Archive for August, 2013

Surviving Sandy; This Year There Are No Roses

Friday, August 30th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Raindrops pour down a battered picket fence dotted with Mickey and Minnie Mouse paintings surrounding Marina Babkina’s two-story attached home in Midland Beach. They serve as faded reminders of a once-thriving international daycare center and home now struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy touched down in this Staten Island enclave.

Ms. Babkina’s Karousel Daycare Center and Fairytale music studio provided crucial support for her predominantly Russian-born neighbors. In addition to allowing parents to work worry free, it helped young children, many of whom spoke no English, acclimate to their new lives in the United States.

“The human brain is set up to distinguish music before it distinguishes speech,” says Ms. Babkina, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from Russia nearly 20 years ago and holds masters degrees in music and economics. So Ms. Bakina, a widow whose husband died of cancer in 2002, used songs and instruments ranging from guitars to keyboards to help her tiny charges, 14 in all, learn language, math and art.

That ended when Hurricane Sandy pushed waves from the Atlantic Ocean that roars just one block away into the basement and first floor that housed her business. Meanwhile, 90- mile-an-hour winds ripped through her second-floor skylights, destroying the walls, floors and furniture that made up her home.

Ms. Babkina evacuated. But her adult son, Ilya, returned to save instruments stored in the finished basement. Instead, he nearly drowned. Forty-degree ocean water filled the lower room. He escaped by pulling himself up the cellar stairs, pushing his way out the front door and swimming nearly 15 blocks up Hyland Blvd. Finally, he reached dry land.

Yet at first, Ms. Babkina seemed like one of the lucky ones. Unlike many of her neighbors, she had flood insurance.

But she used up her flood insurance – $50,000 in all — to replace windows, walls, cabinets and appliances before engineers noticed that her house was shifting. Chocking on scents of mold mixed with sawdust, Ms. Bakina points to cracks zigzagging her windows and walls, salt water still flowing along her foundation and a jagged 12-square-foot gap in cement, a reminder of a cracked pipe that had to be dug up beneath her basement.

Her Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager, Valerya Osipova, is helping this once-independent woman navigate a new world characterized by FEMA and forms, hope and desperation.

It has not been easy.

 

Ms. Babkina’s home is wedged in the middle of five attached houses. Construction engineers now recommend building pillars that would extend from deep in the ground to the houses’ roofs to shore up the now shifting homes. This, however, requires consent and financial support from all five homeowners as well as their insurance companies.

 

Meanwhile, Ms. Babkina is unable to move back into her home, reestablish the business that once paid her bills or provide the daycare that allowed many of her neighbors to work.

 

Ms. Osipova is helping Ms. Babkina negotiate with FEMA and with her insurance company. She obtained a $500 grant to replace the battered fence with a new one to allow Ms. Babkina to reopen her daycare business. She lined up donations that range from flooring to skylights and furniture between. She provided her with food from a Catholic Charities food pantry, helped her apply for food stamps and linked her with other government programs that Ms. Bakina once thought she would never need. And she serves as a comfort and sounding board when the time and energy needed to maintain the struggle seems too much for her to bear.

 

“It’s not easy,” Ms. Babkina says, pointing out a plot of dirt once filled by rose bushes that would bloom on her July birthday. “This year, there are no roses.”


Immigration reform; Taking the Issue Straight to the Pews

Monday, August 26th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Watch Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan on MSN Latino Telemundo TV as he speaks about the importance of comprehensive immigration reform.

“We have a system of immigration that is broken,” he says in Spanish, “so we have to change to make one better that is just.”

Catholic bishops and priests from across the country are taking the issue straight to the pews, Telemundo reports, preaching a coordinated message that uses a single voice to back changes in immigration policy and urge Congressional passage of reform that includes a path to citizenship.

The political campaign by Catholic priests is likely to catch the attention of Congress where nearly one out of three members is Catholic.

Watch and listen to the Telemundo interview with Msgr. Kevin Sullivan.

 

You Come Into This World with Nothing and You Leave with Nothing

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Wincing as he walks, Donald Marcus, 70, surveys what is left of the eight bungalows he once rented out in Midland Beach, Staten Island, that provided affordable housing for friends and strangers.

“People live paycheck to paycheck,” he says, explaining why he rented out the one-bedroom homes just blocks from the beach for as little as $400 per month.

“I believe you come in this world with nothing and you leave with nothing.”

This is proving true for him.  Three of his bungalows destroyed by Superstorm Sandy have already been demolished by the city, including one where his tenant Jack Paterno, 65, drowned in the storm.

Two more, including the one he rented out to an elderly woman who shared her home with her mentally challenged brother so he would not have to live in an institution,  have been gutted right down to the salt-water soaked beams.

The final three he uses to demonstrate degrees of rebirth thanks to donations of time, materials and services he received by networking with everyone he meets, from the man he met that morning in line at McDonalds to the Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager, MaryEllen Ferrer, who coordinates disaster recovery services for him.

