Success Stories

Veterans Group Helps Welcome Refugees to Their New Homes

As dramatic scenes from Afghanistan flooded our screens in August 2021, veterans were among the first to reach out to Catholic Charities to offer their help in resettling refugees.

That led to a collaboration with Team Rubicon, an international nonprofit organization headed by veterans. Using skills they honed in the military, Team Rubicon specializes in mobilizing aid after natural disasters and in other emergencies.

Earlier this year, the group partnered with Refugee Resettlement Services to help newcomers to Greater Cincinnati settle into their new homes. Men and women alike came together to move furniture and housewares from the Catholic Charities warehouse to houses and apartments that refugee families would soon call home.

They helped assemble furniture, set up the living areas and create a welcoming atmosphere for our newest neighbors.

“We are a nation made up of immigrants. I thought it would be fitting to help them start a successful life,” says Joey Barrow, Team Rubicon’s Logistics Manager for the state of Ohio. “Generations from now, their children are going to be telling their stories about how their families came here and started new lives.”

A graduate of Roger Bacon High School, Joey is a Navy veteran who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He served his country honorably; now, he’s proud to serve his community.

Joey has seen firsthand the challenges many people — especially girls — face in other countries. So, he was especially excited to be part of Refugee Resettlement Services’ mission.

“To see anybody, look them in the eye and say, ‘It’s going to be OK’ — it’s been a relief,” Joey says. “Hopefully they can start a good, happy, successful life here.”

Catholic Charities is exceptionally grateful to Joey, Team Rubicon and supporters like you for opening your hearts to the resilient refugees who enrich and bless our community!

We Are Not Alone, Thanks to Creative Connections

When Nick Komanecky’s wife, Jo Ann, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2019, Nick immediately went on a quest for information. He searched online. He bought books. He spoke with doctors and social workers.

But Nick didn’t truly find what he was looking for until he and Jo Ann began attending the Creative Connections program of Catholic Charities’ Caregiver Assistance Network.

Creative Connections, which takes place once a week in 10-week sessions, offers a support group for caregivers while their loved ones participate in music, movement and other uplifting activities.

“I began to understand the human aspect of this disease and how to cope with it as a caregiver for my wife,” Nick says. “I began to get a ‘feeling’ for Alzheimer’s there because the other caregivers openly shared their experiences, the problems they faced and how they coped.”

In their group, caregivers like Nick talk about a wide variety of issues, from medication questions to bathing concerns. The participants know they are in a safe place where they will find understanding instead of judgment.

“When friends pull away and relatives never inquire about your wife’s condition, empathy from other caregivers warms you and gets you through the week,” Nick says.

For Jo Ann, the program reconnects her to music she’s loved for decades and brings a smile to her face. Nick has loved that smile since he met Jo Ann in high school. In August, the couple celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary.

This program is made possible through our partnerships with the Council on Aging and the Giving Voice Foundation as well as by supporters like you!

Mary Sarah’s Story: The Gift of Service

Mary Sarah Kirley loves to help. Living with developmental disabilities doesn’t keep her from using her many gifts to serve the Lord and her community.

She assists with the Children’s Liturgy of the Word at her parish, Bellarmine Chapel. She maintains local walking trails through her involvement with Marjorie Book Continuing Education, and she cares for animals at Brighter Day Farm.

Mary Sarah and her family also participate each year in the Hunger Walk to raise money for the Freestore Foodbank and member pantry programs. She creates a team of friends and loved ones to support her efforts.

This spring, Mary Sarah chose to direct their donations to Catholic Charities’ Food For All program. Together, Mary Sarah’s team of 43 donors raised $3,136!

“Mary Sarah’s heart for service, creativity and empowering others to share their gifts reflects the values and works of mercy that all of us share through Catholic Charities,” says Daniel Sarell, Director of Mission Advancement. “We are so incredibly grateful to her.”

To show her gratitude to her team members, Mary Sarah sent a handwritten note to each person who supported her cause.

