Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

Trading Places: From Food Pantry Recipient to Volunteer to Staffer

Friday, August 29th, 2014

IMG_6725smBy Alice Kenny

Once a food bank recipient, today a staffer at the same food bank, Margarita Peralta knows firsthand how much better it is to give than to receive.

“I remember as far back as when I was eight, when my mom would take me to the Catholic Charities food pantry in Washington Heights and, unlike at the store, they’d give us all this stuff for free. Then we’d go home and my mom would line everything up on the table – tuna, chicken, rice, beans.

“We were happy but still it felt weird. I wondered what it would be like to be on the other side, to be the one giving the food instead of getting it.”

Now she knows.

The first in her family to go to college, Margarita took time off from her junior year at SUNY Potsdam to nurse her dad whose health has been eaten away by diabetes.

To fill out her days, she volunteered at the same food pantry she and her mom used to visit. She helped Catholic Charities computerize its once manual food tallies, working so hard and so often at registering new clients that Catholic Charities recently offered her a full-time job.

Evolving from recipient to volunteer to staffer, she offers a special perspective on the benefits and challenges related to each role.

Her parents were hard working immigrants from the Dominican Republic who never wanted to ask for help, she says. But illness diverted their race towards the American dream.

Her mother, a home health aide, had to quit her just-above minimum wage job to regularly rush Margarita as a child to the E.R. for treatment for sickle cell anemia, a chronic disease shared by one out of every 20 Dominican New Yorkers.

Her father, meanwhile, once a supermarket delivery driver, had his vision and much of his kidney function stolen by diabetes, another illness that strikes 10-percent of New York state’s population.

“He was always a working man but lost his license because he can barely see,” Margarita says, grabbing a napkin to cover her tears. “It’s a shock to see him go from being so active to just lying in bed.”

She inherited her parents’ work ethic, donating more than 100 hours to the food pantry during the winter months.

“I like the environment, the way staff and people served are so close and friendly,” she says. “It feels like a big family.”

She likes it so much, she added, that she plans to transfer to a city college so she can continue working for Catholic Charities, complete her studies and care for her dad.

“It brings joy when I know that I’m feeding someone that can’t feed themselves. Because my mom, dad and I have been in that position, it’s interesting to now see how for others, also, a bag of food can make someone so happy.”

Real Internships: Refugees and the American Melting Pot

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

An outreach trip to the Brooklyn Grange– Urban rooftop farming merges with refugee resettlement, providing them with workplace acclimation in a more familiar farm setting.

Catholic Charities intern Franchesca Verendia wrote for her Boston College “Career Edge” website about her eye-opening summer internship with Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Department.  Her post includes photos of outreach trips she took and events she helped arrange.  Highlights include the Brooklyn Grange where urban rooftop farming merges with refugee resettlement to provide new arrivals with workplace acclimation in a more familiar farm setting.  It also includes a World Refugee Day Banner themed “Laying Roots” where clients painted a tree with their hand prints to symbolize leaves as well as the different countries they come from. And it includes insightful quotes from this perceptive college student such as:

“I have come to admire the resiliency of our clients who do not want pity… but rather just someone to point them in the right direction.”

Let’s find out what else Franchesca has to say:

This summer I had the incredible opportunity of working in the Refugee Resettlement Office of the Catholic Charities located in downtown Manhattan. As an intern, I worked mostly on an appointment-based system with clients in order to improve their English as well as explain American workplace customs. Additionally, I accompanied some clients to different government offices around the city in order to advocate on their behalf in the case that their English was limited…

 Given our focus on employment, I worked primarily with adults. While many of the jobs we help our clients get are entry-level jobs, these jobs help clients get the US work experience they need to professionally advance in the future, or help support them while they pursue higher education…The education levels and English proficiency found in our clientele is a wide spectrum, with some possessing PhDs and others not completing high school. Some clients may possess English that is grammatically better than my own, while others require a translator…

Clients come from a variety of backgrounds. Thus, each client is different and should be treated much like how one would treat anyone else—as an individual.

