Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas is here already?!

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Special Christmas Post by Msgr. John Enzler, President and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

Wasn't it just yesterday that we were sitting down for Thanksgiving? Time flies when you’re having fun.

As we prepare for Christmas, to head to Mass or spend time with our family and loved ones, I am taking a moment to stop, and look back on an incredible month. It flew by in a blur of gifts, meals, and laughter.

With 65 programs, there’s no shortage of Christmas celebrations around here. Our Kennedy School and Child Development Center, which both work with young people who have a developmental delay, each enjoyed celebrations and visits with Santa. They also held a wonderful Christmas pageant, featuring kids of each grade contributing, singing, dancing and laughing. Seeing the smiles of those kids will melt your heart.

The celebration of Christmas at our Refugee Center has a different feel to it. This is a program working with people who have fled their home for political, personal or even religious persecution. For many of them, this was their first time experiencing Christmas in America. Our Refugee Center staff created a warm environment over delicious food and I know it felt like home for many of the refugees as they laughed, sang some carols and more.

Several of our families were lucky enough to receive gifts directly from players on the Washington Redskins, Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals. These teams and their players set a great example in our community, as well as create unforgettable memories by visiting some of our families in their homes or hosting them for a special day where the teams practice.

Our staff were all able to get together for some much needed rest and relaxation over delicious food at our annual Christmas party, which always feels like a BIG family reunion.

Our Angel Tree Program reached more than 700 children with donated toys and clothing thanks to hundreds of generous donors who bought and delivered toys. On Monday and Tuesday, our McCarrick Family Center distributed gifts to more than 500 families living in the nearby neighborhood. So awesome to see happy parents who have been relieved of the stress of providing Christmas gifts to their little ones.

And finally, we ended our celebration on Monday with a wonderful and delicious dinner for our homeless neighbors here at our home offices at 924 G St. With beautiful table settings and warm plates of turkey, green beans, gravy and mashed potatoes plus dessert, more than 200 people came for a holiday meal.


It feels like the perfect way to finish an incredible year, and I thank each of you for your part in making our community a better place for every family. Now, I pray each of you find peace and joy in this wonderful holiday, as we finish up the hustle and bustle and turn our eyes to the star over Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas!

~Fr. John

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Gifts Given to 500 Montgomery County Families

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It was 12:25 pm just three days before 12/25/2014 and the line at our McCarrick Family Center was long as parents anxiously waited in hopes of picking out a good present for each of their children.

With a room full of gifts donated to Catholic Charities to distribute to qualifying low-income families, volunteers guided each family through the room, selecting one toy for each of their children. Bikes, action figures, dolls, books, soccer balls and more awaited their choice and parents took their time shopping and evaluating. A volunteer, dressed as jolly old St. Nick, walked up and down the line, greeting children and wishing them a merry Christmas.

One father, still wearing his mechanic’s shirt, happily wheeled a bicycle out while his wife pushed a stroller behind with a doll. Another woman held up two different learning toys for a three-year-old. Every parent was able to leave with a stuffed animal.

A magician made balloon animals and volunteers played Wii bowling with children while their parents waiting in line. Local nonprofits set up tables as a resource fair to provide parents with assistance in many ways. Over the course of two days, more than 500 families who had applied for assistance through Montgomery County were expected to come, seeking help. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

We shipped 10,000 thanksgiving turkeys to local families - thanks to 1,000 volunteers.

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Guest Post by Mike Gehring

The scene at the SHARE Food Network on Friday, November 21 can only be described as organized chaos. Picture a large warehouse, decorated with banners and positive posters covering its far wall. Below that, a long row of tall, wooden tables runs the length of the room. At each table, a volunteer is ready to hand out potatoes, frozen fish, onions, a box of stuffing or any other of several food items.
Standing at the end of row of tables are boxes and boxes of frozen turkeys – tens of thousands of turkeys. For two days, thousands more volunteers come through and pick-up orders of food packages – this month, all of them Thanksgiving meals for a family.

Welcome to Thanksgiving at the SHARE Food Network. Over the course of November 21-22, more than 10,000 thanksgiving dinners were distributed to customers across DC, Maryland, Virginia and even West Virginia.  

One gentleman, dressed smartly in his work clothing, took a long lunch break to pickup 110 turkey meals that would be given out at his church. He moved down the line, stacking on boxes, grabbing fruit and checking off his list before sliding a very full cart to the loading bay.
What’s in a food package? Customers who purchased the $40 turkey package received 10-14 lb. turkey with fresh seasonal produce such as sweet potatoes, white potatoes, onions, celery, apples, oranges, stuffing mix, elbow macaroni, a holiday pie, and 4-5 lbs. of meats/fish to stock the freezer. Compared to prices in the grocery store, that package saves our customers 50-60% on their food.

