Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter from Catholic Charities!

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Across the Washington, DC region this Easter morning, over 126,000 children and adults are waking up with hope thanks to the help they received from Catholic Charities. Each of their stories is filled with the joy of resurrection: job training when they were unemployed, a meal on the table when they couldn't afford food, a bed to sleep in when they were homeless. 

These stories of everyday resurrection are made possible because of your support. Thank you and may you and your family enjoy a blessed Easter season!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Philanthropy - with a Side of Salsa!

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Beautiful Sueños Lanterns illuminated
the Hall of Flags!
The men, women, and children who turn to Catholic Charities’ Spanish Catholic Center have urgent needs – food, medical and dental care, job training so they can find work and support their family, English classes so they can communicate, and much more. Last year, more than 18,000 people found the help they needed thanks to the Center, which focuses on providing multiple services all under one roof for their clients.  

But what those clients really turn to the Spanish Catholic Center for is a chance to make a dream become a reality.

To help the Spanish Catholic Center in their work, more than 400 people took part in our first ever Música y Sueños (in English, Music and Dreams) to benefit the work of the Spanish Catholic Center on Friday, March 22. Held at the US Chamber of Commerce Headquarters directly across the street from the White House, the evening was truly a fiesta with a purpose.

Father John welcomes guests
to the US Chamber of Commerce
Latin-inspired tapas buffet, salsa lessons and dancing in an informal yet beautiful setting introduced many new people to the work of the Spanish Catholic Center, and most importantly, the clients it serves.  Many of the Spanish Catholic Center’s staff mingled with the crowds to talk about their work while festive Sueños Lanterns and a silent film illuminated the heart of the Center’s mission: giving safety and hope to all those who are newly arrived in our country.

All in all, we had a blast! And we have proof…

More Spanish Catholic Center!
Please step away from your desk for this two-minute tour of our Spanish Catholic Center!

Can learning English change a life? Meet a Supermom who enrolled in ESOL, all to help her soon. 

It can be tough to make healthy food choices when you're on a limited budget. To help, our SCC heads straight to the supermarket! Check out their innovative anti-hunger initiatives

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Story of Resurrection

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Tommy overcame  addiction and depression - but without
a job, he couldn't move forward.
In the relatively small kitchen at Catholic Charities Enterprises, big things are happening.

That includes Tommy Spencer. Though standing at 6'3, he moves nimbly between stoves, hot plates and a steel counter covered with hundreds of meals for homebound seniors.

For Tommy, all height jokes aside, working in this kitchen is a big deal. For years, he struggled to live a life that resembled normal. He overcame addiction. He got treatment for his severe depression. Yet Tommy Spencer was still sleeping each night on a shelter bed. 

"I had no place to turn," he said. "I just couldn't find a job."

Tommy's former drug and health problems kept him out of the workforce so long, he couldn't even land a job interview. But finally, Tommy got the "yes" he was praying for from Catholic Charities Food Services, which prepares healthy meals for schools, geriatric care centers, and homebound seniors. 
Food Services staff help prepare and package food for
over 2,000 people each day!

Tommy excelled in his work in the kitchen and grew to love it. He found a lot of value in preparing meals to feed others, taking a deep satisfaction in having the chance to help others.

As we begin the fifth week in Lent, we remember the promise of Easter, the Resurrection. Tommy experienced this hopeful promise himself through employment. "God redeemed me," Tommy said. "He led me to a place of help, during my time of need."

Catholic Charities Food Services employs people with disabilities or mental health challenges that limit their employability - and hold them back from leading an independent life. "Since Catholic Charities gave us this opportunity to work and support ourselves, we're all grateful to pay it forward by helping others, people like senior citizens, who can't get around like we can," Tommy said. 

"I always imagine the food is going
to my own grandmother," Tommy said. 
Each day Tommy and our Food Services team make sure 2,000 people receive a nutritious meal. "I always imagine the food is going to my own grandmother," Tommy said. "I take pride in the food being good and getting it ready on time for people who really depend on it." 