Throughout my time at the RRO, I have come to admire the resiliency of our clients who do not want pity, much like anyone who has grown up in the comfort of the US, but rather just someone to point them in the right direction.

I truly believe that any success a client achieves is one that is entirely their own. Clients rarely mention the reasons they fled their homes and instead focus on the future and what they must do to achieve whatever they believe to be the American dream.

Read Francesca’s full blog post.

 

It Takes A lot to Humble Yourself

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Lizzie  Sister ShyneBy Alice Kenny

Moms and children hungry, struggling and embarrassed by their need: these are some of Lizaura German’s earliest memories.

Lizzie practically grew up at the Catholic Charities food pantry  in Washington Heights.   Her mother, the site’s longest volunteer – 36 years and counting – brought Lizzie along when she was just past kindergarten age to help out in their neighborhood center.

Those served felt comfortable sharing their fears and tears with the then-little girl.

“It takes a lot to humble yourself to let people what know what you’re going through,” Lizzie says, recalling what she learned from an early age.  “There is a lot of pride involved because people want to fix things themselves.  When people finally express their need you don’t want them to lose hope.

“A food pantry,” she adds,  “is not just a bag of food, it’s a doorway for helping clients.”

As program manager for Catholic Charities Feeding Our Neighbors program, Lizzie enters this doorway daily, sometimes seven days a week.  She oversees nearly half of Catholic Charities food pantries plus three soup kitchens – more than 30 all told – commuting from the Catskill mountains to Staten Island along with the Bronx, Manhattan and, of course, Washington Heights.

The job, she says, relies nearly as much on diplomacy as it does on knowledge.  Most food pantry staff are volunteers including retirees from Wall Street. So while they are committed to helping their community, these volunteers are also accustomed to taking charge.  Lizzie makes sure volunteers feel appreciated while guiding them to listen to those on food pantry lines and make sure they connect them to the breadth of services Catholic Charities offers.

“Clients come in for a bag of food,” Lizzie says as she exchanges smiles with an elderly woman entering the food pantry.  “But meanwhile, their lights are being turned off or they’re being evicted.  We need to make sure the client feels comfortable enough to express that to the volunteer.”

With a masters degree  in public administration from Baruch College, a background that includes a stint at the United Nations, and a dad who works as executive sous chef at the famed Carmine’s restaurant in Greenwich Village, Lizzie could likely land a job almost anywhere.

But her commitment, she says, is to those she serves at Catholic Charities.

“My job is to be the voice of the client,” she say, “because there is nothing worse than losing a client or knowing that a client was not fully helped.”

Be Sure to Catch Larry and Friends

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Larry and Friends Event Flyer FINALBy Alice Kenny

Nearly two dozen immigrants, refugees, children and staff listened spellbound last week at Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement department in downtown Manhattan as an illustrator and writer, each New York based but bred in another land, shared their just-published story, Larry and Friends, an ode to immigration, diversity, friendship and acceptance.

The reading served as the kick off for a conversation about challenges immigrants face, some as obvious as learning a new language, others as surprising as getting used to the way Americans coddle their pets.

“Events like this help to create community with the clients we serve,” Catholic Charities Director of Refugee Resettlement Kelly Agnew-Barjas said after the event.

The book, filled with illustrations reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s famed Where the Wild Things Are, was illustrated by Ecuadorian-born Carla Torres and written by Belgian-born, Venezuelan-raised Nat Jasper. Its silly yet sensitive story features a drum-beating African zebra, a tight-rope artist Polish pig, a Colombian street musician alligator and fellow ambitious animals relocated to New York City from around the world.

“We work so hard to help clients and we engage in very serious issues every day,” Ms. Agnew-Barajas added. “It’s important to step back and remember that we are part of a larger immigrant experience in New York City.”

