Leticia Davis, The Power Within
Eighteen months ago, Leticia Davila was a different person. The “old Leticia” was frightened and resigned. After 16 years in an abusive relationship, she had lost herself.
Leticia says her breaking point came when her partner choked her and left her mouth bloodied — in front of their children. She knew something had to change. The next day, Leticia met with her bilingual Catholic Charities social worker, Maggie Waddell, and got the support she needed to make the life-changing decision to leave her partner.
“Maggie said, ‘You are in danger and need to do something now,’” Leticia recalls. “She told me, ‘You have the solution in your hands.’” Maggie helped connect Leticia to organizations like Women Helping Women and Casa de Paz, which provided Leticia with safe shelter, personal items, clothing and other necessities to begin rebuilding her life. Leticia also received access to Legal Aid and had the chance to take exercise and yoga classes to improve her overall wellness.
Earlier this year, Leticia secured a new apartment, achieving her goal of moving her family out of the shelter and into a permanent home. Her children were surprised when she showed them their new place — but they shouldn’t have been, Leticia says. “They said, ‘We didn’t think you were going to do it, Mom,’” Leticia explains. “I told them, ‘If your mom says she’s going to do something, she’s going to do it.’”
Leticia has taken back control of her life. She’s even serving as a role model, giving advice to empower other women to break free from abusive situations. And she continues to receive counseling from Maggie, who says, “The ‘new Leticia’ isn’t actually so new at all. She’s always had it within her.”
Now settled into her new home, Leticia has her eyes on her next goal: owning her own Mexican food truck.
For Young Children, a Brighter Future Starts Now
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells us: “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me.” Through Catholic Charities, you welcome and support our community’s most vulnerable children.
Children like Adam who was on the verge of being expelled from daycare before Catholic Charities’ Early Intervention Consultant, Maribel Gonzalez, stepped in.
Maribel found a therapeutic preschool program that could provide Adam with proper behavioral and emotional supports. Then she worked with the child’s parents, local social services agencies and the daycare providers to get Adam into the new program while also keeping him at his current daycare.
“It was a journey. But the family has made such strides. It’s so rewarding to see!” says Maribel.
Thanks to a grant received in December 2019, Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation last year expanded its services to partner with the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities to help children birth to 3 years who are engaged in Early Intervention services. The goal of the grant is to assist families of very young children with disabilities or developmental delays access Early Childhood Mental Health services.
Maribel partners with therapists and family members to ensure that even the youngest children are getting the care they need in the way they need it. Sometimes, that means identifying when a child has a medical issue manifesting itself as problematic behavior. Other times, it’s training parents to create strategies and routines that play to their strengths as caregivers.
Maribel says she functions as “an extra set of eyes” to support families, many of whom are in crisis. Part of her work focuses on helping families know when, where and how to ask for help — and to give themselves the grace to ask for help in the first place.
Through collaboration, consistency and patience, Early Interventions can make an impact today that changes a child’s entire future.
“One of our goals is to ensure children are receiving the help they need rather than being labeled as bad behavior and being expelled from school,” Maribel says. “At the end of the day, for a student to be successful in a fifth-grade classroom, they have to have a strong foundation much earlier in life.”
Immigration Legal Services Program
Helps Welcome Samuel and His Family
Samuel is new to Cincinnati, but he’s all too familiar with being considered a stranger.
Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Samuel lived in fear of being persecuted for his ethnic heritage as a Banyamulenge Congolese. When he participated in a peaceful protest against the DRC’s government, his fears became reality.
Samuel’s own neighbors reported him to the police. Then, in a horrifying turn, those same neighbors — people Samuel had known his whole life — tortured him, burning Samuel’s feet and cutting them with machetes.
“People he grew up with started betraying him,” said Victor Bugandwana, Department of Justice Full Accredited Representative in Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Services Program. “Samuel came here with a lot of scars.”
Samuel had no choice but to flee the DRC. After a grueling trek through 11 countries, he and his family entered the United States through the Eagle Pass, Texas, port of entry and expressed their intent to apply for asylum.