The job changed Tommy's life. With a steady paycheck, he was able to afford his own apartment. "I can't tell you what it means to me," he said.

"Nothing empowers people like a stable job, with living wages," said Scott Lewis, Director of Catholic Charities Enterprises. "Our Food Services gives people who often may be shut out of the job market, an opportunity to contribute to their community while supporting themselves, sometimes for the first time in their lives."

We count on your support to help us empower clients, creating more stories of resurrection like Tommy's. Please make a special Easter gift today to help more men and women like him find hope through employment, housing, education, and more. 

Catholic Charities Enterprises provides employment for adults with disabilities; meals for local schools, community groups and homebound seniors; and a catering service, led by Head Chefs Andrea Johnson and Eric Curry. Learn more here!

Friday, March 8, 2013

After 20 years, saying goodbye to a dear friend and great leader

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Goodbyes are always hard, but in this case, it seems almost impossible. 

Jeanne Atkinson, who has been the steady hand guiding Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services (ILS) program for more than 20 years, is moving on as the new Executive Director of CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc). Today is her last day at Catholic Charities.
Of course, this is a wonderful opportunity for Jeanne that speaks volumes for her work here at Catholic Charities, but it hasn’t helped us keep our eyes dry! 

Throughout the immigration legal community, Jeanne is widely respected. Internally, she’s been an incredible manager, helping to grow a program that helps thousands of refugees, asylees and immigrants to gain legal status every single year. It is life-saving work. And, like most legal work, extremely tedious. 

The true challenges in providing this kind of help aren’t readily obvious. For immigrants, asylees and refugees, there’s a lot to learn in a new country. They often have only a basic grasp of English, and often are unfamiliar with employment norms, public transportation, housing, local customs and more. Their documents and papers are scattered as they fled a war-torn country, making it difficult to legally prove the hardships they’ve endured. Most of the clients who come to ILS do so via word-of-mouth from the immigrant community.

Into this world step immigration attorneys. Every day, they meet new clients who struggle to tell their story about fleeing violence or trying to reunite with family after years apart. Together, they begin to walk a complex immigration system to apply for legal status. Often, attorneys race against deadlines to get the right papers filed, knowing it can be the difference between a deportation back to a dangerous country and starting a new life here.

During her time working at Catholic Charities, Jeanne helped expand the program to the largest it’s ever been – 11 attorneys, five paralegals, one administrative support staff and many volunteers. She was a key part of establishing the Family Justice Center in Montgomery County and empowered her attorneys to educate the community as often as possible on domestic violence, human trafficking and many more issues that exist in the shadows of immigration. As a manager, she often took on extra tasks to avoid overburdening her attorneys working on heavy case loads.

Jeanne first came to Catholic Charities as an intern in 1987 not knowing anything about immigration law, or if it was what she wanted to do. But she returned to law school from that experience knowing the direction her life would take. After graduation, she accepted a job with Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Program, where she remained for the next 20-plus years, leading the program since 1997. 

She recalls fondly memories of sitting in dirt fields with migrant workers on the eastern shore of Maryland and helping them apply to have their families join them here through permanent residency. Another time, she nearly was locked inside of a convent in Mexico City while spending two weeks learning Spanish to deepen her ability to connect with clients.

She stepped in to fill the shoes of the late Jane Strom and lead our Refugee Center as well. That program will be led now by Seme Ayane, once a refugee himself and now a great manager and leader in his own right who learned by working closely with Jeanne for more than two years.

Our Immigration Legal Services team has a rock solid foundation now, thanks in no short amount, to the work Jeanne has selflessly performed. Jackie Rishty, who has worked one year longer than Jeanne at ILS, will take over as interim-director. And though we’ll miss her, we know our loss is the gain of CLINIC. 

Good luck Jeanne!