Expedited Immigration Hearings in NYC for Minors

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

A federal immigration court in Manhattan that usually deals with fewer than 100 new children’s cases a month is getting a lot busier, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Twenty-nine minors who entered the country unaccompanied by adults appeared Wednesday before Judge James Loprest, Jr., some with attorneys, others with family by their sides. Six-year-old Gabriela and her brother Brandon Lopez, 15, were among the minors hoping to be allowed to legally stay with family already living in the U.S.

The siblings participated in the first day of surge docket hearings at federal immigration court. The “surge docket” is an initiative by the federal government to help expedite the legal process for the more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors who have been processed into the system since October.

The minors are fleeing poverty, gang-violence and death, say advocates from the New York chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

AILA is one of five groups handling unaccompanied minor cases. The others are the Legal Aid Society and nonprofits Catholic Charities, Safe Passage, and The Door. The groups have been preparing for a surge in cases since they learned 3, 347 unaccompanied minors had arrived in the state since January. New York is second to Texas with the most cases.

Gabriela and Brandon needed to leave their home country to get away from extortionists, said their father, 35-year-old Emerson Lopez.

“I began to hear rumors that they were going start charging rent for each head,” Lopez said, referring to his children.

“In my home country, they call them ‘heads.’ They treat people as if they are cattle, and that’s when my wife and I made the decision to send for them,” he said.

Read the full story in the Wall Street Journal.

Find out more about the help Catholic Charities provides in the Latin Post.

In Court, Immigrant Children Moved to Head of the Line

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Yovany’s first opportunity to face the United States justice system came late on Thursday morning, more than a month after his journey from Guatemala ended in an American detention center near the Southwest border, reports Kirk Semple in The New York Times on August 14, 2014…

Yovany was among 55 children who have come before the judge this week as part of a new accelerated court process, a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s strategy to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America…

Before the surge of unaccompanied minors became a crisis for the Obama administration, the immigration courts in New York, among the nation’s busiest, held four special juvenile dockets every month for children facing deportation. In coordination with court officials, a coalition of groups — including the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Catholic Charities Community Services, Legal Aid, Safe Passage Project and the Door — provided screening and free legal representation to the children…

Immigrants’ advocates in New York learned only at the end of July that the Justice Department had scheduled the new juvenile dockets starting this week. The groups, already overstretched, rushed to develop a plan of action…

The special dockets unfolded this week on the 12th floor of 26 Federal Plaza, a hulking federal office building near City Hall. The children, most accompanied by relatives, began to gather in the hallway outside Courtroom 31 by 8 a.m., an hour before the hearings were to begin…

On both days, Elvis Garcia Callejas, a representative from Catholic Charities, used a white board to present the families with a primer, in Spanish, on how the court works and on possible avenues of relief they might pursue to avoid a deportation order.

Most of the defendants appeared to be teenagers, although there were children as young as 4. Two young sisters wore matching striped dresses.

“The judge is not going to rule today,” Mr. Garcia Callejas clarified…

Justice Department officials said they had a mandate to ensure that children went before an immigration judge within 21 days of being placed in deportation proceedings. They plan to hold the special dockets as often as necessary to reach that goal.

Read the full story in The New York Times.

Why I Work – and Run – For Catholic Charities

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014
b harrison

Barbara Harrison receives service award from Cardinal Dolan

By Barbara Harrison

I work as a case manager for Catholic Charities and see how our St. Nicholas fund helps out so many families throughout the year and brings such joy at Christmas time.

It is one of the best parts of my job to see the joy this programs brings and in this spirit that I wanted to run the marathon to raise funds for this program.

I began running when I was about 50 years old and ran two marathons in the 1990’s.  After that my husband became ill and subsequently passed away.I found other forms of exercise.  I was still raising our four children as well and life was very busy. In my heart I always wanted to run the NYC marathon because it is ”the best.”

I was inspired to run this marathon when my coworker’s mother was diagnosed with cancer in the early spring. She is about my age which will be 69 when I run the race. I understood how frightening and challenging her road ahead would be and how fortunate I am to be in good health and able to run. I decided to enter the race for her to cheer her on in her battle.

