Thursday, October 27, 2016

Father John: Overcoming the cost of being poor

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This originally appeared as a column in the Oct. 20, 2016 Catholic Standard.

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

We do a lot at Catholic Charities to try and meet the needs of those who are struggling the most. We have multiple food pantries, medical clinics, dental clinics, housing programs, legal clinics, and so much more. You are probably tired of me telling you all of the needs Catholic Charities meets by this point.

But here’s one need we don’t meet very well – yet.

Personal financial literacy. I believe deeply that one of the biggest factors in success and failure comes down to understanding one’s own limits financially. For our social workers and case managers, financial literacy is the bedrock of their work to help families rebuild.

That’s why today, I’m dedicating my column to sharing the exciting news about our Financial Literacy Workshop on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Gonzaga High School, featuring the excellent and nationally-syndicated columnist Michelle Singletary. Additionally, we will have panels led by representatives from “the Big Four” accounting firms – KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young will focus on setting and planning to reach financial goals, learning how to spend money wisely within that budget, planning for future needs, and avoiding the financial scams that prey on low-income families who are caught in a perpetual cycle of financial crisis.

But that is only the start. Building off of the model of our Catholic Charities Legal Network and Catholic Charities, we are creating a network of financial professionals who will be asked to donate their expert services pro bono to provide guidance to low-income families.

For many of the families we help, financial literacy goes one of two ways.

Some of the people we serve are marvelous at stretching a dollar. They know where to get deals on groceries, they minimize extra splurge purchases and they maximize their resources in the community. For these families, they need to know the best ways to start to save and build a foundation.

For others, spending is a major problem. They might be completely unfamiliar with the idea of debt or credit scores. They have never been able to resist purchases.

Both of these situations might sound pretty familiar. That’s because these are issues that affect lots and lots of families, regardless of their income. The difference, of course, is that almost all of the families we see at Catholic Charities are always on the edge of financial ruin. All it would take is a car breakdown, medical emergency or lost job. So we want to help people do more with their incomes while we try to help them grow their incomes.

We’re hoping to help everyone who needs it, but especially those who would otherwise not be able to afford the expert advice and guidance of a financial wiz. Early on, we’re hoping to pair volunteers as mentors to work with clients to set a budget, get a sense of what is possible, and then follow up regularly to be a coach.

There are so many people who could benefit from this kind of help, and so many people in the area who are in a great position to provide it. Our Legal Network depends on more than 500 attorneys to take on pro bono cases to help low-income clients get the civil legal help they deserve. Our Health Care Network takes very ill patients who have serious health needs and places them with a specialist doctor to treat their illness. Both networks have had incredible success in changing the landscape for low-income people in our region.

Why not do the same thing with this vital, but often overlooked, aspect of poverty? We know the need is dire. I believe deeply that one of the largest driving factor in our society between the haves and the have-nots comes down to knowledge of the tools available to them.

If you are someone who could benefit from this network, join us on October 29. The event is free, but seating is limited. Visit  The session will last from 9 am to 2 pm and it includes lunch! If you feel called to volunteer and help build this network up, reach out to Deacon Jim Shanahan at

I’m very excited. I am very thankful to the big four accounting firms for lending their expertise and support. I am very thankful to our own team led by Deacon Jim Shanahan and to Gonzaga College High School. We’re off to a great start and hope to make a real difference for those who need it. Please volunteer if you can and help us achieve great success in the months and years to come. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Letter from a Grateful Mom and Her Healthy Newborn

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Our Sanctuaries for Life program helps low-income mothers through the pregnancy and birth of their baby by providing medical referrals, baby supplies, and emotional support.  Lillian, an immigrant from Nigeria, was facing a high risk pregnancy and the compounding hospital bills left her and her baby in a life-threatening situation. Our Sanctuaries for Life program connected her with a hospital and doctors who were able to help her deliver a healthy baby boy. Mom and baby, David, are doing great and Lillian was so thankful for Sanctuaries for Life she wrote this moving letter:

I am 32 years of age and was born with Sickle Cell disease.

Baby David is healthy and happy!
With great joy in my heart I sincerely appreciate God Almighty who made me a proud mother. God delivered me and made my dream come true through Sanctuaries for Life program. My coming to America was sudden and when I got here it was a big challenge because of the high risk of my health and pregnancy, hospital procedures and bills was also another challenge. When I got here I approached a physician but was turned down by his team because my pregnancy was already 32 weeks old and I was of high risk. This made me almost depressed. A friend directed me to call Sanctuaries for Life for assistance and as God may have it I was directed to see Jessica* and after the interactive session with her, she considered the high risk that was involved with my pregnancy and decide to enroll me for the program, an appointment was set up for another interview session and immediately after that an appointment was secured for me to see a doctor at Holy Cross Hospital.

At 37 weeks of my pregnancy I took ill and a lot of complications arose but I thank God that the Sanctuaries for Life team sent me to the best hospital that was able to handle my case. Different doctors from different departments worked collectively to ensure my safe delivery. The height of the challenges came to the point of delivering. My baby made several attempts but his heartbeat was drastically dropping so the doctors quickly decided to carry out a C-Section and in less than 20 minutes I had my baby, David.

The program Sanctuaries for Life did not only save my life but also saved my baby and I know a lot of other lives must have been saved also. I pray that God blesses me so that I can have an extension of Sanctuaries of Life back home in my country Nigeria to assist high risk pregnancy women too.

May God bless the Sanctuaries for Life team and all that is contributing to this program in one way or another. 

*Name has been changed