the night away at our annual black-tie Catholic Charities Foundation Gala, April 28 is an opportunity to get involved and be part of our mission to serve. Here are the details:

1st Annual Youth Service Day: More than 100 students have already signed up to participate in our first annual Catholic Charities Youth Service Day. The event begins at 10 a.m. at Gonzaga College High School in northwest Washington, where participants will meet up with friends, celebrate Mass, then head out to one of our programs for their service experience (details are TBA – check out our Facebook event page for updates!). Afterwards, the group will reunite at Gonzaga for an after-party, where there will be plenty of food, music, and even a performance by Mr. Michael Tenney of St. Vincent Pallotti.

“Students can have a huge impact on ending poverty through service – we want to tap into this potential,” said Vince Vaghi, Outreach Assistant. “Since this is the first year of the event, we’re really just looking forward to seeing what can be done when we combine all these kids’ talents, their enthusiasm and energy, and their compassion.”

Participating schools include Academy of the Holy Cross, Bishop McNamara, DeMatha, Elizabeth Seton, Georgetown Visitation, Gonzaga College, St. Vincent Pallotti, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, plus several Archdiocese of Washington youth groups. Need more information? Do you think your school or youth group might be interested in participating? Call Deacon Jim Nalls, Parish/School Program Manager, at (202) 772-4310 for more information and be sure to check out event details online!

Last year's Gala raised $1.2 million to support our work!
Foundation Gala: Our annual Foundation Gala is a Catholic Charities tradition! Join His Eminence, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, for this special black-tie affair held at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. The evening features a cocktail reception, seated dinner, dancing, and live entertainment – this year we’re welcoming rock ‘n’ rollers Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes! We are hoping for over 1000 guests, all of whom share in our belief in the profound good that Catholic Charities does for men, women and children in our local community. All those philanthropic good vibes and shared support make the event feel more like a fancy family party for us!

At this year’s Gala we will honor Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, with the 2012 Voice of Hope Award. Cardinal McCarrick is a dear friend of our organization, and he has devoted his life to addressing social injustices.

This year’s Gala, chaired by Stacie and Lou Christopher of Blessed Sacrament Parish, begins at 6:30 p.m. There are still some seats left – for tickets, call Kimani at (202) 772-4331. Young professional rates are also available!

Want more information?
Make a difference any day through one of our many volunteer opportunities.
Even if you can’t make it to the event, you can still support our work!

Read on!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Once a Drug Dealer, Now a Peace Maker – DC Pastor Partners with Catholic Charities to End Drug Violence in his Neighborhood

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On a recent weekday, the Carver Terrace neighborhood in northeast Washington, DC is quiet and completely unremarkable. The sidewalks are clean, the trash is well-maintained, and during the day, people walk to and from taking care of errands or catching up with neighbors.

So what, right?

According to local pastor, activist and longtime resident District Elder Darrell Lewis, that’s a major step forward.

The Carver Terrace neighborhood has a violent history. Going back to the 1980s, it was known as the “War Zone” by residents. As recently as last fall, the neighborhood was gripped in a series of deadly shootings between rival drug dealers, a problem that left many of the longtime residents afraid to leave their homes at night.

District Elder Lewis is pastor at Family Community Fellowship, a church and community center in the heart of Carver Terrace, working since the mid-1990s to meet both spiritual and tangible needs in his community.  

(l to r) District Elder Darrel Lewis, Darryl Colbert and Darrel Lewis, Jr.
When the violence spiked and many of his congregants feared leaving their home even to walk down the street to church, District Elder Lewis reached out for help to an old friend, Catholic Charities’ Darryl Colbert.

Colbert has worked in all aspects of substance abuse for more than 20 years – as a personal counselor for those recovering from addiction to being a voice of reason to talk young people away from seeing drugs as a means of income and escape.  Lewis asked Colbert to help him approach the warring youths and try to find a solution to end the violence.

Though the drug trade in urban centers may seem hopeless to outsiders, Lewis knew most of these kids growing up and he knew they wanted more. They just didn’t believe it was possible.

But, if anyone could show the troubled youth of Carver Terrace a better way forward, it was him. After all, more than 30 years ago, District Elder Darrell Lewis was once a young man selling drugs in this same neighborhood and fighting for his life.

“We’ve never spoken, but I know you.”
In the late 1980s, long before he founded his community center and church, Darrell Lewis ran the streets of Carver Terrace as a drug dealer. Addicted to the drugs he was selling and believing he had no potential for more, he lived with the expectation he might die any day. Instead, he landed in prison.

District Elder Darrel Lewis talked about his journey
from being part of the drug trade to trying to end it.
But, as he emphatically states, prison wasn’t a bad thing.