That’s right, we said customers. Saving around 50 percent on their groceries.
The easiest way to understand SHARE is to think of it as a grocery store that sells three food package options once a month, every month. We buy the food from the same wholesale companies selling to your local grocery store. The difference is we shop for the bargains or excess food that these suppliers need to sell, and then we ask thousands of volunteers to help get us the orders at their church, school, military outfit, workplace or community center.

One weekend each month, they all come to the warehouse, help us box up the food, help load it into the vans, cars, and trucks, and take it back home to feed hungry families.

SHARE is one of the best ways to help low-income families have a proactive hand in being helped. It may be a small difference to most of us, but the power found in being able to provide for your family, even on a limited budget, can be very empowering.
The unique model of SHARE offers nutritious food to anyone – you, me, a single mother of three struggling to put food on the table, a disabled army veteran, Michael Jordan, Bono, Taylor Swift, or anyone else who eats food. The same goes for volunteers – we have them as young as five and as seasoned as 90.

SHARE was started way back in April of 1990 in partnership with the Knights of Malta. Today, the SHARE Network moves more than 350,000 pounds of food each month to hungry customers and works with 273 locations around the region to distribute the food (that’s your workplace, church, or other gathering spot)!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Service as strong as ever as the Annual Caritas Awards honor a few of the most dedicated volunteers

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Guest Post by Mike Gehring

We’re buzzing about a new number: 8,764.

That’s the number of people who volunteered with Catholic Charities last year, one of the highest totals we’ve ever been blessed enough to have. On Thursday, October 23, we held our annual Caritas Awards to honor a few of those volunteers who went above and beyond in their service.
Held at the beautiful Pepco Edison Place Art Gallery in downtown Washington, DC, seven volunteers received recognition for their dedicated service to our programs, each receiving a personalized medal presented by Msgr. John Enzler:

Mauro Farinelli
James Vandross
Juliet Orzal
Elizabeth Meers
Dr. Marc Connell
Wanda Sims for Xi Sigma Omega AKA
Brian Stolarz

Each volunteer was nominated by the program that they have volunteered with, and each brought a sense of humility and gratitude for what they have found in meeting new people and bridging beyond themselves to meet and get to know someone else.

Msgr. Enzler and Wanda Sims, recipient of the Father John O'Connor Award
Wanda Sims, received the Father John O'Connor Award for Empowerment for her involvement with the Dorothy Day Shelter.   

Dorothy Day is a transitional shelter for homeless women over the age of 18, where clients' needs and problems are complicated and many.  Wanda Sims has been involved with the Dorothy Day shelter for over 20 years.

"I get much more back from the people I work with at Dorothy Day than I could ever give,” Wanda said.

Her group, Xi Sigma Omega AKA, has long provided gifts, meals, and more to the women of the transitional housing program.

A young woman Wanda worked with at Dorothy Day never achieved her GED high school equivalency diploma.  After months of encouragement and support the young woman agreed to begin the process, but only if Wanda would go back to school and get her MBA.  Wanda is proud to say both Wanda and her Dorothy Day client graduated together.

MJ Morrow, Msgr. Geno Baroni Award recipient Brian Stolarz, Msgr. John Enzler and Anna Stolarz
While accepting his Caritas Award, Brian Stolarz an attorney who volunteers for the Catholic Charities Legal Network, said, "My highest calling as an attorney is the work I do for my clients at Catholic Charities." Brian’s work, along with that of several other recipients, demonstrates the key role professionals in the legal and medical field play in helping Catholic Charities serve more than 120,000 people last year.

Ollie Johnson (right) presents Caritas Award to James Vandross (left)
James Vandross’ service at the SHARE Food Network is a testimony to the nature of volunteers to say yes and have faith. James first stepped in when a longtime SHARE volunteer at his church became too ill to keep volunteering. Without knowing much, James jumped straight into managing the logistics and coordination of preparing large, monthly affordable food packages, becoming integral to the operation of the program.

In his closing remarks for the evening, Rev. Mario Dorsonville said, “The Mission of Catholic Charities is to create a culture of love, joy, and hope inspired by the person of Jesus Christ. As we recognize the efforts of our volunteers, we want to thank you for the work you do towards creating this culture. Let’s continue to find a common path so we can move from the culture of indifference referenced by Pope Francis to a culture of awareness.”

If you’re like us and feeling inspired by the example of each of these volunteers, head on over to our Volunteer Page and find the opportunity for you.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Driving Off Cancer - In the Mammovan!

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On a cool, misty October morning, a Latina woman, in her mid-fifties, walks out the back door of the DC Medical Clinic and into the parking lot where she will have her  breast cancer screening. 

In the parking lot? Well, yes. This Thursday, the Mammovan or the George Washington Mobile Mammography Program, a mobile unit offering one-stop preventative cancer screenings, gave us a visit, allowing 22 women to receive screenings in a single day. 

