“We had a Catholic Charities where I was originally from, but the services they provide here are so unique and supportive.”
After escaping a domestic violence situation, Sarah was homeless for five years. She found Catholic Charities, where the unique and personal assistance helped her start a new life. Sarah’s story is one of determination and hope.
After leaving an abusive situation, Sarah ran out of funds before she could find a job and settle down. This brought her to the steps of Catholic Charities. Sarah first utilized the Marian House for a daily meal, but quickly became involved in the Hanifen Center services which helped her work towards self-sustainability.
When Sarah heard that computer skills classes were offered, she jumped at the opportunity. She met Life Skills Instructor, Sherry, who worked with Sarah to set goals and learn life skills. Sarah had three ambitions. She wanted to find a job, get an apartment, and buy a car. Within six months, she had developed the skills and self-confidence she needed to pursue a job. Her hard work paid off, and she was offered a position at the Salvation Army Warming Shelter, working the overnight shift.
When she is not working, Sarah regularly comes to the Life Skills Center, where she continues to take Financial Literacy classes and work on employment skills. She recently attended a job fair and is confident she will be hired for a full-time job once the Warming Shelter closes in April.
Her next goal was to find an affordable apartment. Since she was living in the R. J. Montgomery Center shelter, Sarah was able to save more than 80% of each paycheck. On February 1st, Sarah held the keys to an apartment. Catholic Charities Community Outreach moved her in, providing furniture, food, bedding, and household goods. As a safety net, she has saved enough money to support herself for three months.
Sarah wants to give back to the organizations that helped in her time of need. She has become a regular volunteer, working as a Navigator in the Family Day Center, and helping with the Clothing Closet, Help Desk, or where she is needed based on the demands of the day. She says, “Catholic Charities helped me so much. We had a Catholic Charities where I was originally from, but the services they provide here are so unique and supportive.”
Her third goal is to save enough to purchase a used car. She is working with Sherry to develop a budget which includes the car payment, cost of insurance, and gas. “I would love a car to help me get around,” she says. “The closest grocery store is 15 blocks away. I don’t mind walking or riding the bike Catholic Charities gave me, but it would be nice to have a car when the weather is bad.”
Sherry is confident in Sarah’s future: “I know Sarah will be fine. She has the skills and drive to be successful. We are looking forward to saying goodbye because we know Sarah will not need us anymore.”
“It’s feeding the extrovert in me and my need to be compassionate with people.”
Jason has multiple sclerosis. He insists, “I am not M.S. I have M.S. but I’m way more than that.” Years ago, he came to the Soup Kitchen with his family for meals and other necessities to help make ends meet. Today, the Soup Kitchen is Jason’s home away from home, where he can receive a hot, nutritious meal and socialize when his family is busy.
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“Jason is a self-described “extrovert to the max.” You can find him nearly every day at the Marian House Soup Kitchen (MHSK) in his electric wheelchair, chatting and joking with the staff and other guests in the dining room. When asked what his greatest struggle is in life, Jason firmly states, “I have no challenges.” Jason recalls when he was in high school and the first signs of Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.) appeared in his life. “My mother cried for a week.” M.S. is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing victims of the disease to experience nervous system issues and often resulting in difficulties walking or moving arms and legs.
Despite the slow progress of M.S. symptoms, Jason did well in school and even volunteered at MHSK before completing a B.S. in Computer Science and an M.B.A. in Business. Shortly after completing his Master’s degree, Jason became wheel chair ridden. He struggled with depression as he had difficulty keeping steady jobs with the limitations caused by M.S. However, Jason never let M.S. hold back his confidence and compassion and eventually married his “angel,” Michelle. The couple has three daughters
When Catholic Charities met Jason and his family years ago, they faced many difficulties. They relied on Jason’s disability income. Meanwhile, Michelle worked hard to build a career in accounting while caring for their young daughters. To make ends meet, Jason turned to the MHSK and the Hanifen Center Poverty Reduction Services. He and his daughters would visit almost everyday for hot nutritious meals and the girls would get clothing from Life Support Services. The staff and volunteers even had birthday parties for the girls in the Family Dining Room – complete with cake and juice boxes.
