Sunday, December 25, 2016

12 Days of Hope: Feeding the Spirit

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This is the final post in our 12 Days of Hope stories. We hope it gave you a wide view of the many stories of hope that happen here at Catholic Charities every single day of the year. Please, if you can, make a donation to help us carry out this work in 2017! Merry Christmas!

By Msgr. John Enzler
Advent is a busy time for all of us. We try to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Jesus into our hearts and lives, and we also spend time on all of the other things we need to do – or think we need to do – like shopping, sending cards, baking, decorating and so on. We are also busy doing more socializing at this time of year with office parties, special dinners with friends and family, open houses, and events at our parishes and in our neighborhoods.

It’s nice to have these opportunities to enjoy time with family, friends, co-workers, fellow parishioners and neighbors. While I sometimes have trouble making all of the events, I try my best because every gathering is a chance to see those who have been a part of my life or are part of what I do now at Catholic Charities.

As I enjoy my time with people, I think about how many of our clients do not enjoy the same opportunities for fellowship. They don’t receive invitations to holiday parties or social events. For them, it’s a matter of survival – trying to find food, warm clothing and a place to sleep at night.

Catholic Charities has a couple of big events around this time every year that try to feed the spirit as well as the body. Both are uplifting for our homeless clients, and perhaps even more so for those trying to make a difference.

The first happened on Wednesday when we gathered inside of our headquarters with 400 of our homeless neighbors for an awesome Christmas dinner. Through Catholic Charities Enterprises we are able to provide a special meal that goes beyond what we can do day-to-day in shelters and food kitchens. The tables are covered in table cloths with silverware and nice plates, and each guest left with a gift card to get a pair of shoes from Payless Shoes thanks to Jim and Cece Koons. It is a wonderful event that has become a highlight for our homeless friends.

Each room becomes a dining area for our clients, and the staff and volunteers go all out getting everything ready. Each department decorates a different area of the building, and it is special to see the entire building so beautifully and festively decorated for our Christmas dinner.

One of the things I especially love about this event is that people can sit in smaller groups and are joined by volunteers who take the time to visit with them and truly enjoy a meal together. There is a strong sense of family – the family of God. We gather as brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and religion, race, income or anything else doesn’t matter.

Finally, I have to tell you about our Angel Tree. Through the support of hundreds of donors, we provided almost 1,000 children with Christmas gifts this year. Most of these children are part of families being helped by Catholic Charities programs in DC, Montgomery County and southern Maryland. But, due to such incredible generosity, we were able to also help 90 additional kids whose parents called us desperate for help providing a gift.

More than helping meet immediate physical needs, these events are reminders of God’s love that breaks into our world in the person of Jesus among us. This love is experienced by those being served as well as those who are serving. One of the nicest comments we’ve received in recent years came from the young daughter of one of our leaders, who said that the best part of her Christmas was not the presents she received but the chance to help serve and spend time with the homeless at our Christmas dinner.

That’s a great lesson for all of us. By all means we should enjoy the season and everything it brings – time with family and friends, giving and receiving gifts, and celebrating the birth of our Savior. May we also make time this season and throughout the year to open our arms and hearts to those who are less fortunate. I promise you that every time you make a difference for someone in need, Jesus will be born again in their heart and in yours.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

12 Days of Hope: Breaking free from an abusive relationship

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When you first meet Zanetta her confidence and self-assuredness pulls you in. It’s shocking to then hear her speak of a time when she felt powerless, scared, and alone. Zanetta was in an abusive relationship for several years. She feared for her life. But like many men and women in toxic relationships, Zanetta felt trapped.

Then she had as she calls it a ‘light bulb moment’ when she decided enough was enough.  She’ll tell you it wasn’t easy to walk away but she slowly started to re-build the strength to be on her own and thrive. Leaving the relationship was like starting from scratch so Zanetta turned to Catholic Charities for help on many things, from legal advice to transitional housing while she searched for employment. 

Instead of having to go from organization to organization for difference services, Zanetta was able to get comprehensive help at Catholic Charities and be able to fully focus on herself. We'd tell you how it paid off but let Zanetta show you herself:

Friday, December 23, 2016

12 Days of Hope: She overcame 50 years of addiction to be here today

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On one hand, Denise’s story is one of the very best we can share on how all of our housing programs work together to help someone overcome homelessness and addiction. On the other hand, it’s a story unique to Denise, a testament to her own personal determination.

Starting at the age of nine, Denise says she started to drink. She would sneak leftover drinks as she helped her parents clean up after they hosted friends for parties. As she describes it, she spent the next 50 years “drinking and drugging.”

