Monday, October 28, 2013

The Court is their Classroom - Helping Immigrants Achieve Status

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Through a new partnership between Catholic Charities
and CUA Law, law students Ana (left) and Brittni are helping
serve low-income families facing immigration legal issues.
All their hours of practice, their dry-runs with professors, and their meticulous paperwork and notes were about to pay off. Brittni Downs and Ana Sami, both students at the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University, arrived at Immigration Court prepared to defend their first client.

"We felt ready, but we were still nervous," said Brittni. "While we waited in the courtroom, we saw someone get deported because his attorney had come unprepared. 
It was a huge wake up call for us. We weren’t in class anymore. People were facing actual consequences, and our client’s fate rested solely in our hands.”

Brittni and Ana met their client through CUA Law’s new Immigration Litigation Clinic, which partners with Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services to offer students an intensive exposure to immigration law through classroom work and actual trial experience. Throughout the year-long course, students apply the principles they learn from textbooks to real-life immigration cases our ILS team is currently working on.

Both Ana and Brittni will graduate from CUA Law in the 
spring. Ana hopes to work in immigration law and Brittni
plans to become a public defender. "I'll be better able
to represent clients whose immigration status may be in
question," she said. 
"Immigration law is a practice area I think a lot of law students and attorneys overlook. It is a space where sound representation makes a very positive difference and prevents fraud," said Michelle Mendez, a senior attorney with Catholic Charities.

The partnership is helping ILS staff to take on more clients while providing the students with opportunities to advocate, gain trial experience under the supervision of seasoned attorneys, and potentially change a person’s life forever.

Mendez and Dree Collopy, a CUA Law alum and partner at Benach Ragland LLP, approach the course as a team, offering students traditional classroom learning in immigration law as well as a clinic component, where students meet with real clients and prepare cases to defend them, with Michelle and Dree serving as supervising attorneys.

“The course is extremely rigorous for students,” Michelle said. “Not only do they need to learn the countless nuances of immigration law, but they’re also being placed outside their comfort zones, taking leadership on a case, and handling all client interactions. For many, it’s their first-ever experience with clients.”

"Our client absolutely qualifies to stay
in the United States," Ana said. "We're
grateful we can help him."
It’s a challenge she and Dree tackle head-on. “We make sure they take charge. When they want us to tell them how to handle something, we encourage them to figure it out on their own. We want to make that switch from student to advocate,” said Dree.

Law students who are part of a nonprofit clinic or college program under direct supervision can apply for permission from a judge in immigration court to serve as a client's pro bono representative.

Thanks their extensive preparation, Ana and Brittni successfully represented their client at his Removal Proceeding, earning him a day in court and the chance to become a legal permanent resident.  "You could see the judge appreciated our following the rules verbatim in court. We had practiced for every potential scenario that might happen," Brittni said. 

A native of Sierra Leone, their client has been living in the United States for over 15 years with his wife and children, who are American citizens. Due to a disability, he is unable to work, so money is tight for the family. Without the students’ pro bono representation, he would have faced immediate deportation. 

“These are real people, with real lives, and real problems,” said Ana. “There are no textbook cases. Every client has their own set of past problems, health concerns, financial concerns, and families. Every student in our class is working within the content of an individual’s unique story. It’s not a law book. It’s a person’s life and future.”

For information about Catholic Charities' Immigration Legal Services, please visit our site or call (202) 772-4356.

For more information about CUA Law, check out their site!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

It's here! The Catholic Charities JOBS Program has started!

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Sometimes big ideas have small beginnings. Such is the case with the brand new JOBS initiative, Catholic Charities newest effort to rethink how we help our clients find meaningful and promising employment.

For just over two years, Father John has driven an effort to find a way to help more of our clients land employment. In visits at our programs, every staff member said the biggest need for their clients was jobs.