For most people, Jason’s financial struggles and the challenges created by living with M.S. would have seemed unbearable. However, Jason’s positive attitude and enduring spirit has kept his family strong. “I am not M.S. I have M.S. but I’m way more than that,” he says.
Eventually, with the support of her family, Michelle was able to find a full-time accounting position and the family found financial relief. Jason continues to visit MHSK everyday – except Sunday, which is his Family Day. While his wife is at work and his children are in school, the MHSK has become a home away from home for Jason where he can enjoy nutritious meals as his disability prevents him from preparing them at home. He has also made many friends amongst the staff and the guests in the dining room and insists that he knows every resource for those in need and his wealth of knowledge with the friends he meets. He says, “It’s feeding the extrovert in me and my need to be compassionate with people.” Jason also works on a personal business – Computers for Physically and Mentally Challenged (CPMC). He passionately uses his knowledge of computer science to help others with disabilities repair and personalize their computers. Most importantly, Jason anticipates his daughters’ futures and looks forward to watching them grow up. He says, “I want to focus on my church, my kids, family life and my social life!”
Rickey grew up on a farm in Lousiana and held many jobs growing up that didn’t require reading. Then life got tough and not being able to read became a problem, especially when he was figuring out life after divorce. But when he sought out help at Catholic Charities, a volunteer quickly figured out Rickey needed more than just a pair of socks and helped him become more literate.
Rickey has learned many trades throughout his life. He has farmed land, worked as a mechanic, built houses, and restored old cars; he even ran his own cement business. “There was only one thing I couldn’t do,” Rickey said, “That’s read.”
It is hard to imagine what it means to be fifty years old and to not know how to read or write. “The more I look at it,” Rickey said, “I guess I been lucky ‘cause of the kind of jobs I done had.”
Rickey grew up on a farm in Louisiana. His father needed help to run the farm and had Rickey work instead of going to school. When he got older, Rickey took on more labor work with his father and uncles. For many years, Rickey continued working in various trades with friends and family all over the country. It was easy for Rickey to find jobs that do not require reading and writing skills in Louisiana.
The aftermath of a divorce found Rickey in pursuit of a fresh start in Colorado. Rickey knew that if he truly wanted to thrive in life, he had to learn to read and write. He had already been going to the Client Services for help filing paperwork, among other things. That’s where he met Jennifer.
When Jennifer began volunteering at the Marian House, she enjoyed her work so much that she continued to volunteer for over seven years. One afternoon, Jennifer had an experience that changed how she would choose to spend her time as a volunteer. “I heard this guy with this paper, just exasperated. I said, ‘Is there a problem?’ and he began to express how he needed help filling out this form. So I helped him and he was very frustrated. And it wasn’t long before I figured out, he couldn’t read as well as he would like to.”
Jennifer had previously helped Rickey in various ways at Client Service. After she discovered he could not read, she felt called to be more involved. Client Services connected Rickey with the Pikes Peak Library District for tutoring. However, Rickey was still frustrated so he called a person he knew he could trust – Jennifer.
At first, Jennifer expected to simply help Rickey with the homework that his tutor from the library assigned. Eventually, she found herself teaching Rickey with full-on reading lessons twice a week to supplement his weekly lessons at the library. She had no experience as a teacher but felt that this was where she belonged: “I’ve pushed really hard because Rickey is really intelligent and we’ve moved in leaps and bounds over the last month.” After only one month of tutoring, Rickey was reading his first book.
Jennifer and Rickey schedule a time to meet in the conference room at the Marian House so they can have a quiet place to work together. Jennifer takes the time to help Rickey improve his spoken language as well. When Rickey talked with his aunt on the phone, she noticed that his speech had improved and said that she was proud of him.
Rickey explained, “Everything I ever did, I always finished. So I know I’ll finish this.” Ultimately, Rickey plans to start a trucking company to travel across the country. He hopes that eventually he can even go to college. “That’s the difference between Rickey and many people,” Jennifer stated, proudly, “He’s already got a goal to start his own business. That’s huge!” Thanks to the Marian House, Rickey was able to connect with Jennifer, who was willing to provide the individualized attention that he needed. “This is very empowering,” Jennifer said, “It just proves how invaluable the services are that the Marian House can offer. Someone walks in the door and we have a volunteer here who will notice that someone needs more than a pair of socks. It’s so much more than that. I’m so glad that I’m in this position. This is an invaluable program.”