“Since she is a non-reader/writer, her donors know this is a big deal,” says her dad, Dennis. “Mary tells her mom what to write to each person. Her mom writes it out, and Mary copies it letter by letter.”

Mary Sarah is a perfect example of how one person can make a big impact by encouraging others to join them in doing something good for the world.

Changing a life, one interpreted sentence at a time…

In May 2022, longtime AccuracyNow Language Services interpreter, Seydina Diop came across a story in the news about a French citizen who found herself in legal trouble. The news video showed that, despite the French woman noting that she spoke some English, she also said that she spoke French and repeatedly misunderstood basic English.

“When it comes to court legal terms, it’s a problem if people say they speak English in a casual way, but don’t understand that more specific language,” Diop said.

That is when Diop decided to get involved. He reached out to the reporter who wrote the initial story and volunteered to interpret on the French citizen’s behalf. Diop speaks French—along with Wolof, Bambara, Mandinka, and English—as it is the national language in Senegal where he grew up.

But Diop emphasized that just speaking French is not enough in helping people. It is his training and experience as an interpreter that makes him effective.

“Some people might not see the importance,” Diop said. “They think I just speak French or this or that language and that makes me a good interpreter. No. You must speak the language but also take the next step to try and get other factors like ethics, reputation, and being on time… People need training to be a good interpreter.”

Trainings like these are provided by and emphasized within AccuracyNow because it not only equips interpreters to be confident and capable, but it also benefits the community at large. Whether in a school, hospital, legal service, workplace, or anywhere else, when someone is faced with a language barrier it is essential they are provided with a well-equipped interpreter.

While there in no way to know how the situation for this French citizen would have developed if she had been provided with interpretation every step of the way, what is certain is that as a part of her due process,she had a right to an interpreter. As hers and many other cases progress, it is people like Diop and programs like AccuracyNow Language Services that work to ensure that right is provided.

Cases like these, when someone is in need of interpretation, are also why Diop got involved in this career and why he continues to work in this field.

“It’s a good thing to feel like you are doing something you like that’s also helping people and making a career for your life,” Diop said. “When I help somebody in a situation by interpreting, I feel a joy. I’m doing something very good.”

 

A Happy Ending Thanks to Immigration Legal Services

In immigration law, there are at least as many losses as there are wins. But in February, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services (ILS) attorney Stephany Martinez got a big win when she secured green cards for two sisters from Guatemala after a six-year process.

“These wins for Mariza and Alejandra give us that driving force to say, ‘Okay, there are happy endings!,’” Stephany says. Maritza, now 22, and Alejandra, 23, came to Catholic Charities with their mother in 2016. ILS first helped their mother get a custody order from a juvenile court judge in Hamilton County. The order included legal findings that it was in the best interest of the sisters to stay in the United States. Next, ILS helped them apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Approval for that petition took nine months. That’s when the real wait began.

Navigating the U.S. immigration legal system is extremely difficult and often demands expertise. Because of the backlog of cases from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the young women weren’t allowed to file for their green cards until August 2021. Stephany took over their case last summer, filed the paperwork in August and got the good news in February of this year.

Now, the sisters are focused on getting better jobs so they can support their mom, their older sister and their nephew as they work through their own immigration processes. In five years, Maritza and Alejandra will be able to apply for U.S. citizenship.

“They were ecstatic when I told them, ‘Your green card has been approved,’” Stephany says. “And they’re very vocal about how grateful they are. For young ladies who have gone through so much trauma, they are very optimistic and very positive in their outlook on life.”

 

You Walk with Immigrants and Refugees on Their Journeys

Rosa was exhausted — the dark circles under her eyes made that obvious. She was working all night, then going to school during the day. At just 17 years old, she’d already been through a lifetime of challenges and trauma.

She’d come to the United States from Guatemala with her father, seeking the chance to get an education. At home, she’d helped her mother manage a coffee plantation and wasn’t able to go to school regularly. Living in the U.S. would move her closer to her dream of becoming a lawyer.