Today, two years of brainstorming, discussing, planning and dreaming culminated in a simple open house and orientation as the first nine program “members” started their first day in the JOBS (Job Opportunities & Basic Skills) program. The room, filled with members of the program, Catholic Charities staff and even outside employers, brimmed with hope and excitement.

The first nine members in the new program come from many different backgrounds, including several from Catholic Charities’ shelters.

There’s Henry, currently a resident at our 801 East men’s emergency shelter. When he first heard about the JOBS program, he was skeptical, but decided to look into it. He was one of the first to finish his paperwork to apply. 

"I've learned in life there are blessings and lessons," one client said as he introduced himself to the group -- he asked that his name be withheld. "Yesterday I was let go from a job which paid me under the table. And while it hurt, I know the lesson is that my mind can do so much more and the blessing is this program at Catholic Charities."

Another member is Jim, but hopes the JOBS program will help him find more self-confidence and polish his professional manner.

Or there is Bob, another member who is trying to rebuild a career in IT and rediscover his bearings.

The program takes place in Silver Spring, on a wide open floor with spanning views and plenty of natural light. The space sets the hopeful tone for a new program; embarking together to build something new, both as individuals and as a program.

As Father John said, “My greatest hope is for each of you to be successful. Because, if each of you are successful, you help us help others. This time we have 12, maybe soon we can 20, 50, even 100. But today, each of you are trailblazers.”

(In order to protect the privacy of our members, the first names have been changed. But their excitement and energy for getting a better job and career is real!)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Give Your Neighbor a "White House Turkey"

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By Saba Aregai
Contributing Writer

What is your Thanksgiving budget this year?

On average an American family will spend $50 for a Thanksgiving dinner this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. For some families, that money could fill up their tank to get to work for a week. It could buy their kids new winter coats. It might be their food fund for an entire month.

Our SHARE Food Network helps make high-quality food more accessible to everyone all year round. By ordering in bulk, they are able to offer exceptional menu options at steep discounts, then distribute the food en masse thanks to volunteer-run host sites located in neighborhoods through the District, Maryland and Virginia.

At Thanksgiving in particular, more people turn to SHARE to help put a special meal on their own holiday table – and to donate a meal to a family really struggling at this time of year.

“At Thanksgiving we experience this surge of generosity in the community,” said Jaynee Acevedo, Director of SHARE.  “People see SHARE as the logical choice for their donations – their gift is almost doubled in value.”

Paul Applah is a regular volunteer at SHARE!
For just $30, you can purchase a full festive dinner for your family, or for a family in need, including a grain-fed, antibiotic-free turkey from Jaindl’s Turkey Farms. This is the same turkey served at the White House Thanksgiving dinner. All the fixings and dessert are also included. For $39, you can purchase a turkey plus stock up a family's pantry, or your own, with other basic essentials like meats and fish, fruits and vegetables.

“People need to eat every month, every week, every day,” said Jaynee. “SHARE is not just about the holidays. We bring the freshest, most high-quality foods to our customers every month of the year. This Thanksgiving, our Jaindl’s turkey is helping people give, and buy for themselves, a bird of far higher quality than you could find in most stores.”

Donated food packages are distributed to families whom host site coordinators identify in their parish or community. “Many times our host site coordinators just tell families they know are in need that they have over-ordered, or that they have a few extra. This way, it is truly a gift,” said Jaynee. It’s a great way for families, businesses, schools, and organizations to share their blessings during the season.

In addition to donated food packages, SHARE’s efforts count on a network of 300 volunteers to ensure the food gets bagged, packed, and distributed. Dorothy Pope, a dedicated volunteer from Carmody Hills Church in Capitol Heights, Maryland, said the experience, especially around the holidays, is very rewarding. “The fact that you know you are helping families to be fed nutritiously, it just makes it worthwhile.”

