Monday, July 22, 2013

This is What Two Years of "Yes" Look Like

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We call it the "Enzler Effect" - the feeling of enthusiasm, faith and love that Father John has a special way of instilling in everyone he meets. If you've experienced it, you know what we mean. 

This month we're celebrating Father John's second anniversary as President and CEO of Catholic Charities. The seeds sown by his influence have taken root throughout our Archdiocese of Washington - it's a very exciting time. 

We managed to pin Father John down for a brief "state of the union" on our challenges, our successes, our goals, and how we keep saying "Yes!" to those in need.

High fives during a Help the Homeless event at
Blessed Sacrament
Q: One year ago, we celebrated your first anniversary at Catholic Charities. In our interview then, you said that Catholic Charities has to, “be in the business of saying ‘Yes!’ to everyone who needs us.” Do you think the organization has made strides toward that goal since then?

A: I think we have done an incredible job in the last year of broadening our work. We started several initiatives – a massive region-wide coat drive, breakfasts for men and women who reside in our shelters, a big youth service day, for example – that touch thousands of clients and volunteers. Besides making someone warmer or giving them a meal, we’re introducing people to Catholic Charities. We’re bringing people together the same way Christ taught us.

Overall, we have 64 programs in this community and they all change people’s lives. I’m talking about giving shelter to the homeless and food to the hungry. But that’s just the beginning. Our work is designed to raise people permanently out of poverty. That means job training, financial literacy classes…almost anything you can think of that teaches and encourages people to live productively and independently.

Joseph's Closet coat drive was a new initiative brought
to us by Father John this year.
Q: The needs in our community are so great – in the region, 12,000 people are homeless each year. Nearly a third of the children here live in poverty. And throughout the region, the working poor struggle just to feed their families. There's so much that needs to be done... Does it ever feel overwhelming? How do you keep from getting discouraged?

A: Yes, the challenges here are formidable. But it’s the people around me who keep me energized. Our staff members work incredibly hard. Nobody is here just to earn a paycheck and go home. They truly give their hearts to this mission.

And it’s also the people we help. Seeing their lives improve is a daily reminder of why God put us here. When you see a single mother move her kids from a shelter into her own apartment. Or a dad come out of one our job training programs and build a better life for himself and his children. Or the smile on the face of a little boy or girl who feels safe and secure, maybe for the first time in their lives, believe me, it really makes you want to come to work in the morning.

And then there are our donors – the generous men and women who make our work possible. When someone shares his or her own personal resources to support us, everyone here takes notice. We know how deeply they care about helping their neighbors, and I hope all our donors, large and small, recognize that everything we do happens because they care enough to help.

Q: How has the arrival of Pope Francis affected the day-to-day work at Catholic Charities?

A: He’s been a huge inspiration to the whole Catholic Community. You know, I’ve always been amazed at the dedication and commitment of the staff and volunteers here. But our new Holy Father has really gotten all Catholics to refocus on the importance of living the Gospel through service to others. I see it everywhere I turn.

Father John meets with clients
at our family housing program.
Pope Francis has said his role is to protect all humanity, “especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison.” Who can hear words like that and not be moved to action?

Q: So what does the next year hold for Catholic Charities?

A: This is a critical moment in our community – the economy is slowly recovering, but we’re also seeing more families facing homelessness. Demand remains high at food pantries. And many seniors are struggling to make ends meet as they face the physical and emotional challenges of aging.

Catholic Charities, thanks to our generous supporters who have stood with us through it all, is very well positioned to help people overcome poverty and make our region stronger. In the next year, our Parish Service Centers program is going to be crucial as we create more ways for people to get help in their own communities. Already we have seen a dental ministry, new food pantries, a program for people with special needs, and more… all started by parishioners with our help.

Catholic Charities helps thousands overcome poverty each year. When whole families are living on the streets, or women are fleeing from domestic violence, or people need new financial and job skills to regain their independence…or when they just fall through the cracks in the system and have no place to turn, Catholic Charities will help them get back on their feet. That will be our mission for next year, and for as long as people need us.

Celebrate Fr. John's 2nd Anniversary with a gift to support your vulnerable neighbors through Catholic Charities. Donate online here.