 

Then the unthinkable happened. Rosa’s father abandoned her. She was left with no friends or family, very little money and only limited English. Yet …

Thanks to Catholic Charities supporters like you, Rosa wasn’t alone.

Su Casa Hispanic Center’s Bilingual Case Manager Yudith Escobar Leon has stayed by Rosa’s side ever since. She checks in with her every few weeks to make sure she sticks with her schooling, pays her rent and has access to the information and resources she needs to achieve her goals.

Now 19, Rosa is close to graduating high school. She wants to go to college. To pay for it, she plans to open her own artisanal popsicle business.

“My help has been guidance,” Yudith says. “She’s been very self sufficient. A lot of people get stuck, but she keeps trying.”

Your support allows Catholic Charities to walk with immigrants and refugees on their journeys to rebuilding their lives and creating the futures they’ve always dreamed of. Thank you for making sure people like Rosa don’t have to walk alone!

Empowerment through Mental Health

For someone like Jasmine, finding mental treatment is very difficult.

She doesn’t have health insurance and doesn’t speak much English. So when Jasmine began having delusions and dangerous, intrusive thoughts, Catholic Charities was a life line.

“We are one of the few resources in the community for a Spanish-speaking, uninsured individual to get psychiatric treatment for mental illness,” says Laura Hershberger, Mental Health Services Director.

Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the Mental Health Services team was able to assess Jasmine and get her the psychiatric help she needed. Rosa Reyes-Santana, bilingual mental health therapist, began working with Jasmine in therapy. She referred her to psychiatrist, Dr. Roberto Soria who prescribed her medication to manage her symptoms of psychosis.

Today, Jasmine is working full time and has moved back in with her family. She continues to take her medication, and Rosa has taught her valuable skills, like practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, to help her manage her anxiety. Best of all, Jasmine’s intrusive thoughts are gone and she’s reconnecting with her child, whom she once feared she might harm.

“It is great to see her smile and eager to come and participate in treatment,” Rosa says. “She knows she can use different tools to calm her mood. It’s just so cool to see that.”

Because of the care you help Catholic Charities provide, Jasmine now has hope for a healthier, more successful future. That also means a better life for her child and their family. And the impact doesn’t stop there.

“The services we provide nurture a healthier community at large,” Rosa says. “That’s important for all of us.”

A Passionate Voice for Her Community

Imagine you are at the hospital. You are in pain or sick. The medical staff wants to help you, but they don’t speak your language. What do you do?

For non-English speakers in our community, language can be a major barrier to receiving the care they need. That’s where interpreters like Suleima Dimas come in.

Suleima joined Catholic Charities’ AccuracyNow Language Services two years ago. What she originally lacked in professional experience, she more than made up for in passion. Today, she is a skilled interpreter.

“I saw her become so passionate about interpreting. I watched her journey from the first training session, asking so many questions, to being so confident about how she would go out and represent us,” says Litz Main, AccuracyNow Language Services Director. “She has done a fantastic job.”

Suleima, 27, is a native Spanish speaker who grew up in the United States before moving to Mexico and then returning to the U.S. as an adult. She had spent her life informally translating for friends and family members. But she quickly realized that professional interpretation requires a larger skill set — and a larger vocabulary.

Suleima might help a laboring mother sign a consent form for an epidural one day, then help a senior neighbor navigate complex hospital paperwork the next.

“There were so many technical terms and medical terms, words that not even a native English speaker might know,” Suleima recalls. But the initial challenges were far outweighed by the joy Suleima feels helping members of her community obtain vital services, such as medical care, or enroll their children in school.

Suleima joined AccuracyNow at a critical time: the beginning of the pandemic. When volunteers were scarce, Suleima filled the void. “I felt like, regardless of the pandemic, people need to be taken care of,” Suleima says. “It was hard, but I was never afraid to step in.”

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.

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