Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Overcoming the Odds - A Graduation to Remember

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By: Paris Adon, Principal of the Kennedy School

It’s been two weeks since the last day of school in Washington, DC!  All around our area, the school year is winding down and summer break has begun.  Volunteers recently came to do some sprucing up in our hallways as part of the CCDC Summer of Service.  But me?  I’m still thinking about our recent graduation.

At Catholic Charities, we were so proud to be celebrating 3 Kennedy School graduates: DeAndra Brown, Imani King and Christena Juhans.  For each of these students, the path to reach this remarkable milestone was at times a steep, uphill climb.  At some point in their lives, these students were told that they would never graduate from anywhere or anything.  I couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments and excited for these students and the futures that await them.  All of them will be attending adult education programs following graduation.

Some people say that the Kennedy School is a unique place.  Our student body is comprised of 31 students between the ages of 6-22 years old.  We specialize in serving students with a variety of disabilities. But at our core, we are like any other school.  We are working to prepare our students for independence and life beyond graduation.  Our primary goal at the Kennedy School is that every student will graduate with either a job or a post-secondary educational opportunity. 

The scene at graduation was as you’d expect—high excitement!  Friends and family everywhere!  Caps, gowns, photos!  We’d rehearsed the day before to be sure we were ready.  The entire student body, some alumni, our staff and a large collection of family and friends turned out at the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center for the ceremony. Catholic Charities’ CEO Father John Enzler spoke and congratulated our students. 

I was particularly touched when DeAndra’s mom came to hug me and burst into tears on my shoulder.  “Without this school, I don’t know where DeAndra would be.”  Our relationship with DeAndra and his family is long and meaningful.  He’s been a student at Kennedy for 12 years and now lives independently.  He’s been a successful intern at both the Department of the Interior and at Yes! Organic Market.  Deandre himself said, “School is like a family to me and I’m going to miss everyone.”

Imani King, another 2017 graduate, has come so far from when we first met her 2 years ago.  Because of her hard work, she conquered paralyzing social anxiety.  She overcame her fears and learned how to navigate the Metro system and find her way around her internship in the cavernous federal building.  Imani came to Kennedy scared, with a full time personal aide, but moves forward today with the skills, training and confidence to find her own way. 

Christena Juhans had been with Kennedy for 12 years before last week’s graduation.  At graduation, she said to me, “I’ve never been to a graduation before.”  Her success on graduation day was beyond her imagination, but not beyond ours at the Kennedy School.  We believed in her potential, just as we believe in every student at our school.

Her grandmother wanted to attend the ceremony but had no way to get there.  I wasn’t going to let her grandmother miss seeing Christena graduate, so one of our dedicated staff picked her up and drove her to the ceremony.  Her grandmother walked up to me and said, simply, “This school has gone above and beyond for Christena.”

She’s right, and it’s intentional.  We are called to go above and beyond at the Kennedy School.  And in return, our students exceed expectations. We do whatever it takes because that’s what every student deserves.  Our team’s investment, Catholic Charities’ investment, made possible by generous support of our community and partners, is repaid back in spades by the students’ individual achievements and successes.  Seeing them move forward in their own way in the world is a milestone for them, and a monumental achievement for us all.

Here’s to the class of 2017!

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Best Birthday Present

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Thank God my birthday has finally arrived! Ever since the gala in April, which was spectacular, people have been wishing me a happy birthday. They normally say, “sorry I missed your birthday” but this year I’ve been saying “no, it actually hasn’t come yet” (it’s tomorrow June 10th). I don’t like to make a big deal about birthdays. Not because I’m at all worried about getting older or feeling sad that the years have gone by, but rather, I’m not big on the attention that comes with it and I like to spend every day as if it was my birthday, doing my best to help others.
You already do this but if you want to give me a present, keep serving our
clients, reaching out to others and saying “YES”! In fact, we kicked off our Summer of Service this week. Catholic Charities gave me the best gift - 70 volunteer service projects for my 70th birthday. I'm honored by this initiative and I love the culture we’ve created where we can take great pride in our willingness to respond positively to everyone. As the song goes “ALL ARE WELCOME”.

Speaking of songs, last Sunday night as part of my homily, I invited everyone at my 8pm mass to join in singing Kerry Mooney’s Easter version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. We added an additional verse for Pentecost and it made a big impact on lots of people. You can watch it here

Here is an email I got after the service from one of our friends:

John, I finally got to show up and witness what you have accomplished with this Mass. Arriving at the church, the parking lots was full and overflowing. The percentage of young adults, families and teenagers was impressive and speaks to the value of what you have accomplished. The music was truly a most meaningful form of prayer, the words were new to me and most meaningful, especially that which substituted for your sermon. I was in need of a spiritual lift and a sense of hope for the future of our church and its relationship with our younger members. Had lots of tears of joy Sunday evening. Thank you.

So, today – the day before my birthday – I’m thinking about those words and all of you. When I think of Catholic Charities and all of you, I think “Hallelujah”! Have a great weekend.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Kicking off a Summer of Service

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I love the summer. It’s not just the beach, the warm weather and the cookouts. It’s not only the family time and enjoying friends in a more relaxed atmosphere. It is a chance to catch our breath and enjoy the blessings of a beautiful season but over and above that, I enjoy the many young people who join our team as volunteers and interns for the summer months. They bring enthusiasm, laughter, creativity and inquisitive minds – anxious to learn all they can about the great work we do at Catholic Charities.

On June 7th, we will launch the Catholic Charities DC “Summer of Service,” an initiative developed to encourage volunteerism in the summer season.  This effort is a three-month long campaign that will invite residents of the Washington-area from all walks of life to participate in giving the gift of
Volunteers sprucing up Mulumba House shelter
community service to the community by volunteering in any of the 70 unique service projects we are offering throughout the summer. These opportunities will address a range of issues including hunger, homelessness, community restoration, and more.  They will provide necessary support to meet some of the most pressing needs in our community.  Volunteers will come from our parishes, our high schools and colleges, organizations and corporations. We will be joined by other non-profits and even those who come from out of town to experience the wonder of Washington while also helping those in need.  I dream of families who come together for a particular project, parishes that unite around one issue and companies that have created a corporate culture around giving back.

It’s exciting to set the stage for a wonderful community to give back their time, talent and treasure in support of those most in need. Poverty doesn’t take a summer vacation, but the call to service doesn’t either and we are here to help those in need. I hope you’ll join us too!