Feed a family this Thanksgiving by making a donation online! You can also view SHARE’s holiday menus here and order directly from a host site in your neighborhood.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Red Mass Honors Heroes of our Archdiocesan Legal Network

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Guest Post by James D. Bishop, Esq.
Senior Program Manager for Catholic Charities' Archdiocesan Legal Network

On October 6, 2013, the Archdiocese of Washington held its annual Red Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC. The Red Mass is held on the day before the U.S. Supreme Court's new term opens. A tradition since the Middle Ages, the Red Mass is offered to invoke God's blessing and guidance on those who work in the administration of justice and serve in government such as lawyers; law professors and deans; and local, state and federal judges. This year, the following U.S. Supreme Court Justices were present: Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin G. Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen G. Breyer, and Elena Kagan.

Immediately following the Red Mass, the John Carroll Society held a brunch at the Capital Hilton to present its Pro Bono Legal Services Awards to outstanding attorneys who devote their time and expertise helping low-income families with legal issues. The following volunteers from Catholic Charities' Archdiocesan Legal Network were recognized at the brunch: 

Charles “Tim” Engel of King & Spalding, LLP

Michael McGonnigal, The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law

Meritta White, Esq.

In addition, the law firm Crowell & Moring, LLP received the award for its longstanding volunteer service in accepting pro bono cases, conducting telephone intake on a weekly basis, serving on the program’s Advisory Council, as well as being a staunch financial supporter. John McCarthy accepted the award on behalf of Crowell & Moring, LLP. 

The Archdiocesan Legal Network is able to provide access to first-rate legal representation as well as educate D.C. and Maryland residents about their legal rights, thanks to its cadre of more than 600 volunteer attorneys and 50 law firms that provide an estimated $2 million annually in volunteer services. 

If you are interested in volunteering with the Archdiocesan Legal Network, please contact James D. Bishop, Esq., Senior Program Manager, at (202) 772-1201 or by email at

Friday, October 4, 2013

Staying Open During the Shutdown

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Four days into the federal government shutdown, ramifications are now impacting some of DC's most vulnerable residents: those with mental illness and developmental disabilities. 
The people we serve simply can't wait
a day for the mental health services they need.

Yesterday the DC Department of Health Care Finance announced agencies like Catholic Charities that provide behavioral health services, care for those with developmental disabilities and primary health care will not be reimbursed by Medicaid or local DC dollars until the government shutdown ends or a DC budget is approved by Congress.

This is a situation unique to DC, where congress must approve the budget before any money can be spent. And while DC DHCF has pledged to reimburse all billings once a budget is approved or the shutdown ends, provider agencies will need to have the cash-flow on hand to meet all costs.

For Catholic Charities, that means covering an additional $25,000 each day so services like our Behavioral Health Program continue uninterrupted to the 1,000 people with mental illness whom we help with services including counseling, mobile crisis response, and specialized care for children in crisis. 

Many of those served by our Behavioral Health Program simply cannot afford expensive mental health care without the assistance of Medicaid. A large portion has been or currently is homeless. Any disruption in their service or care can cause major setbacks in helping them progress toward a healthier lifestyle. 

"It is not an option for us to simply stop our services - people need help today," said Msgr. John Enzler, our President and CEO. "With DC Medicaid suspended, we will bear the full cost to keep serving our consumers...but we can't do it forever."

Catholic Charities also provides a host of services for more than 750 children and adults living with a developmental disability, including Early Head Start, specialized child care, K-12 education, support for independent living, and round-the-clock care for individuals with more severe disabilities.

Though our services will continue without interruption for as long as possible, other providers with whom or  our clients depend may not fare so well. "We're just one piece of the puzzle in serving this vulnerable population," Father John said. "One particular concern of ours is where clients will be able to get their medication prescriptions filled. Some providers may not be able to bear the cost - even on a temporary basis."

Catholic Charities' Behavioral Health program, formerly known as Anchor Mental Health, has been recognized as a four-star provider by the DC government two years in a row.

Catholic Charities' Developmental Disabilities Department, formerly know as the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute, supports individuals of all ages with developmental disabilities overcome challenges and social stigmas to strive toward a fulfilling life and play a valuable role in their community.