It started with an email five years ago from Brenda Starr-Jude, Adult Advocacy Staff Guardian, at Catholic Charities. During the holiday season, Brenda was looking for donors and volunteers to adopt an elderly client through Catholic Charities’ Project Bethlehem program.
“Most people tend to forget about seniors during the holidays,” says Brenda. “My clients, the majority of them, have no one visiting except for me.”
A lot of Brenda’s senior clients in the Guardianship Program are wards of the state who have little or no family and are unable to take care of themselves.
Brenda reached out to Jana, a 6th grade teacher at Eastern Elementary School.
“I asked the other sixth grade teachers if they would be interested in doing this together,” says Jana.
Every year since then, students and their teachers – Jana, Joni and others – adopted a senior through the Catholic Charities’ program.
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to think of other people,” Jana continues.
In recent years, they have adopted two seniors whom they have nicknamed “Grandma Virginia” and “Grandpa Herman.” During the holiday season, the students bring in monetary donations to help purchase gifts from their adopted grandparents’ Christmas wish list.
Last year, Grandpa Herman — who was diagnosed with a form of dementia — needed a flat panel television that could be mounted onto his wall for safety reasons. Joni and her students decided to step up to the task.
“That was our goal, and the students were really excited that we had enough money to buy him the T.V.,” Joni says.
When it came time to deliver the presents, Grandpa Herman was overjoyed. As Brenda walked into his room with the neatly wrapped television, she asked, “Mr. P., do you want to open this?” He responded with excitement, “Oh no, it’s too big!”
The giving does not stop after Christmas. Throughout the year, the students participate in projects to send to their adopted grandparents.
“We try to remember them during the major holidays: Thanksgiving, their birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day. This Halloween, we bought them candy,” Joni and Jana said.
Grandma Virginia loves to show Brenda the messages the students write on her cards.
“It’s impacted both of their lives, but it’s been especially wonderful for Virginia,” Brenda says. “She is fully alert, and the students have become like extended family to her. She was only married for four or five years and never had any children. She’s told me they’re like her grandchildren.”
“It’s not just a one-time giving project during the holiday season,” Brenda adds. “It’s truly an adoption.”
Evenings at the Roell’s house are far from uneventful. With two bright pre-teen girls and two very active toddlers, there is never a dull moment for parents Kendra and Richard.
“We lost our son because of a genetic illness and any children we would have had after would have developed that illness,” Richard explains.
“We couldn’t have any children on our own anymore,” Kendra says. “But we still had this desire to love children.”
Kendra and Richard took a year to grieve and talk over the idea of adopting their next child.
After reviewing several agencies in the area, the Roell’s decided that Catholic Charities was the right fit for their family.
“The thing I enjoyed was that they cared about the baby, the birth mom, and the entire situation,” Richard explains.
It was not long before a beautiful baby girl named Hope came into their lives.
“It wasn’t our initial preference, but it was a step out in faith,” Richard says.
“It’s been nice because honesty has ruled from the time we have been with Carolyn and that will carry forth in our relationship with Hope,” Kendra says.
“Hope will always know and understand they situation. She’s going to know who Carolyn is and she will know who we are. I think open adoption is a great thing,” Richard adds.
The family maintains contact with Carolyn by phone, text message and email. They even schedule meetings throughout the year to keep Carolyn posted on Hope’s development and progress.
A Second Blessing
A few months after the Roells settled into a new life with baby Hope, they learned of an infant in need of foster care.
“It was unexpected,” Richard recalls. “We knew we wanted to adopt a second child, but we wanted to wait another year. We got a call from Catholic Charities saying we have a child, and we can’t place him.”
The baby’s name was Emery, and his birth mother had a history of mental illness and drugs. Health complications from Emery’s birth made it difficult to find a suitable home for him. Kendra and Richard were asked if they would be willing to foster the child until placement.
But Kendra and Richard decided to make Emery a permanent part of their family.
“He’s been a joy,” says Richard. “There have been problems with the drug exposure, but nothing we can’t handle.”
After adopting the two children, they describe life as nothing short of a blessing.