“In jail, I saw just how much of mess I’d made of my life,” said Lewis. “But I also found the opportunity to turn it around. I came back to Jesus, for one. And I started participating in the programs offered to help. I came out ready to make a difference.”

Today, District Elder Darrell Lewis is a pillar in his community. His gentle spirit guides the Family Community Fellowship in its service and ministry. His son, 27-year-old Darrell Lewis, Jr., is a role model to his peers, having never messed with drugs. He works with his dad as a peer to the young people they are reaching out to.

During interviews for this post, we were interrupted by knock at the door.

In stepped a young man, likely in his mid-twenties, who sat down. He wore designer jeans and was neatly kept. He looked right at District Elder Lewis and said, “I’m done. I want to stop doing this.” He sat down. “I don’t want to lose everything in the drug game.”

He had a young daughter and an opportunity to leave the city. But he didn’t know how to quit and he needed help.

For the next 20 minutes, the young man received encouragement and guidance on his next steps to remove himself from the dangerous drug trade.

“Thank you for your help. I’ve known who you are for years, even though we’ve never spoken. Thank you for being here when I was ready,” the young man said before leaving.

After the door closed and the young man had gone, Lewis looked up to the ceiling, folded his hands and said a prayer of thanks.

One Bite at a Time
It’s not easy to get rival drug dealers and neighborhood gangs to stop fighting. But, it’s not rocket science either, Colbert is quick to point out.

“In the end, it is all about economics,” he said. “They are going to do whatever they think is best for them at that moment. Sometimes things get too hot and out of control, which is where we can step in and try to talk some sense into them. We have to show them how they are hurting themselves by hurting the neighborhood. We have to show them they have options. Too often, they believe they can’t get a normal job.”

So, last fall, Colbert and Lewis organized and mediated a series of meetings between representatives of the gangs. Colbert brought the expertise of Catholic Charities and its Parish Partners Program, introducing drug prevention education, GED classes, job training programs, conflict resolution, young father programs and lunch Programs. Lewis opened up the use of Family Community Fellowship’s band equipment to let the rival gangs come together to play music, a shared passion.

They’ve started a Go-Go Band and have been practicing together for more than two months now. And most important, the violence has dropped – dramatically.

“We’re able to hold a revival at our church on a Friday night,” District Elder Lewis said, punctuating the word night. “A few years ago and even a few months ago, we couldn’t get older folks to feel safe enough to leave their homes at night.”

He looks over at his friend Darryl Colbert. “We couldn’t have gotten that far without Catholic Charities and Darryl. We brought the will to make a change, and he brought the way.”

In many ways, the work and partnership between Catholic Charities and Family Community Fellowship is demonstrative of the new direction of Catholic Charities – working together with local community groups, especially the many Catholic Parishes, to stretch the resources and expertise of each to serve as many as possible. And the results so far are highly encouraging.

Of course, Lewis is quick to acknowledge that this doesn’t mean an end to the violence, to the drugs or to the fear. But it is a start.

“You ask me how this can stop something as overwhelming as crime in this community. And I ask you, how do you eat an elephant?” He asks.  “One bite at a time.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Make way for the Cherry Blossom Princesses!

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This morning, our Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute for youth with developmental disabilities played host to some very special guests - the Cherry Blossom Princesses! Each year, the royals spends some time chatting, sharing breakfast and playing games with students at our Kennedy School and the little ones from the Early Head Start Program. Their visit was so popular that many Kennedy students headed outside to wave goodbye as the princesses processed back to their buses. Special thanks to all the princesses for coming by! Scroll down to check out some photos from the big event!

This little girl from our Early Head Start Program has some sash envy!

Chatting it up with one of the Cherry Blossom Princesses.

Colorado's Cherry Blossom Princess smiles with some toddlers from Early Head Start.

A student from our Kennedy School poses with one of the Princesses.

The Princesses had a good time drawing and coloring with the younger students!

Think we see a future Cherry Blossom Princess in the making here!

After breakfast, the Cherry Blossom Princess from Japan (far left) and the Cherry Blossom Queen (far right) presented some books about the famous flowering trees to our students.

Read On!
A story for Easter that touched my heart - from guest blogger Father John!
Supermom learns English to support her son's education

Take Action!
Our Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute has a full range of programs for adults and children with developmental disabilities, as well as their families and caregivers. You can make a donation directly to their work here, or consider volunteering! Call Mayra, our Volunteer Coordinator, at (202) 772-4321 to get started. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A story for Easter that touched my heart

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Guest Post from Father John
President and CEO of Catholic Charities

Dear Friends, 

I greet you on the eve of our most celebrated day of the Christian calendar, Easter!

