Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Journey of 8,792 Miles

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Michelle Mendez, Senior Attorney
for Catholic Charities ILS
Until recently, it's been pretty easy to find Michelle Mendez.

Senior attorney for Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services (ILS) and compassionate advocate on behalf of immigrants worldwide, Michelle could often be found working closely with her colleagues and clients at her Silver Spring office.

But this summer, Michelle's expertise and passion have brought her
 8,792 miles across the world to Chulalaongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, as one of only 50 World Peace Fellows named by Rotary International. 

The fellowships are awarded annually to candidates who possess outstanding leadership in the promotion of international cooperation and amity. To further develop their professional skill set, fellows are invited to study abroad at one of five Rotary Centers for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution. 

Michelle is about one month into her three-month course of study at Chulalaongkorn University, where she joins fellows from around the world who have experiences in a wide range of human rights work.   

In addition to an intense course of study,
Michelle gets to enjoy all the beauty
and history of her new surroundings!
"With so many of us Fellows representing different experiences and perspectives, our time together in Thailand will surely be one of personal development and fulfillment as well as epiphanies all of which will hopefully allow us to return to our fields with greater appreciation for and understanding of what is needed for conflict resolution," Michelle said. 

"We are incredibly proud of Michelle!" Jacqueline Rishty, Senior Program Manager for ILS said. "This is a great honor for Michelle, and recognizes her endless dedication to helping others." 

Michelle has been with our ILS team for over three years, helping hundreds of people with immigration legal issues. She has cultivated close working relationships with staff working in the immigration court and is tireless in advocating both for her clients and for the rights of immigrants internationally. 

We're sending lots of prayers for a safe, amazing, and inspirational experience for Michelle. See you in the fall, Michelle! Your Silver Spring office will be waiting for you. 

To learn more about the Rotary International World Peace Fellowships, please visit here

Need immigration legal assistance? We can help you. Please learn about our services and intake procedures here

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Honest Feedback is Important to Us!

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Attention, internet! We want to hear from you.

We are conducting a brief survey to find out what you think about Catholic Charities.

As readers of our blog, your input is critical! 

Can you complete this brief survey? Your answers will help us strengthen our communications to better reflect all the good going on here at Catholic Charities. 

Thank you! We look forward to improving based on your feedback.

Click Here to take our Brief Survey!

Friday, June 21, 2013

How We Help the Homeless in a Heat Wave

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A cold bottle of water is an easy way to help someone.
When the mercury rises, the weather turns dangerous for some of our most vulnerable neighbors: the homeless, whom we often see sitting outside, wrapped in blankets or heavy clothing, even on DC’s hottest afternoons.

“Certain populations are particularly at risk in these conditions,” said George Jones, a manager at Catholic Charities’ shelters. “People who are 65 years of age and older, people who are overweight, people who are ill and/or are under certain medications – many of our clients fall in these groups, which heightens the danger of heat stroke and hyperthermia when the temperatures climb.”

Know the number to call for help: 1-800-535-7252
When the heat index reaches 95 degrees, DC city government activates its Heat Emergency Plan, which allows cooling centers and shelters across the city to open their doors so people who are homeless can get out of the sweltering air.

The city also has four vans canvassing areas throughout the District on alert for people who need transportation to a cooling center. If you see someone who seems to be suffering from heat-related stress, contact the hotline at 1-800-535-7252 to report the location of the person in need. We recommend saving this number to your cell phone for easy access. “If the person is really suffering, or passed out, just call that number for help,” George said. “Otherwise, you can just ask if they want you to call for a ride to a cooling center.”

Cardinal Wuerl greets clients at our Dinner Program,
held on G Street each Wednesday evening.
Some people, even though suffering from the heat, may choose not to go to a cooling center, for various reasons. In this case, the next best thing you can do is offer them something cold to drink. Bottled water is good – be sure to avoid drinks with caffeine and lots of sugar, as they can cause the body to lose fluid. You might also encourage them to go to a library or other public, air-conditioned space.

These are small acts of dignity and kindness that go far in helping our neighbors who may be suffering silently or unable to help themselves. You can also make a donation to support our housing programs, which provide 1,600 beds each and every night to men, women and children in need as well as a path forward out of homelessness. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Our Summer Volunteer Attorney Drive - a little time makes a big difference!

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Volunteer attorneys with our Legal Network gathered
at a recent thank-you reception. 
Attorney Brian Stolarz typically works on complex white-collar criminal defense  and commercial litigation matters.  But he carves out a few hours every month to take on and consult on more routine, simple pro bono cases through Catholic Charities Archdiocesan Legal Network.

“I often tell people that these cases are very small in the grand scheme of things, but very big for the people you help out,” Brian said, who works as Counsel at Jackson Kelly PLLC. “In so many situations, just having legal representation, especially in litigation matters can force someone to stop trying to take advantage of a person.”

Brian recalled one situation where a client came to the Legal Network after a former landlord secured a judgment against him for for bogus unpaid rent and damages to his apartment. As soon as the client had an attorney in court, the judgment was removed and the landlord even repaid the client his security deposit.