When Jessica chose adoption, she knew it was the best decision for her birth daughter, Emma, and for herself. Catholic Charities facilitated the adoption using the Open Adoption model, where the birth-parents and adoptive parents are known and have an ongoing relationship with each other. As Emma grew older and became interested in her birth mother, her adoptive parents arranged for a special meeting that truly benefits the entire family.
Heather and Todd wanted a family, but had trouble conceiving so they turned to Catholic Charities Life Connections (LC) Adoption Program for help. LC utilizes the open adoption model, where the birth-parents and adoptive parents are known and have ongoing relationship with each other. This helps complete the whole picture for the child.
At first, Heather and Todd were hesitant about open adoption. Heather said, “We liked the idea of open adoption, but it made us very nervous. We wondered if our children would recognize us as their parents.” Thanks to several adoption classes, and the relationships the family formed with other parents, Heather and Todd felt more secure in the decision to choose open adoption. Having an open adoption helped Emma, their middle child, understand her identity and her place within the entire family. Jessica, Emma’s birth-mother, became pregnant at 19 years old. She received a list of adoption agencies from a social worker after giving birth, and chose Catholic Charities. The open adoption model appealed to her because she wanted Emma to know her family history and why she was adopted. “She is going to know who I am,” Jessica said, “I knew open adoption was going to be to the best benefit for the both of us.”
Jessica selected Heather and Todd to be Emma’s family. During the first four years of Emma’s life, Jessica had frequent contact. However, when Emma was four, Jessica, an active duty soldier, was deployed. Although she sent pictures and videos, Emma’s memories of Jessica began to fade. Emma wanted to meet Jessica face-to-face. She also wanted to meet her younger birth-sister, Cassandra, who Jessica was raising. Jessica, too, realized that after such limited contact, it was time for Emma to see her again. With assistance from the military program, Hero Miles, Jessica arranged for Emma and Heather to fly to Georgia and meet her and Cassandra.
Emma was both nervous and excited about the meeting. She wondered, “Will they like me?” or “Will we get along?” Meanwhile, Jessica felt nervous about meeting her birth-daughter after so many years. When the time came, Emma connected instantly with Jessica and Cassandra, and was excited to learn about their lives. Cassandra was excited to meet a new friend who she is now “extremely excited to see all the time,” according to Jessica. Thanks to an open adoption, Emma could make sense of her own identity and eliminate the mystery of what her birth-family was like. More importantly, this particular meeting with her birth-family strengthened Emma’s relationship with her mother, Heather. “It was a really special trip for Emma and me. It brought us closer on an even deeper level than we would have had otherwise, because we shared the experience together.” Heather says, “It truly made her feel whole.”
Heather and Todd trust that having each of their children know their birth-family is an ideal situation. “We always believed there are never too many people to love your child,” Heather says, “and Catholic Charities has been there throughout the entire process to support our family.”
Medical Services Offered at Catholic Charities Reduces Strain on Local Emergency Rooms
Every month, people experiencing poverty or homelessness, including seniors and anyone who cannot afford co-pays or a hospital visit, come to Catholic Charities’ Marian House, where partners provide them with courteous, personalized care. These are people who have slipped through the cracks, and the Marian House is their safety net, which catches them before they fall into more serious health problems.
Medical Services Offered at Catholic Charities Reduces Strain on Local Emergency Rooms
Imagine that you fall off your bike and get a nasty cut. Naturally, you might rush to the Emergency Room for stitches. But what do you do if you are homeless and don’t have the resources or insurance? You might dash over to the Marian House to see a medical professional at the SET Homeless Clinic, where they can not only stitch you up, but give you the medicine you need, all free of charge on a walk-in basis M-F, 11 am – 1 pm.
The SET Homeless Clinic, one of several SET Family Medical Clinics throughout Colorado Springs, provides healthcare to the un-insured and under-insured, five days a week. Jason Jones, Clinic Coordinator, says, “Not everyone who comes through the soup kitchen is homeless. We have a lot of low-income seniors and working poor, and because of that, most of the people we see are over fifty.” Most frequent ailments include abscessed teeth, cuts, infected fingers, and asthma. The volunteer staff also assists clients in accessing other health care resources, providing hygiene products, and conducting a sock exchange to help in preventative care. The clinic dispenses over-the-counter pain medication and provides health education as well.
