Archive for the ‘What We Do at Catholic Charities’ Category

College Student Takes Time Off to Feed the Hungry

Monday, September 8th, 2014

DSC_7288By Alice Kenny

Danica Brown, a recent graduate of George Washington University and current student at Howard University Law School, shares her life-changing experiences from working this past summer at the Catholic Charities Feeding Our Neighbors emergency food program.

Check out excerpts from her first-person account:

Supervising teenagers this summer gave me a reality check on the real issues my peers face every day. It taught me responsibility: I realized that, within the connection we formed, they are looking to me for guidance and what I say could possibly impact their decision making so I need to heed my responsibilities and lead by example.

I cannot reiterate how thankful I am for this summer opportunity. The importance of food pantries in the fabric of middle class America is not the typical image that comes to mind when we think about food assistance programs, but this summer it was a reality. Yes we served a great amount of low-income families but also working moms and dads, who although are putting out their greatest efforts, do not make enough to place a balanced meal on the table.

With Danica’s eyes now opened to the very real need around us, she has become determined, she says, to extend what she learned beyond this summer and beyond New York.

The lessons I learned this summer didn’t stop with me returning back to college. This semester I am taking a Special Topics class: Sociology of Food: School Lunch Policy. Now that I am President of the Black Student Union at George Washington University we are doing several community service projects at local soup kitchens and food banks around DC.

Read her full article and more in the PTS Newsletter.

Attorneys Jump In to Help Children in Immigration Court

Friday, September 5th, 2014

By Tania Karas
New York Law Journal

Alberth, a shy 10-year-old who made his way alone from his native El Salvador to the United States, appeared last week in a tiny Manhattan courtroom thousands of miles from his homeland.

Apprehended at the southwestern border, the dark-haired, freckled boy was sent to New York to be reunited with his mother. Alberth was one of 36 children appearing at Immigration Court as part of a “rocket docket” to expedite deportations of the tens of thousands of Central American children who have entered the United States illegally in the past year.

Immigration Judge Virna Wright asked Alberth through a Spanish-language interpreter whether he was enrolled to start school. And was he excited?

Alberth only nodded.

Wright then turned to the boy’s mother, who was seated beside him, and asked if they had an attorney.

‘Not yet,’ she said…

The Door, along with four other legal services providers—the Legal Aid Society, Catholic Charities Community Services, the Safe Passage Project at New York Law School and the New York chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association—has volunteered daily since Aug. 13 to guide the influx of children, along with their adult sponsors, through their first court appearances…

Volunteer lawyers said many of the children have suffered domestic abuse, gang violence, abject poverty and human trafficking in their native countries.

At least 4,200 have been sent to New York since January, according to ORR data. More than half are in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Those without family are sent to shelters, such as The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry and Lincoln Hall Boys’ Haven in Somers.

Rocket docket sessions start at 9 a.m. with a “Know Your Rights” presentation in Spanish by Elvis Garcia Callejas, a case manager for Catholic Charities’ unaccompanied minors program.

Children and their sponsors fill the court’s 12th floor pro bono room. Some of the boys sport suits and ties, and some girls wear flowered dresses. A few teenage girls hold babies in their laps. They seek legal status for themselves and their own children.

Everyone clutches folders with their names and “alien number” scrawled across the front.

Adults take notes as Garcia Callejas writes a list of “los remedios legales” on a whiteboard. Based on their situations, the children may qualify for special immigrant juvenile status, asylum or visas for victims of serious crimes or trafficking.

‘It’s very important to come to court. Because if you don’t, the judge can order your deportation,’Garcia Callejas told his audience last week…

Catholic Charities recently received a “substantial” grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement to hire attorneys, paralegals and support staff, said Mario Russell, director of Catholic Charities’ Immigrant and Refugee Services division. Catholic Charities focuses on children living in or just released from temporary shelters.

With the new hires, it expects to handle 300 to 600 such cases and host “Know Your Rights” trainings at 16 shelters in New York City, the Hudson Valley and Long Island.
“Our plan is to take as many of these as we can,” Russell said. “Specifically we’re looking to partner with nonprofits who have worked on these issues. We expect each case to take 12 to 36 months.”

Read the full story online

Help Empower Women

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Do you want to empower women and help them get ahead in their careers? Our affiliated agency, Grace Institute, is looking for volunteers to help hold mock interviews during their Converse with Confidence event on September 10th.
Grace’s mock interview series allows current students to prepare for the next step of their career journey.
How this works

  •  Volunteers interview Grace students in rotating 20 minute segments, using the tips below as guidelines
  •  Volunteers will see approximately six students during this time period


Agenda
9:00am – 9:30am: Breakfast and Orientation
9:30am – Noon: Interviews

Click to learn more

Trading Places: From Food Pantry Recipient to Volunteer

Friday, August 29th, 2014

IMG_6725smBy Alice Kenny

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

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

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

“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.

Evolving from recipient to volunteer 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 volunteer 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.”

Shootin’ School – and That’s the Good News

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

shootin school 2014 picture 1st week

By Alice Kenny

It may be time for a new name – but certainly not a new focus – for the Shootin’ School, a program that partners with Catholic Charities CYO in Staten Island to help children perfect their basketball moves while encouraging them to rally around those in need.

Throughout the summer, children grades three through eight participated in four-day clinics to perfect their layups, free throws and all-round basketball shooting. Several of the children come from low-income families. They received scholarships so they could play with their classmates and peers.

Then, last week, on the program’s final day its founder, Anthony Passalaqua, provided the players with pizza lunch in return for food they brought to help replenish the Catholic Charities food pantry in Port Richmond.

Potential Pope Visit ‘a Blessing’ for New Yorkers

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

By Mike Vlensky

Wall Street Journal

“Catholic New Yorkers expressed high hopes after Pope Francis said Monday he might visit New York City, which would mark the first papal visit since 2008,” reports Mike Vilensky on August 20, 2014 in the Wall Street Journal.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, an umbrella organization that encompasses 90 agencies serving people throughout the New York Archdiocese, said the new pope’s messages on peace and inequality have spurred a renewed enthusiasm and commitment among donors and charity workers alike.

‘There are no plans yet,’ said Msgr. Sullivan of the possible New York trip, but the tradition has been that if a pope comes to address the United Nations, he usually also makes side trips into the community.

Among the projects on Msgr. Sullivan’s wish list: taking the pope to see children who have fled desperate situations in Central America, visits to homeless shelters and to meet ‘New Yorkers who struggle to have a decent meal at the end of the day.’

Read the full story in the Wall Street Journal.

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.