Brian estimates the case, in total, only took five to 10 hours of his time. For the client, however, it meant that he wasn’t scrambling to find thousands of dollars – which likely would have been garnished from his wages because of the judgment.

Just this week, a man who is homeless came to us seeking help expunging his criminal record. He was wrongly arrested for attempted murder and spent a few days in jail until the police caught the actual suspect, upon which he was released. It was a simple matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, the charge of attempted murder remained on his record, and he could never get a job because of it.

You can help this man get his life back. Sign up to be a pro bono attorney during our Summer Volunteer Attorney Drive. We are recruiting attorneys who are barred in Washington, DC and Maryland.

The time commitment is entirely up to you. Legal Network volunteers and staff screen each potential case thoroughly before making a recommendation to any pro bono attorneys. And a strong support network exists to seek advice on cases.

For more than 20 years, the Legal Network has existed to help level the playing field for low-income clients facing civil legal matters. Thousands of attorneys have given their time and talent to help represent clients in a wide range of matters.

This summer, join the ranks and make a huge difference for someone. As a huge bonus, you get to spend some time working with our Senior Program Manager, Jim Bishop. Jim is an absolute joy to work with – ask any of the hundreds of attorneys who have helped him in the Legal Network’s mission.

To volunteer, call Jim at 202-772-1201 or email at  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Thanks, Dads!

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Guest Post from Father John
Happy Father's Day to all fathers and father figures

President and CEO, Catholic Charities

I'm always touched when I see a dad in one of our programs, working hard to rebuild a stable home for his family. I've met so many fathers who come to our job training programs, who are in line early at food and clothing distributions, who will do anything to provide for their family. I've met dads who make enormous sacrifices to ensure their child with a developmental disability gets the same opportunities to thrive.

And it inspires me.

Today is Father's Day. Across the region, families are taking a moment to stop, and appreciate all the little things a father does to make life a little better for his kids. I know my father made plenty of sacrifices raising us. It was something I always quietly cherished about my father, and only later did I realize just how much that influenced who I am today.

Say a quick prayer for all fathers and father figures today today -- the ones in our programs, the ones in your lives, and the ones who serve in so many ways. I've included one of my favorites below. 

Prayer for Fathers

God our Father, We give you thanks and praise for fathers young and old.

We pray for young fathers, newly embracing their vocation; May they find courage and perseverance to balance work, family and faith in joy and sacrifice.

We pray for our own fathers around the world whose children are lost or suffering; May they know that the God of compassion walks with them in their sorrow.

We pray for men who are not fathers but still mentor and guide us with fatherly love and advice.

We remember fathers, grandfather, and great grandfathers who are no longer with us but who live forever in our memory and nourish us with their love. Amen

When you help a struggling father, you help a whole family, and the community. Please consider making a gift in honor of your dad:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Little Help from Prom Night Angels

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"It’s [homeslessness] hard on kids,
and we make sure we protect them as much as possible,
and make sure they can engage with the world,
and not miss out on important things just
because of their family’s situation at that time.
For a kid in high school, the prom is really important."
~Dora Carter, Angel's Watch Program Manager
Kevin had a secret he didn’t want his mom, Tasha, to know: he really, really wanted to go to his high school prom.

The family had been through a lot lately. For the safety of herself and her three kids, Tasha turned to Catholic Charities' Angel’s Watch Shelter, a safe place for families overcoming domestic violence and homelessness to get back on their feet. Because of his mom’s delicate situation, Kevin knew going to the prom would be financially impossible.

“He wouldn’t come out and say it, but I could tell he wanted to go,” Tasha said. “I didn’t know what to do.” She mentioned the problem to her case manager, Dayon Jackson, and Dayon talked with Dora Carter, program manager at Angel’s Watch.

“First thing we did was make a list,” Dora said. “Everything he’d need – a tuxedo, tickets for him and a date, a haircut. We were getting really excited about the prom, and we weren’t even the ones going.

"Once we knew what was needed, we turned to the Southern Maryland Women’s League, who are big supporters of our work, and they came through with the funds Kevin needed.”

When Dora and Dayon told Tasha the news, she burst into tears. And when Tasha told her son, he started crying too – but not for long. He had a lot of planning to do: picking out a tuxedo (black with midnight blue trimmings), arranging a ride, and – the hardest part of all – asking a date, one of his classmates. She said yes!

“Kevin’s been shy during his time at our shelter,” Dora said. “It’s hard on kids, and we make sure we protect them as much as possible, and make sure they can engage with the world, and not miss out on important things just because of their family’s situation at that time. For a kid in high school, the prom is really important. You can see this opportunity gave Kevin a lot of confidence and boosted his self-esteem. It was really moving.”

Tasha agreed. “It was wonderful for me to see my son so excited and feeling positive,” she said. “He took so many pictures and had the most wonderful time. He even danced the two-step with his date!”

Angel's Watch serves women and their children fleeing abuse and homelessness in Charles County, MD. To protect their privacy and safety, clients’ names have been changed in this story and no client photographs were used. You can support Angel's Watch with an online donation