“Our life seems easier to move forward now,” says Kendra. “There seems to be purpose again. They need me, and I need them.”
“As wild and busy as it is, I couldn’t imagine life without them,” Richard adds with a smile on his face.
Thanks to our team runners, we had a very successful year at the Medical Mutual Glass City Marathon. As a team, we raised over $40,000 and counting! Through their donations, thousands of people in Northwest Ohio can rely on a hot meal, a warm bed and hope for a brighter tomorrow.
Why They Ran
A few of our marathon runners gave us some feedback as to why they dedicated so much of their time and resources to helping Catholic Charities and here are a few of their answers:
I think it’s good to be in something that gives back to other people. It’s about going outside yourself to help others. ~Jeffery Smith, Diocesan Seminarian, Runner
Our school got involved for the Health and Wellness grant that will help our students immensely. Once we explained to the students the services that are provided at Catholic Charities, they were excited to get involved. The students held penny wars and one student sold lollipops to help raise money. Why wouldn’t you want to get involved in such a great cause? ~Beth Strbik, Principal of Blessed Sacrament, Runner
It’s for reasons other than just yourself. I felt like I could raise money and I wanted to do that to help others. I knew that even if I couldn’t make it across the finish line, at least I would be helping other people in need. ~Ashleigh Pennington, Runner
I thought that it was good to run for a cause. It makes me feel better that I did it for a purpose. My family and I have nothing to complain about in life compared to the people that Catholic Charities helps. Why not help extend that hand? ~Dennis DeLapp, Runner
I saw the announcement for the Catholic Charities Marathon team in my church bulletin. I was planning to run anyways so I figured I’ll join the team. It’s for a great cause and your helping others. ~Diane Dunbar, Runner
For more information about our team or to help us reach our goal, please go to our team page at: catholiccharitiesteam.kintera.org
Our Runners in Action
Participants who attend a Basic Budgeting Skills workshop will be entered twice in a drawing for a gift card. The two-hour workshops are hosted by Catholic Charities in Erie and Huron Counties.
Participants will learn to take control of their finances by learning how to budget, save for the future and pay off debt.
“Research has shown that at least 50 percent of the population does not know what or how to budget,” said Roxanne Sandles, Catholic Charities Housing Program Coordinator. “When you have the skills and knowledge to make wise choices with your money, you reduce stress and gain control of your situation. The comment we hear the most is, ‘I didn’t know it was that easy.’ Others attendees have said they have made significant changes in their household budget based on what they learned.”
For workshop dates, times, locations and to register, please contact Catholic Charities at 419-668-3073, ext. 103 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Funding for the workshops is provided by Norwalk Area United Fund and GeoTrac Foundation.
Our theme this year is not just asking the question, “What would Jesus do?,” but finding ways of answering it. Check out our new agency video that shares how our agency comes together to answer this popular question throughout northwest Ohio.
In the town of Lima, you can’t help but look at the massive buildings that sit behind the snowy fields. Most of these buildings are state correctional facilities that have housed thousands of inmates over the years.
The brick building, known as Allen Correctional Institution, is where Sue Bishop and her team of 40 volunteers go about four times a year to minister to the inmates behind these prison doors.
“We want our inmates to walk away knowing that God loves them and that there are people out there who care,” Sue says.
Giving God a Chance
“We have a turnout of about 100 inmates,” says another volunteer, Leanne Kerschner. “At Mass in the prison, everybody’s participating, everybody’s praying, everybody’s singing. It’s just a really great atmosphere. It’s wonderful.”
Greg participated in several retreats during his time at Allen Correctional from 1988 to 2007.
“I was wandering aimlessly. I thought I’d just do my time and get out and go home,” he says. “I’d been away from church for a while. Then the light came on.”
The prison chaplain suggested Greg give God a chance and attend the retreats. Hearing the volunteers talk about their own experience of overcoming problems helped Greg take a fresh look at his life.
“You can be humbled to realize you have so much when you feel like you don’t have anything,” he says.