When a client first walks through the doors of the Marian House, they may be met by a Client Navigator who directs them to the services they need. If it is medical assistance, acute or otherwise, they either meet with someone at the SET Clinic or with the Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurse. The SET Clinic serves as the foundation for medical services at the Marian House; however, to get other services, like mental health care, the client must have some form of insurance. Centura Health and Peak Vista are on site several days a week to help enroll clients in Medicaid and SNAP. Once the clients have Medicaid, they can access AspenPointe to receive behavioral health care.
The extensive support and network of partners in the local community helps Catholic Charities uphold its core values and principles of human dignity, common good, and solidarity with the poor. Velda Baker, a Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurse, works two days a week at the Marian House. She says, “To be able to treat the whole person, not just the burned hand or the sprained ankle, but to treat the whole person, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, is a very important component of this job.” She provides a professional assessment for everyone who sees her for an appointment. If a client comes in for one specific reason, through thorough questioning, Velda would be able to determine additional problems and connect them to appropriate resources. She also provides flu vaccines at least twice a year at Flu Shot Clinics held at the Marian House.
Every one of the medical or health providers at the Marian House educates and reiterates the importance of seeking care to their clients, and will often walk them through the entire process of calling and setting up appointments for follow-up visits with primary care providers in the community.
Michael Branscum, a clinician therapist for AspenPointe’s homeless outreach team says, “I do everything here from triage, to figuring out what people’s needs are, to connecting them to the services they need: crisis intervention, therapy, case management, substance abuse, pretty much anything.” The Marian House is a one-stop shop for clients to meet most medical needs as well as basic needs, such as food and clothing. Here, they are afforded the unique opportunity to see medical practitioners for an assortment of issues from a sore throat to schizophrenia.
Rochelle Schlortt, Chief Communications Officer of Catholic Charities said, “When we built the new Marian House facility, it was important to include exam rooms for the SET Medical Clinic as well as flexible office space for the many medical and community partners we wanted to have located in the facility. We wanted a one-stop shop approach so when someone came to Marian House for a meal, they could tap into other critical services without ever leaving the building. Most of our health partners work with anyone regardless of what insurance they may or may not have. So having a partner who provides acute care is critical for people with chronic cough, flu, and frostbite, particularly in the winter months, because these conditions can be treated at the Marian House and divert people from the emergency rooms and keep illnesses from morphing into something more serious.”
Every month, people experiencing poverty or homelessness, including seniors and anyone who cannot afford co-pays or a hospital visit, come to Catholic Charities’ Marian House, where partners provide them with courteous, personalized care. These are people who have slipped through the cracks, and the Marian House is their safety net, which catches them before they fall into more serious health problems.
Jennifer and Steve were ready to start a new life after Steve left the military. When work did not come as quickly as expected, the family exhausted their funds and found themselves living in their car. Catholic Charities’ Family Day Center provided a place of refuge where the family could access the resources they needed to get back on their feet.
After retiring from the military, Steve was ready for a new beginning with his wife, Jennifer, and their three children. Unable to find a job in Illinois, where his extended family lived, Steve found a position in Denver. To ease the transition, Steve and Jennifer traveled to Denver with their youngest child, Juliana, while their two boys stayed with their grandmother in Illinois.
Upon arrival in Denver, the job opportunity fell through so Steve directed his attention to Colorado Springs, where he had been stationed in the military. As the weeks went by, the family’s funds dwindled, job opportunities seemed scarce, and Steve, Jennifer, and Juliana found themselves sleeping in their car. “During that time, we were just lost,” Steve recalled. “The greatest struggle was trying to be strong for Juliana.” They found Catholic Charities’ (CC) Marian House Soup Kitchen where they went for a hot, nutritious meal. Here, they were referenced to the Family Day Center, where families receive a multitude of services.
“Coming to the Family Day Center became a part of our daily routine,” Steve said. “Every day the staff was excited to see us, asking for updates, and pointing us in the right direction. Juliana loved it – it was the best part of her day.” As Juliana stepped into a world of My Little Pony, Play Dough, and LEGO bricks, her parents took turns checking emails and working with staff to find jobs leads and a place to live.