Denise is quick to point out that she was always able to get a job. The challenge was staying sober and focused before she lost the job. Eventually, the wear and tear of such an erratic lifestyle wore her down.

“I said enough,” Denise said. “I was tired of it and I needed to get out of that environment.”  So, Denise put her belongings in storage, left her apartment, and entered a rehab program. It was the start of a long journey toward sobriety, with many pitfalls along the way.

She was in and out of programs a few times, often trying to find the one that fit her best. She came first to Catholic Charities Harriet Tubman program before she was enrolled in Catholic Charities Mt. Carmel House.

Mt. Carmel House is a longer-term program that places homeless adult women in their own room within the building and then spends time helping them focus on what they need to live independently. For Denise, it was the right environment for her to maintain her sobriety and maintain a barrier between her new life and her old, more destructive one.

Today, Denise has been sober for several years. She feels free. She lives in yet another Catholic Charities housing program, called a single room occupancy program, that is considered the final step on the road to independence. She hopes to have her own place, maybe as soon as 2017.

Along the way, she experienced what is known as the “continuum of care” in housing – shelter, transitional, SRO – aimed to help a person overcome homelessness and the underlying causes, before living on their own again.

And while Denise knows she’s accomplished much, she also knows where she still wants to go and she isn’t resting or waiting. 

Feeling inspired? Make a donation to all of the programs who helped Denise on her journey:
Rock Creek Church SRO (under McKenna)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

12 Days of Hope: Forging a New Path After Incarceration

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It's hard to catch up with Lyle. He's extremely dedicated to his work at fellow nonprofit Bread for the City, where he works full-time. And, meeting Lyle now, you wouldn't guess he spent a portion of his life serving time in prison or living a life, that as he described it, was simply destructive. 

Lyle remembers his younger years as a time when he was making bad choices without much direction or thought for the future. Eventually, his reckless choices caught up with him and he spent many years in and out of incarceration.

In Washington, DC, the recidivism rate, or number of times someone with a criminal record turns back to crime again, remains stubbornly high. Our Welcome Home Re-Entry Program aims to reach this vulnerable group of people, many of whom exit incarceration with almost no resources or family to turn to. 

We help people like Lyle all of the time, by providing case management support and often pairing them with a mentor to help them navigate the challenges of daily life. 

In Lyle's case, it made all of the difference. 

For Lyle, the mentorship and resources from the program gave him the strength to turn his life around for the better. We met Lyle after asking him to share some advice on a video that plays in the lobby at Catholic Charities, seeking to encourage someone else who might be facing the same problems Lyle overcame:

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

12 Days of Hope: The Power of a Meal

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Msgr. John Enzler, CEO and President of Catholic Charities, writes about our annual Christmas Dinner for the Homeless. 

Tonight, as we have for the past few years, Catholic Charities offices at 924 G Street, NW, will host hundreds of our neighbors who are homeless inside for a lovely Christmas dinner.

We’ll serve a heaping plate of food – turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and of course pie – and then each guest will be given a coupon for a free pair of shoes.

It’s a few hours filled with the warmth of family, laughter, lots and lots of people enjoying food, and some shared time between our volunteers and our guests. Thanks to my friend Jim Koons, each person will leave with a backpack full of warm clothing and personal hygiene items as well as a gift card to Payless Shoes to get a free pair of shoes.

I know, of course, that once the meal is over, our guests head back out into the cold night to sleep in a shelter or maybe on the street if they choose. The fact that we provide a meal or a free pair of shoes doesn’t do much to change their situation.

But, in my five years here at Catholic Charities, I’ve come to understand deeply the power of a meal in the larger push to end homelessness one person at a time.

When we serve a meal on the sidewalk, or invite folks inside our building, it creates a meal time much like family dinner at home for many of us, I suspect. And then, between bites of food or while someone is in line or waiting after, you can start to have conversations.

You start to get to know each other. They get to know me. I get to know them. We see each other each week or once a month. And slowly, we start a relationship that can often help lead someone who has been isolated or out in the cold for years back toward a healthier and safer life.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, is a regular attendee at tonight’s event. And I know he comes because it’s a chance for him to minister to the poor in that same family-style setting. I love seeing the smile on his face. I love knowing that despite all the important work he has and the many different directions he is pulled in, he always makes time to come visit us and have dinner with someone who is homeless.