After going on more retreats, he found a new sense of purpose. He was confirmed in his childhood Catholic faith by Auxiliary Bishop Robert Donnelly while still in prison. With a new direction in life, he spent his free time at Allen Correctional studying tax law and taking college classes. He graduated with a financial degree from Ohio University while still incarcerated.
He credits Sue and her team for helping him get to where he is now – a faithful church member and owner of his own business. He also reaches out to those just released from prison to help them reintegrate into society.
Whoever is Forgiven Much
“We minster to a lot of guys who just made bad choices,” Sue says. “The faith of some of these guys is amazing.”
Leanne agrees: “I think it goes back to the Bible verse that says whoever is forgiven much, loves much. Knowing that they are forgiven from something big makes them love more.”
Sue remembers an inmate who had strong hopes of getting parole but was denied. “I was crushed,” she says. “We got there and I said, ‘I don’t even know what to say.’ ”
She pauses again and with a soft tone in her voice says, “He turned to me and said ‘It’s ok … God has something else planned for me.’”
Greg thanks the team for making a difference in his life.
“They have their struggles in life, but they still found time for us,” he says. “It put me in the right direction, and let me know God’s always there.”
Last Thursday morning started a little differently for the Helping Hands of St. Louis staff and volunteers. In the early morning hours, the outreach center’s team worked hard to finish a second batch of hot meals, which were delivered that afternoon to local Toledo-area fire departments as part of a local “Adopt a Fire Station” cause.
The tragic deaths of on-duty firefighters, Private Stephen Machcinski and Private James Dickman, took the area by shock and hit close to home for Helping Hands’ crew members, including the center’s director, Paul Cook, whose son is a firefighter for Sylvania Township.
“We are in close association with the St. Thomas Boys Scouts, Troop 57. Five (former scouts) went on to become firefighters along with my son, Mike,” says Cook. “You don’t know what they will run into. We’re always appreciative for what they do to protect us.”
Community grassroots efforts, including “Adopt a Fire Station,” were started by local individuals, groups and organizations to show support and appreciation for those who risk their lives daily to help others.
Firefighters at Station 2 in Sylvania and Station 6 in South Toledo were able to enjoy baked pork and gravy, garden salads and mashed potatoes.
“It’s a way of giving back and paying ahead,” Cook says. “We just want to tell the Fire Department, thank you.”
Angela was a single mom living in Norwalk with her two young sons, Noah and Chase. She worked three jobs and did her best to support her family.
“I was the typical soccer mom,” she says. “I took my kids to baseball and football practice, Cub Scouts and all of their activities. We lived a good life – we lived a great life! We went to Cedar Point every summer, had Valley Beach passes and had a cleaning lady.”
But then things suddenly changed. Angela arrived at her primary job one day and found something unexpected. “The doors were locked and a sign said, ‘Please report to Huron County Job and Family Services,’ ” she remembers.
With the news of being laid off and no main source of income, Angela began having trouble making ends meet. “I started struggling immediately. Rent wasn’t being paid. My van was repossessed. I cancelled all amenities immediately, and I was down to gas and electric.”
Stuck with two part-time jobs that barely supported the family of three, Angela searched for other options. At the beginning of 2009, Angela and her two sons settled into Catholic Charities’ Miriam House in an effort to restore everything that they had lost.
“Angela was a wonderful person and very pleasant to be around,” says Marla Sommers, case manager for Catholic Charities. “She would get up early and do her chores. She would even walk to her job every day.”
Weekly meetings with the house staff members helped Angela create goals, find work attire and set life plans. The staff also brought in business representatives from a local college to teach residents how to create resumes.
“I set three goals for myself: to find stable employment, to rebuild relationships with family and to find a vehicle.” Within the first month, Angela had accomplished her first two goals. She even saved enough money to buy a car six months later.
“Angela was a focused lady. She just had this determination that her life was going to change,” said Marla.
Today, Angela is a certified STNA, a college tutor and a full-time student studying at Ross College for a Medical Assistant degree. She is now living completely on her own.