Still, Mr. Marcus recognizes that his days of providing housing to the down and out are gone forever.  His former printing business up the street on Midland Ave that for 38 years printed everything from Pops Baseball cards to politicians’ bulletins and CYO flyers washed away in the storm as well.

“Not one dry sheet of paper was left,” he says.

Seventy years old, with no flood insurance and ineligible for FEMA loans to restore the bungalos because FEMA helps with primary residences, Mr. Marcus asks rhetorically “what am I going to do?  Start over?”

Catholic Charities cannot replace his former life, his Disaster Case Manager Valeriya Osipova says.  But it can help him get back on his feet, she adds.

As a disaster case manager, Ms. Osipova serves as advocate and expediter for Mr. Marcus and others whose lives have been upended by Sandy.  She created an individualized disaster recovery plan to advocate for access to needed services, coordinate benefits, and make referrals that range from obtaining sheetrock for Mr. Marcus’ houses to linking him to connecting him to volunteers to help repair his home.

Grateful for the assistance, Mr. Marcus tries to remain upbeat.  After all, Superstorm Sandy left his own home on Augusta Avenue in Staten Island undamaged, he said.  And his wife of 45 years who fell, broke her femur bone and was put on life support two months after the storm, is now recovering at home.

Yet the reality, he says, cannot be escaped.

“This is going to happen again,” Mr. Marcus says.  “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.  But again.”

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan Teams with Clergy and Immigrant Leaders to Call for Immigration Reform

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

By Alice Kenny

As part of a national month of prayer and action, Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan joined yesterday with Staten Island Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, mainline Protestant clergy and immigrant leaders to reflect on the lives of new immigrants.  The crowd gathered at St. Margaret Mary ’s Church in Midland Beach, Staten Island, with the church’s pastor, Fr. Erno Diaz, to pray for immigrants’ full inclusion through just and humane comprehensive immigration reform.

They held the event during the August Congressional recess, Director of NYS Interfaith Network for Immigration Relief Diane Steinman said, to persuade House of Representatives members to do the right thing for immigrants and our nation at large,

Among the many speakers was Maggie Kawas, an immigrant who spoke about her father’s deportation and, similar to many immigrant families, the tragic toll it took.

Msgr. Sullivan then spoke about witnessing firsthand the pain and suffering of undocumented immigrants forced to live in the shadows, many who live in fear of deportation or whose families have been shattered by deportation.

Learn more about what he said and the event in SILive.

Catholic Charities helps immigrants reunite legally with their families, obtain proper work authorization, learn English and civics, and prepare to pass citizenship exams. Catholic Charities also assists immigrants in avoiding exploitation by unscrupulous practitioners by providing correct information and realistic counsel about immigration status.

Looking for immigration assistance?  Call us at the New York State (NYS) New Americans Hotline: 1-212-419-3737 or 1-800-566-7636 (Toll-free in NYS)

For help finding other services you need please call us at the Catholic Charities Help line at: 888-744-7900.

Catholic Charities’ Bus to Washington Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March

Monday, August 19th, 2013

On Saturday August 24, a march and rally will be held to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Catholic Charities will sponsor a bus to Washington, DC in partnership, with the Central Harlem parishes, for this event.  Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, Executive Director made clear the importance of Catholic Charities’ participation:

“Catholic Charities mission of providing help and creating hope in the lives of individuals includes the broader perspective of building a society that is more just and compassionate.  Events such as this call attention to the environment in which our critically important work with individuals and families is done.  There are always multiple themes highlighted and expressed in such broad-based events – themes and perspectives with which there is significant disagreement among attendees.  Catholic Charities participation has a very simple and targeted message:  Every person is made in the image and likeness of God, worthy of dignity and respect whose basic human rights need to be ensured.  Of particular concern to us are the hungry who need food, the homeless who need housing, children who need loving families, those whose lives at the earliest and last stages need protection, the unemployed who needs jobs and strangers who need welcoming.  Put simply – the poorest and most vulnerable are Catholic Charities first focus.”

Series of College Tours Inspires Students to Achieve

Monday, August 19th, 2013

By Ben Ros

“I found a college that I will be comfortable attending. The visit to Ithaca College makesme want to continue working harder, and focus on taking more challenging courses in my school. I will definitely start taking my priorities more seriously.”

—Yeury Amarante, HS for Media & Communications

July 22, promptly at 6 a.m., students from HS for Media & Communications and Innovation Diploma Plus (IDP) High School gathered at George Washington High School and departed for a two day tour of Skidmore College, Syracuse University, Ithaca College, and SUNY Cortland. Catholic Charities Alianza Division initially contacted parents about the upstate tour, stressing the importance of higher education as a means of breaking the cycle of poverty.

Alianza is a division of Catholic Charities that provides comprehensive community support through a number of programs spanning from domestic violence assistance to immigrant advocacy — and at a time when the New York Times reports that elite colleges are lagging in their efforts to recruit students from financially challenged backgrounds, Alianza is rising to the challenge.

Students from IDP and HS for Media & Communications have been to Alianza-coordinated college fairs and career days before as part of the program’s larger mission to encourage youth to finish school and think about their future. Seeing the actual campuses, however, they were able to picture themselves going to college in a way that fairs and brochures simply can’t emulate.