That’s the power of a meal.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Msgr. John Enzler
President and CEO
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington

Monday, December 19, 2016

12 Days of Hope: A new job just in time for Christmas!

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When Liz lost her job last year, she thought as a high school graduate and a hard-worker she would bounce back and find employment quickly. But as the weeks of unemployment turned into months, Liz continued to apply for jobs without any success. Her son Alonso, 20, worked part-time to help but he was also seeking full-time employment to help him save money to follow his dream of going to college.  

It was through a friend of a friend Liz heard about Catholic Charities Spanish Catholic Center Employment Services. It seemed like she had tried everything and so she hoped this time would be different. “They started helping me right away and they told me to stay focused, that they would help me and Alonso find good jobs.”
Liz and Alonso celebrate
their recent employment!

While the employment services team worked on connecting Liz and Alonso to employment, the mother and son also found much needed help through the other services provided at the center. Liz said it was blessing to be able to come to the center and receive food, toiletries and SmarTrip cards while she continued to search for work. It can be embarrassing to ask for help, Liz said, but they appreciated all the help they got.

Just in time for the upcoming holidays, the employment team connected Liz and Alonso to jobs at Ronald Reagan International Airport, stocking inventory for the airlines. “I was patient, persistent and I just kept on praying,” said Liz. Alonso hopes this income will help him save up enough money for college and Liz is thankful to be able to provide for her and her son again. 

After more than a year without a steady income, this job has also brought Liz and Alonso a Christmas miracle: their first paycheck will come the day before Christmas Eve. 

Feeling inspired? 

Make a tax-deductible gift to the Spanish Catholic Center right now. 

12 Days of Hope: She was homeless and addicted. Now she's a homeowner.

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Barbara Deale is one of Catholic Charities most loyal volunteers. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, she heads to Catholic Charities TEN Program to help serve dinner or deliver Christmas gifts or whatever else the staff needs help with. She also speaks to groups of residents who are working on overcoming homelessness.

Why is she so loyal?

Because 13 years ago, she was a resident at the TEN program, desperate to finally pull her life together. And now she is one the program's best success stories.

[WATCH: Barbara shares her story for the Catholic Charities waiting room, offering words of hope to someone waiting for help.]

As Barbara tells it, she was addicted to drugs and alcohol for years as a young adult. She had a daughter she was caring for and other children living with family members. She came to the TEN program to get her life together. Over the next two years, she focused on herself. She learned to overcome her addictions. She worked hard with her case manager. She started working.

Today, Barbara is 13 years sober. She works very hard at two jobs. She owns her own home in Maryland. Her four children have grown up, the youngest of whom is at college right now.

By her nature, Barbara is quiet. Yet, she has given back to Catholic Charities over and over again by sharing her story. A lifelong Catholic, she was part of the visit last year of Pope Francis, getting a chance to see him inside St. Patrick's parish.

In her volunteering, she often brings along one of her children or grandchildren. She wants to show the young women in the TEN program today that there is hope for a better future. She wants them to know she sat right where they sit now. And she made it.

Inspired? You can donate to the TEN Program right now! 

12 Days of Hope: For this family, Christmas 2016 is so much better than 2015

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Wow, what a difference one year makes for Shawnekeque Huggans and her family.

Shawnekeque is quick to offer her thanks and share her story.
On Saturday, December 10, the Huggans family was invited by the Monumental Foundation’s Family-to-Family Christmas party. For a few hours, Shawnekeque laughed and watched her two little girls get face paint, play floor hockey with Justin Williams and Daniel Winnick, wear balloon jewelry and visit with Santa. And, perhaps most exciting, they went home with a lot of Christmas presents courtesy of the staff and players.

The moment must have felt so far from where the young family was last year.

Last December, Shawnekeque lost her job after her high-risk pregnancy with twins put her on bed rest. Soon after, she lost her apartment and found herself homeless with two little girls and two more on the way. They turned to DC General Family shelter with nowhere else to stay.

“It was a nightmare. My daughters hated it,” Shawnekeque said. “I had to get us into something more stable.”

Then in May, her twin baby daughters were born early at 34 weeks. During their two-week stay in the neo-natal unit, Shawnekeque met with Sr. Bernadette Longtin at Catholic Charities TEN program. By the time the twins were ready to come home, Shawnekeque had been accepted into the program.

The TEN Program works with homeless families over the course of two or more years to overcome homelessness. Each family is provided their own apartment in a community and works closely with case managers. 

Overnight, the family was moved into a fully-furnished apartment and began working closely with Catholic Charities staff. There were many health complications for the twins related to their premature birth. Shawnekeque tried to go back to working part-time, wanting to be able to provide for her family, but her twin babies needed her too often and she had to stop working her job as a cashier at a local grocery store.

