Clara Salas, the cheerful voice at the other end of the Catholic Charities NY Information and Referral Help Line, spoke recently about her cloak-and-dagger childhood. It includes brushes with Castro’s Cuba, clandestine intervention by the CIA and critical support from Catholic Charities.
Clara, at age 14, was spirited into the United States in 1961 as part of CIA project code name Operation Peter Pan. The operation flew more than 14,000 Cuban children into the U.S. after rumors spread that Fidel Castro’s Communist government planned to kidnap Cuban sons and daughters from their parents and send them to Soviet military and labor camps.
Similar to many of her fellow “Peter Pan children,” Clara received support from Catholic Charities after she arrived. It paid her tuition and room and board at Catholic high school academies and ensured that her needs were met until her parents finally escaped from Cuba five years later. Since then, Clara has rebuilt her life. A United States citizen since 1971, she was elected executive secretary for Community Board 4 in Queens, sits on the Elmhurst Hospital Community Advisory Board and plans to complete a doctorate degree in social work at Yeshiva University Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
“Life takes strange turns,” Clara said. “Now, at Catholic Charities, I get to give people the guidance and comfort I received when I was a child and first arrived here.”
Please call the Catholic Charities Help line at: 888-744-7900 or click here to learn more.