My home is in the Hudson Valley and I work in Poughkeepsie, so I felt that it would be fun to represent this area of the Archdiocese by running the marathon.

I run in the morning at 6 a.m. on the beautiful rail trails in our area with my running partner, my daughter, Sarah.  We are currently running about 24 miles weekly and it is wonderful to be preparing for this race.

Learn more about Barbara and help support her run.

Summer Retreat for Scholars — If You Call Volunteering a Retreat

Monday, August 11th, 2014

“It’s summer time when thoughts of most college-age students turn to kicking back at the beach,” reports Catholic New York in this recent article. But the archdiocese’s Pierre Toussaint Scholars decided instead to have a retreat the last weekend in June.

Photo by Leah T. Dixon

Pierre Toussaint scholars are graduating seniors from various schools in the Archdiocese of New York who demonstrate active involvement in a church or faith community. They also score high on academic achievement. And they demonstrate a commitment to serving others, similar to the scholars’ namesake, the Venerable Pierre Toussaint.

Mr. Toussaint was born a slave in Haiti in 1766 and died a freeman in New York City in 1853. He touched the hearts of many by living his life, he said, “to be an apostle of goodness to everyone he met.” He was instrumental in raising funds for the first Catholic orphanage, starting the city’s first school for black children, providing funds for the Oblate Sisters of Providence, (a religious community of black nuns), and raising funds to build the Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. With money he earned as successful entrepreneur he purchased the freedom of others instead of his own.

The retreat included a service component, in which the scholars decorated backpacks for Catholic Charities. The backpacks will be distributed to the children of refugees.

‘This is part of what makes me proud of this program,’ said Brother Tyrone Davis, C.F.C., executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Black Ministry, ‘that we have some of our college students-leaders involved in Church and ministry and that they might continue to do so even after graduating.’

Read the full story in Catholic New York.

 

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Returns to Her Roots and Tells Bronx Kids to Dream Big

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Big Dream Event 1-2By Alice Kenny

Bronx-born Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor returned to her roots – and brought her friend and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with her – to encourage low-income children participating in Catholic Charities Alianza Division summer programs including its Mosaic Day Camp and others to dream big.

The “Dream Big Day” event held at the Bronx Children’s Museum was part of a summer arts enrichment program aimed at inspiring children to dream, work hard and follow their passions.

To underline this point, the former secretary of state praised Ms. Sotomayor and her biography, My Beloved World.

“She tells the story of how as a child of the Bronx, she dreamed big and ended up on the highest court of the land,” Ms. Clinton tells the children seated on the floor around her, “She’s one of our heroes.”

In return for Ms. Clinton’s and Ms. Sotomayor’s inspiration – as well as the opportunity to meet two of the most famous female leaders in person, the day campers, ages 7 – 9, sang and danced performances they had been perfecting for weeks.

Then they hugged Ms. Sotomayor and Ms. Clinton and shouted their thanks.

Find out why Rusty McGranahan is running the NYC Marathon with Team Catholic Charities

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

20140622_135749By Rusty McGranahan

I have raced in a number of marathons and triathlons, including  two full Ironman races, but so far not one homeless person, research team, student or child has benefited from my narcissistic quest to stem the tide of middle age.

This year I am trying to be a little different and am proud to be running the New York City Marathon for Catholic Charities of New York.  I have always considered Catholic Charities to be a key part of the support system in all the cities they serve and the organization is a natural extension of my family’s active involvement with our parish and the Catholic schools my three children attend – St. Ignatius Loyola and Regis High School.

To up the ante, I am making two pledges to those sponsoring me in this effort:

1) I will personally match the first $1,000 in donations on my page, and

2) I will work like crazy to achieve one of my life time goals of finishing in under 3 hours.  (I have a lot of work to do on this one.)

I encourage all of my family, friends and colleagues to give something and give generously via the following link:

www.crowdrise.com/TeamCatholicCharities2014/fundraiser/rustymcgranahan