“I tried to be super mom for my daughters, but I couldn’t do it. I was taking off too much time for their health needs,” Shawnekeque said. “My two older daughters were happy I was home more, but I told them it meant we wouldn’t be able to afford Christmas gifts. That’s why the help from Catholic Charities and Monumental was such a gift.”

All four daughters together - including the new baby twins!
Her goal now is to help ensure her twin babies keep overcoming their health challenges. They are both slowly getting better, though one baby struggles with frequent breathing issues that have sent her and Shawnekeque to the emergency room at Children’s National Medical Center more than a few times in the middle of the night. Still, Shawnekeque hopes to get back to work this year. She wants to provide more stability for her family and for herself.

“I really, really appreciate everything Catholic Charities has done for me and my family. They’ve made everything better. When we came to Catholic Charities, we didn’t have anything at all – no food, no furniture. Catholic Charities helped us with everything.” 

Feeling inspired? 
You can donate to Catholic Charities TEN Program right here!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

12 Days of Hope: A decade of hard work, an unforgettable moment with Pope Francis

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The day Trenton Shepherd met Pope Francis, he wore his best suit, a tie and shirt to match and his best shoes.  “I wanted to dress for the occasion,” Trenton said. “I prayed I’d have the chance to meet the Pope.” Trenton is a longtime consumer and employee of Catholic Charities’ Behavioral Health Services. Ten years ago, Trenton couldn’t live on his own or hold a job.

Today, he works for our Catholic Charities Enterprises, cleaning the kitchen and dining rooms after more than 1,800 meals are prepared. The work, his case manager Joseph Chaney says, has brought about a lot of positive changes in Trenton. He lives on his own now, does his own shopping and schedules his own doctor’s appointments. And, every Sunday, he heads to his Catholic parish to worship, always dressed in his best clothing. “He came back from meeting the Pope and gave me the biggest hug,” Chaney said. “That’s just who he is.” 

Chef Eric Curry has worked with Trenton for more than 10 years. “He’s Mr. Very, Very, Very Reliable,” said Curry. In addition to his great work ethic, Trenton is known for his friendliness, greeting coworkers and always saying goodbye before he heads home. For the staff who work with him, seeing Trenton with Pope Francis was a joy they shared with him.

Trenton, always humble, said, “It was pretty good. I’m glad he’s interested in coming into the community. He’s the people’s pope.” He pauses and nods to himself. “Yeah, it was pretty good.”

Thursday, December 15, 2016

12 Days of Hope: Chasing her American Dream, One Patient at a Time

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When someone comes to our McCarrick Family Center, the first person they often meet is 19-year old Marlene. Smiling and bubbly, she makes families feel at ease and welcomed. She knows what’s it’s like to be in their shoes – just a few months earlier, she was the one walking through the door.

When Marlene was 17, she and younger sister fled gang violence in El Salvador that threatened their lives. Their mother had been living in the United States for nearly a decade and it was finally time for them to be reunited in a safer place. With no other options, Marlene and her 8-year old sister waded through rivers, walked through deserts, and crammed onto cattle cars to reunite with their mother in Maryland.

Marlene faced many challenges as an undocumented juvenile in her new home. When her undocumented status restricted her from applying for loans to go to college, Marlene sought the help of our McCarrick Family Center. With the help of our immigration legal services and a team of pro bono lawyers, Marlene was granted Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status which will allow Marlene to apply for permanent residency in the United States. Deacon Jim Shanahan was one of those pro bono attorneys working on her case. “A story like Marlene’s is exactly why SIJ status exists and is so important. We have kids fleeing on foot to escape death and this is the way to help them.”

When Marlene heard the judge’s ruling, she started to cry. She knew then her American dream to become a doctor could happen.

To prepare her future career in medicine, Marlene volunteers at the medical clinic and dental clinic in the McCarrick Family Center.  “We are like a family here, we all help each other. Catholic Charities has opened so many doors for me and I can’t see my life without them.”

To help others like Marlene, donate to our Immigration Legal Services team. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

12 Days of Hope: A decade sober, a recovering addict uses her past to help others

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LaVonda was tired. Tired of losing jobs.  Tired of missing her kids. Tired of the pain her addiction was causing. After years of battling drug abuse, LaVonda was ready to regain control of her life. So nearly 10 years ago, she decided to get clean and heal the wounds her addiction had caused. Thankfully, she found our Tenants Empowerment Network.  