Originally, I began writing this simply to wish you a blessed Easter and say thank you for your support and prayers, but just last week one of my division directors shared an especially touching moment I’d like to relay.

At our Anchor Mental Health facility in northeast Washington, we see more than 900 adults living with some form of mental illness. Often, these are people who have experienced a significant drop in quality of life, lacking the assistance of professional staff and proper medication management. Others are homeless and often live on the outside of our society, nearly invisible.

A woman who was homeless came in to Anchor, covered from head to toe in dirt and extremely ragged clothes. As you might expect of someone who had spent a lot of time living in the streets, she smelled very strongly. Her hair was twisted into knots and she was in need of a hot shower and medical attention for a number of skin rashes.

As she spoke with a staff member, she burst into tears. “No one will come near me or talk to me. I’m so lonely.” Without hesitation, the staff member embraced her in a long hug, telling her, “I’m right here with you. You’re not alone.”

To me, this is perfect for Easter Sunday. It reminds me of the Scripture where Jesus broke all customs and reached out in love and physically touched those with leprosy. It is how Christ treats all of us – he greets us and embraces us, no matter what. He reminds us, even as he faced and overcame death, that none of us are alone.

To see that translated each day at Catholic Charities is a humbling experience, and I am grateful to be part of such a vibrant and incredible outreach of the Church.

May you have a very blessed Easter Sunday!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Supermom learns English to support her son's education

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Geisiane's graduation from the ESOL Program
Before she first came to the Spanish Catholic Center, Geisiane’s English was limited to words like “fever” and “temperature” for when she had to take her son Nicholas, now 8, to the doctor. “I was too embarrassed about my English to talk to anyone,” she said.

Now, less than a year after her graduation from the SCC’s English for Speakers of OtherLanguages (ESOL) program, Geisiane speaks in rapid and enthusiastic English. She also took advantage of the Center’s career development program, learning how to budget, improve her credit rating, prepare resumes, and even start a college fund for Nicholas, where she tucks away 50 percent of her income.

“I know God opened the doors to the Spanish Catholic Center for me,” she said. “After I began coming here, I was able to do things for myself.  I didn’t need to wait for people to translate things for me.”

Geisiane emigrated 14 years ago from Brazil, where her family was very poor. “Sometimes we had food, and sometimes we didn’t. I wanted more than that,” she said. She got her visa and came to the United States in 1997, and immediately found work – first as a dishwasher, and later as a housecleaner, a job she continues to this day.

Geisiane is now a volunteer at the SCC!
She married and later had her son, Nicholas, of whom she fondly says, “He is my life. He is my dream, my boy.” However, when Nicholas was still just a baby, her marriage fell apart, leaving her a new, single mother in a place where she was still struggling to communicate. Geisiane worked hard to make it work, including bringing Nicholas along with her to the houses she cleaned.

But when Nicholas started school, Geisiane knew it was time to get serious about learning English. “I wanted to be able to use the language he used at school, and help him with his homework at night.” A friend recommended the ESOL program at the Spanish Catholic Center, where she completed three 11-week cycles of English classes. The Center offers programs at all levels of competency, from Beginner I and II to advanced English grammar.

“There was a huge change in her English skills,” said Kathy Diaz, ESOL Coordinator at the SCC’s Gaithersburg location. “And in terms of her commitment, she was a very good student. She always took part in activities and trips – for example, to the library – to help her improve even more.”

Kathy said Geisiane was also an active participant in the family literacy component of the ESOL class, which teaches parents interactive activities to support their child’s reading and writing comprehension in an English-speaking environment. Geisiane’s immersion in the language through these diverse outlets increased her fluency and confidence in English. Her son’s English is even better – “Nicholas corrects me when I make a mistake! I am still learning new things about the language every day,” she said.

And Geisiane loves to learn. “When I first came to the United States, my dream was to buy a house and make money. But I’ve found that money is to pay the bills. You can have money, and then you can lose it. More than money is education. No one can take this from you.”

Today, she is a regular volunteer at the Spanish Catholic Center, where she is learning administrative and accounting skills. “I’m the clown here when I visit, laughing and joking with everyone, but when I volunteer, I am serious about my work,” she said. “Volunteering here is an opportunity to give a little in return for everything the Center did for me.”

Nicholas, a third-grader, has inherited his mother’s love of learning. Geisiane’s biggest dream is to see him graduate from college, and he already has his university picked out. He went with Geisiane when she was housecleaning a place near Georgetown University, and Geisiane says it was love at first sight. Her boss’s daughter even gave him a stuffed Jack the Bulldog, Georgetown’s mascot, as inspiration for his dream.

“I tell him he has to study hard and work hard, if he wants to go to Georgetown.” 

Take action!

Read on!