“Attending this trip gave me the opportunity to meet new people and to look beyond my expectations. I did not think that college was for me, but now I know that I have the potential to enroll in college and major in my area of interest, which is music.”

— Steven Arias, Innovation Diploma HS.

For more information on the good work that Alianza does visit their website alianzaonline.org.

North Bronx Social Service Agency is More Than Just

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

By Ben Ros

One Bronx nonprofit, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Charity, continues to make the news. Here it is, in case you missed it on PBS’s Metrofocus.

Part of the Solution (POTS) opened in 1982 as a standard soup kitchen but has since expanded their scope of services to provide not only food through their restaurant-style community dining room and food pantry, but increasingly, everything the homeless or working poor need. Their services range from case management and legal advice to hot showers, haircuts, clothing, and a mailing address.

The diversity of services offered stems from a holistic philosophy that is central to the community values that POTS fosters. For those starting from zero, some of these basic services make all the difference. The simple chance to sit down in the barber’s chair and tell your story, or be recognized by your postman can inspire the courage and confidence it takes to work through hard times.

POTS’s true value to those it serves is being a safe, judgment-free space to fulfill one’s basic needs while respecting individuals’ dignity. “Personal dignity is really the one quality that I think people need to take each next progressive step in their life,” said Chris Bean, Executive Director of POTS, a sentiment that parallels one of the central doctrines of the catechism.

To learn more about POTS and how you can help, visit potsbronx.org.

“Still Here” Proclaims Driftwood Sign by Sandy Survivor

Monday, August 12th, 2013

By Alice Kenny

Little — in fact, nearly nothing other than the “Still Here,” driftwood sign Audrey Jill Sherry spray painted outside her hurricane-torn home — offered any hope last December that her home remained inhabited.   What belonged inside the house — furniture, clothes and photos of family long gone — was now packed into 200 garbage bags that filled two dumpsters.  They stood on the front lawn amid water-slogged shoes, an upended kitchen table, crushed Christmas decorations and a torn American flag.  Meanwhile, dead fish, rocks, shells and mud up to the rafters now took the furniture’s place.

Two cedar trees felled by the storm gouged the roof. A 60-foot-tall tree, now split in two, splayed across the lawn.  Ms. Sherry’s home now had no doors and no windows.  There was no electricity, no heat, no hot water.  Even Ms. Sherry’s truck had been washed away.

“I was too stunned to even ask for help,” says Ms. Sherry who lived in the two-story brick-faced Seaview Avenue home for more than three decades.

Ms. Sherry learned about the Hurricane Sandy Restoration Center established and staffed by Catholic Charities and fellow first responders four weeks after Hurricane Sandy washed more than nine feet of water into her home. She called and met with Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager Supervisor Elizabeth Netherwood 10 minutes later.

“She opened up her heart and arms, telling me ‘I can do this for you; I can help you,” Ms. Sherry says.  “It was a turning point; I realized I needed help and I was going to get it.”

Ms. Netherwood linked Ms. Sherry to services offered by FEMA and other first responders.  She gave her Salvation Army gift certificates.  And she used Catholic Charities funds to purchase a $699 generator to heat and electrify Ms. Sherry’s home.

The generator lifted Ms. Sherry’s spirits while inserting a dose of reality.  She could now clearly see mold growing on her peeling walls and the shattered glass wedged between her buckling floors.

She scrubbed, cleaned, and hosed down the inside of the house as if it were a shower.  And slowly, with help, she began to rebuild.

Buttressed by the support she received, she brought blankets to a neighbor who has cancer and clothes to a vendor down the street who lost his hotdog truck to the storm.

“For every kindness given to me I need to pay that forward,” she says as she takes a break from scrubbing her home.  “I don’t know what the next step is; I just know in my heart that I will be provided for as long as I do my part and I know that I’ll be okay.”

 

Hope for New Immigration Policy; Are You Eligible for Deferred Action?

Friday, August 9th, 2013
 
By Ben Ros
Recent support in Washington for the Senate immigration bill has many looking forward to comprehensive immigration reform. For many, however, help is already here: since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) bill passed last year, millions have become eligible for protection from deportation. Catholic Charities can help you find out if you are eligible for deferred action or prepare for possible new reforms.

Movers and shakers across religious and political spectrums are offering the issue their support. This week Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg joins His Eminence, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan (proponents of the Catholic community’s long-standing pro-immigrant stance) in working to reform immigration policy.

You may be eligible for deferred action if you:

  • Have come to the United States under the age of 16 and not be above the age of 30.
  • Have resided in the United States continuously for at least five years before June 15, 2012, and have been present in the United States as of June 15, 2012.
  • Be in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a GED certificate or be honorably discharged veterans of the Armed Forces of the United States.
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense or multiple mi
    sdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Call the New York State New Americans Hotline: 1 (800) 566-7636 — open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. — to speak with someone who can help you through the process or visit the USCIS website to learn more.

 

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