The Tenants Empowerment Network, one of our supportive housing programs for homeless families, provided the resources and support LaVonda needed to start re-building her life. Her case manager provided one-on-one guidance for finding a safe, permanent place to live and stable employment. Counseling sessions helped her stay on the path of sobriety. The loving environment was a safe haven for her daughter.  But most importantly for LaVonda, the staff at TEN gave her the strength she needed to pursue her goals. “Catholic Charities and especially my case manager at TEN showed me that I could do it, that I was strong enough,” said LaVonda.

The TEN program helped LaVonda take the next step to independence by moving into permanent affordable housing.  Now, almost a decade later, LaVonda is a testament to how people can change – and fully rebuild their lives in recovery.  Working two jobs, one in a veterans' housing program, she’s saved enough to move with her daughters into their own market- rent apartment and in a few months LaVonda will celebrate 10 years of sobriety. LaVonda credits her work with helping homeless veterans as a therapeutic way for her to stay clean. Plus, her own struggle with addiction propels her to help other who face similar obstacles. 

“I want to give back to others who are struggling. I love helping people and I want to show them that they are capable, just like me.”

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

12 Days of Hope: Vernon learns a new trade

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Before Vernon started installing siding on houses, he had never picked up a hammer. But the laborious work provided a decent income for Vernon to start saving money and provide for his family. Then came the housing market crash. Vernon lost his job and with it the steady income. Starting over from scratch at the age of 47, was daunting, but Vernon made a commitment to himself to focus on building his construction skillset beyond the basics of installing siding. “My goal was put myself in a better position in the job market and be a valuable employee for a great company or start my own company.”

One of the first steps Vernon took was to enroll in the Michael H. Kappaz Workforce Development program at our Spanish Catholic Center. The Kappaz Workforce program trains students in carpentry, electricity, solar panel installation, and job-site skills in order to compete in the emerging green economy. For Vernon, the program was much more than a job training class. “The center embraces you like family. They make you feel at home. They gave me hope that what’s on the horizon is bright.”
Vernon earned a nationally accredited green construction certificate through the program. The training helped him land a great job as a building manager where he puts his expanded skillset to use every day. But he hasn’t stopped learning. After getting the basics during his time at Catholic Charities, he now is taking electrician courses on the nights and weekends.

“It’s never too late and I got a lot of hope for the future.”


Feeding the Hungry, One Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive at a Time

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For 29 years, the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive has provided hundreds of thousands of canned goods to those in need. The goal is simple: bring help and hope to the community by feeding the hungry. Working with our Catholic Charities volunteer outreach team, this year the drive brought together close to 3,000 people throughout the Archdiocese of Washington to donate canned goods and ensure these items were delivered to those who need them the most. Rick Gannon, executive director of the drive, shares his thoughts and thanks on yet another successful community effort to feed the hungry: 

"The 2016 Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive ended like a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life. The efforts and success of the day produced more cans than we had recipients to give to. We called every contact we could think of to find a backup truck to take the food.  The John S. Mulholland Foundation brought two U-Haul vans, Catholic Charities another but there were still thousands of cans left to be donated. Finally, Nourish Now appeared with a semi-truck to save the day. As the sun was setting and the last of the overflow cans were being stuffed into the rescue truck, our resident DJ; DJ Ficca began to play Old Lang Syne. Standing there with my brother’s family, my daughter and all the friends and helpers completing the most successful day in our 29 years is a memory that will stay with me forever.

Thanks to the efforts of over 3,000 people throughout the Washington area, we collected 152,520 canned goods to help feed those families less fortunate than ours. Each year, I am amazed at the response, the support and the enthusiasm of everyone that comes out every year to make this The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I wanted to end this Thank You by sharing a note that my brother’s daughter, Colleen posted on Facebook about Saturday’s GGCFD.

Colleen Gannon: 
Feeling inspired - just came back from the Greg Gannon Canned Food Drive. On this day each year, I feel the presence of my dad - a man who taught me the power of what one person can do when they embrace their community, work in solidarity with others, and find joy in working for a better world. My dad has been gone for over 10 years now but his legacy lives on through the food drive and in so many other ways. He continues to bring out the best in all our family as we come together on this day to spread the joy and embrace a cause so dear to him. This holiday season remember that life is more about giving then receiving, spread the joy, and inspire others to do the same.

Have a wonderful Holiday and once again thank you from all of us at the GGCFD." - Rick Gannon

Missed the food drive but still want to help out? Check out our upcoming volunteer opportunities or donate here