In September 2018, a migrant support agency in Texas, Casa Marianella, contacted Sister Sandy Howe with the Sisters of Charity to see if they would receive the family. They traveled by bus from Texas to the Greyhound station in Cincinnati, where S. Sandy picked them up. In the days that followed, she connected them to Catholic Charities. Victor spoke with the family and ensured they met the criteria for affirmative asylum.
He then built the legal case, prepared all the paperwork, and sent it to government officials. In late 2019, Victor and S. Sandy accompanied Samuel and his family to Chicago for their asylum interview, during which they detailed the danger they would face if they were forced to return home.
Thankfully, the family was granted asylum on Dec. 1, 2020, a year after their interview. While the family waited, they learned English through Catholic Charities’ ESOL program. Catholic Charities also helped Samuel and his wife secure employment cards, so they could get jobs, and assisted them in applying for pandemic relief until they could work.
Today, Samuel and his wife are employed and they look forward to bringing Samuel’s three older children to the United States. With ongoing support from the Sisters of Charity and Catholic Charities, thousands of miles from the land of his birth, Samuel finally has found a place where he truly belongs.
Young Refugees Stand Side by Side with Volunteers to Fight
Hunger in Adams County
Recently, two Catholic Charities programs met in a deeply meaningful way when youth from the Refugee Resettlement Youth
Mentoring Program were able to give back to their new community by volunteering with the Food for All program to serve their neighbors in Adams County.
“They jumped right in,” said April Hoak, Food for All Coordinator. “Such generosity with their spirit, with their love, with their wanting to be part of the community here. It’s such a beautiful thing. You see friendships form. You see people with their hearts open to each other.”
The partnership is part of the Youth Mentoring Program’s mission to help young refugees experience positive civic and social engagement in their new communities. It also introduced the newcomers, who live primarily in the city, to a rural portion of Greater Cincinnati.
“One of the ways for someone to become more civically engaged is to find volunteer opportunities,” explained Donald Foley, the Youth Mentoring Coordinator. “It’s a great opportunity for the youth to give back to the community that has embraced them through their transition to their new life in the United States.” It also helps boost the young volunteers’ self-esteem and sense of purpose.
“It’s a great experience meeting new people, doing good things. Being a part of something special is good,” said Celestin, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo and one of the youth participants. Added Upshana, a youth mentee from Nepal: “I’m so happy because I do this work and I hope I will do it again. Today I feel so good, because other people helped me and I help them.”
The Refugee Youth Mentoring program connects young people, ages 15-24, with a volunteer adult mentor who supports their educational and vocational advancement. For the mentees, volunteering for Food for All was an opportunity to meet more people in the community, helping them build connections beyond their mentors.
“The introduction to American adults that the youth typically have little interaction with outside of the mentoring meetings has been a really great aspect,” says Donald. “And the adult Food for All volunteers were so excited to hear about the countries the youth had lived in and to hear about their cultures and how they continue to celebrate their cultures while living in the United States.”
Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation:
A Fresh Start for Kids and Families
Larry is a bright, energetic 5-year-old, and his mother, Jessica, has adored him since adopting him when he was very young. But when Larry ran from his daycare center and across a busy street, Jessica knew she needed help keeping her son safe and healthy.
Larry’s birth mother had battled addiction. Born with positive toxicology, Larry began to struggle with impulse control and aggression as he got older. Yet when Jessica applied for mental health services through Larry’s school, she was denied. That’s when Catholic Charities got involved — and helped change everything for this family!
Maribel Gonzalez, an Early Childhood Mental Health consultant, helped Jessica reapply for the support her son needed. Together, they got Larry accepted into the Camelot Project, a mental health services program involved with Larry’s school. In addition, Catholic Charities developed a plan of services with the school to help Larry have all his needs met while at school and to keep him safe within the building.
“I really admire and respect Jessica,” Maribel said. “She does all she can to make sure her son will succeed.” Now, Larry’s issues are under control, and the little boy has the resources he needs to thrive.
“I was happy to have Maribel standing by my side throughout this journey,” Jessica said. “Larry wouldn’t be where he is today without her assistance. Having Maribel present during the process helped me feel
secure and supported.”