Angela shows her appreciation for Miriam House by finding time to donate and visit the place that helped her and other women get back on their feet. “I feel like I can’t do enough. It’s a low spot in your life, and Miriam House is there to raise you back up and get you on the right track. That’s the whole purpose of the place. The staff believed in me. I knew they believed in me.”
In today’s world of technology, if you get lost on the road, you would pull out your navigation system. Finding where you need to go has never been easier. But what if you got lost in a life crisis?
That’s where Linda Kraft comes in as our Crisis Navigator at Catholic Charities. “If somebody’s in a crisis, I help them navigate through it by helping them find the community resources that can help.”
Getting On the Right Track
Linda has dealt with every kind of crisis one can think of. “Car troubles, prescription assistance, utilities, furniture, glasses, it’s really all over the board,” Linda says as she names off problems for which she has helped find solutions.
Two days a week, she spends time at Helping Hands of St. Louis meeting with clients who need assistance beyond what Helping Hands can provide through their soup kitchen, food pantry and clothing center. Her other days are spent taking calls that come into our Toledo office.
“We cover 19 counties in northwest Ohio,” she adds. “I’m most familiar with the resources in Lucas County, but I do get calls from other counties. Sometimes it’s a matter of helping them connect with the resources in their community.”
Linda recently worked with Mary, a client of Helping Hands, to help her prioritize and manage her funds. Together, they created a budget that helped Mary pay her bills on time and catch up on her rent.
“I was going to Helping Hands, and I didn’t know what to do,” says Mary. “I saw Linda and I explained to her my situation.”
“Linda made me believe that there are some really good people out there who don’t mind helping you. But once they help you, they go a little step further. Before her, I never had my priorities in order.”
Linda’s primary goal is to help clients make life changes. “We help with the short term but look at the long term to make life easier,” she explains.
Whether it’s creating a budget or writing a resume, the smallest tools help create new paths for clients. “It’s not just about making that connection. Clients will call me back and say they are grateful that somebody was there for them.”
Faith plays a large role in Linda’s daily duties. When asked how is she able to handle over 120 calls a month, she replies humbly, “It’s not me helping. I’m just the person sitting here. The Lord is the one who guides.”
Funding support for this program is made possible through the generous support of the Toledo Community Foundation, the St. Marguerite D’Youville Foundation and the Walmart Foundation.
In a line full of people, Gary was not shy about sharing his story. “Anything I can do to help, since you guys helped me,” he said with a friendly tone and a smile.
In April 2012, Gary made a brave decision to start going to Catholic Charities’ H.O.P.E. Food Pantry in an effort to supply food for his family.
Encouraging healthy lifestyles
Not long after moving, there was a sudden downturn in the economy, and his family’s income took a big hit.
“I sell appliances and with the economy the way it is right now, people aren’t buying things. Sometimes I don’t make enough money to cover the bills, the food, and the rent,” he says.
The transition of moving to a new town and the challenges of a slow economy not only impacted Gary’s income, but his health was at risk, too.
“I’m a diabetic, and I was waiting for my (public) prescription assistance to be approved. I needed medication to get me through until then.”
His doctor referred him to Catholic Charities while he waited for his assistance. “I needed my insulin, and Catholic Charities paid for it. If I didn’t get the insulin, I probably would’ve been in the hospital, if not worse.”
The H.O.P.E. Food Pantry was also able to help Gary maintain a healthy lifestyle. “It’s not just food to eat. It’s really important that I try to manage my diet.”
“Catholic Charities helped me because I don’t have to go out and buy the cheapest food possible, which may not be good for my health.”
A Powerful Force
After coming to the pantry for over a year, Gary sees the services of Catholic Charities as nothing short of a blessing.
“It’s just amazing when you sit down and look at what you’ve prayed for. What you have and what you don’t, it all adds up … I think prayer is probably the single most powerful thing in the world. Without God, I wouldn’t be here today. Without God in my life, I would be dead right now.”
Gary’s advice to other families who are going through tough times is clear: “Don’t be embarrassed because you need help. Sometimes we get in the way of ourselves and you can’t let pride get in the way of helping yourself or your family.”