In partnership with the Prevent Cancer Foundation, our ¡Celebremos la Vida! (CLV) Program provides much needed preventive services to low-income Latina and other immigrant women by providing free mammograms, pap smears, education about cancer prevention, and assistance with follow-up care.

On Thursday, this meant, business as usual would take place in the DC Medical Clinic's parking lot - inside the Mammovan!  

The Mammovan travels to locations across the region, such as the Spanish Catholic Center's DC Medical Clinic (for the past 20 years) and the McCarrick Clinic (for the past 8 years) and conducts the exams onsite. Up to 25 women are screened for breast cancer daily. 
Every inch of the mobile unit is used - from the entrance way, which doubles as a registration and consultation station, to the rear, where the mammography equipment is housed. 

Here's a peak inside the Mammovan:   

"They're not just getting a mammogram today," Manager of the ¡Celebremos la Vida! Program Olga Pulgar-Vidal said. "They are learning how to detect early signs of breast cancer for themselves and getting into the habit of getting annual screenings."

At the end of the day, 22 more DC women left our clinic more in control of their health and more knowledgeable about breast cancer prevention.
Since the Mammovan initiative began in 1996, it has performed more than 40,000 regular screenings and has diagnosed 128 breast cancer cases. 

To learn more about early detection and ways to prevent breast cancer from even starting, check out this link.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ray Rice and Domestic Violence in Our Homes

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so we thought we'd share a column with you that originally appeared in the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Ray Rice and Domestic Violence in our Homes
Msgr. John Enzler

As many of you know, I truly love sports.  I play tennis regularly, early in the morning and sometimes even three times a week.  I love to watch our local teams.  You might call me a “homer”.  If the Redskins, Nats, Caps or Wizards are playing, I can usually update you the next day on who won and the highlights of the game.  That is why the stories about the NFL, Ray Rice and his wife and the tragic and very public instance of domestic violence have caught not only my attention, but that of the whole country.

On Monday, September 8, we were all shocked when video surfaced from the elevator the night Ray Rice had physically abused his fiancée (now wife). This was an incident which originally took place in February. And even though we knew what had happened, it was still very shocking to see and very hard to watch.


I asked one of our longtime program managers at a shelter serving women and children fleeing domestic violence in southern Maryland. In one simple statement, she said “It made it real.”

It made it real, indeed. It is one thing to know. It’s another to see it with the intimacy of a camera that was mere feet from the brutal incident. Setting aside all of the issues and speculation about who knew what and when, I’d like to focus on this: domestic violence happens to one out of every four women in the United States during their lifetime and one out of every 10 men.

In almost all of those cases, there isn’t a video. It’s happening to people who live in the neighborhoods around our parishes. It’s happening to people who sit in the pews around us. And it’s happening to someone who will read this article.

I’m proud to say that last Spring, our own Archdiocese, under the leadership of Cardinal Wuerl, approved a special task force to deal with the issue of domestic abuse and family peace. I’ve been asked to Chair that committee and we are meeting monthly and preparing a year-end report on the problem and a suggested response.  This issue effects our schools, our employees, our parishes and all of our agencies. It is much more prevalent than any of us would like to admit.

Ultimately, we have three goals: 1) Create a similar network to what we have for women who are vulnerable to choosing abortion, 2) Create a system to train priests for dealing with the unique challenges of domestic violence, 3) Identify parishes in each deanery who can play a role in the immediate crisis and down the road to assist victims in rebuilding and restarting.

I know many of the clients at Catholic Charities, especially the women in our shelters, housing programs, and mental health services have experienced serious, life-threatening violence.  One woman I met had experienced violence from her husband of seven years of marriage. It took her several tries to finally leave him, and when she did, he pursued her, breaking the windows of a friend’s home where he thought she was staying.

This is simply terrifying. It can happen to anyone. The very real fear of having someone you love turn that trust into an abusive grab for power deserves a very sincere and tangible response from our Church community. I look forward to sharing more as we progress and build this important ministry.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Golf for a Cause!

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This month we worked on our golf game, all while having some fun with Catholic Charities supporters! 

First up was the In the Name of the Mother Golf Outing on September 12 at Blue Mash Golf Course. The day benefits the In the Name of the Mother Fund, started and run by Kevin McConville (who sits on Catholic Charities Board of Directors) in memory of his wife Megan who passed away from cancer 10 years ago. The fund supports low-income mothers who are battling cancer and trying to support their family. We took full advantage of the beautiful fall weather to enjoy some golf, fellowship and food and raised over $50,000. 

Take a look at few of the moments we captured: 

Second on our list was the Catholic Charities Golf Classic on September 15 at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm. The tournament raised nearly $170,000 for our McCarrick Family Center in Silver Spring which provides emergency assistance, parenting classes, financial education classes and emergency food and clothing to families in need.

Below are some photos we snapped:

Stay tuned for photos on Facebook and Instagram from the Catholic Charities Legal Network tournament that's taking place on October 6!