Over the next month, the family’s proactive attitude, help from local agencies, and the services they received at the Marian House, set their journey to stability in motion. CC referred the family to Rocky Mountain Human Services who helped with temporary housing. With housing and food taken care of, Steve was able to direct his attention to finding a job, which he did fairly quickly. Shortly after, the family settled in a more permanent home with housing vouchers from the Veterans Affairs Office. The other children could finally come to Colorado and the family was finally reunited.
To give the family help while waiting for the first paycheck, CC provided a Family Stabilization Pack, which is given to clients transitioning from temporary to permanent housing. It consists of furniture, food, household goods and a kitchen starter pack. Although the family is still accessing some assistance, they are well on their way. “Catholic Charities and Rocky Mountain Human Services helped us so much. We are so grateful,” said Steve.
“I’m not trying to cause any harm in the United States. I’m just trying to do better for myself and for my family.”
Karina came the United States with her mother and sister when she was just 11 years old. By the time she was 17, her life in the U.S. was all she really knew. Catholic Charities helped Karina apply for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) so that she could pursue opportunities in the country that she calls home.
Home is defined differntly for everyone. It can be where family is, a specific place or memory, or a dream for the future. After growing up in the United States, 17 year old Karina considers Colorado Springs to be her home. “I love it here,” she says, “I have so many opportunities.”
Karina cannot imagine returning to Mexico where she and her younger sister, Dafne, came from six years ago. At first, the young girls did not understand why their mother would risk their lives and leave their grandmother behind to live in a country where they did not even speak the language. However, Karina is now extremely grateful for the opportunity her mother gave her and Dafne. She knows now that her mother left Mexico to give her daughters a chance to live fulfilling lives with good jobs in a safe home.
In 2011, five years after leaving, Karina’s grandmother became fatally ill. Shortly after the death, Karina’s mother returned to Mexico. Although she knew she might never have the chance to return to the U.S., Karina’s mother was confident in her daughters’ security and the bright futures that they would have in the United States. They would be able to live safely with their undocumented stepfather who works in construction. The girls’ stepfather works long hours to provide for Karina and Dafne so that they can focus on school.
Karina found out about Catholic Charities Family Immigration Services (FIS) while attending church at St. Dominic. She learned that she qualified for Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA defers removal action against undocumented children for a certain period of time. Although it does not provide lawful status or a pathway to citizenship, with DACA approval, Karina can stay in the United States and apply for jobs that would otherwise be illegal for her to work. Karina diligently set appointments with her FIS counselor, Ivonne, to help her with the necessary paperwork for DACA. She appreciates the kindness and honesty that FIS has treated her with. “They are patient with me,” she says.
As a high school student, Karina has gone above and beyond by enrolling in the Concurrent Enrollment (CE) program. Through CE she can earn college credit through courses at Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC) while finishing her high school diploma. Karina is currently taking courses at PPCC to become a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA). In high school, Karina finds it hard to make friends that can relate to her immigration situation. It is challenging for her to talk to others about her mother in Mexico or her struggles to find work as a non-citizen. She also feels that people sometimes look down on her or act rudely towards her because she has an accent and they can tell she is not from the U.S. “I’ve been a part of the community for many years,” Karina says. Karina appreciates that at FIS, she not only receives honest help for her DACA application, she is also welcomed by the staff that does not judge her or her family.
Currently, Karina is still waiting for her DACA application to go through. She will finish her CNA classes soon but cannot apply for jobs without DACA approval. “I’m tied down. I can’t get my driver’s license or a job,” she says. In the meantime, Karina will continue to take courses at PPCC next semester. She would like to finish an Associate’s degree to become an interpreter using her bilingual skills. Without Catholic Charities help in applying for DACA, Karina believes she would not be able to attend school, “I would probably end up working in a restaurant for the rest of my life.”
For young adults like Karina, the only life they have known is living in the United States. They may have been born in another country, but there is no life waiting for them there. “I’m not trying to cause any harm in the United States,” Karina says, “I’m just trying to do better for myself and for my family.” Thanks to Catholic Charities Family Immigration Services, Karina has a chance to make a life in the place that she calls home.
“I was broken, they were broken. We kind of related to each other. I get to know these people and I feel so enriched by it.”
Marcy has volunteered at the Marian House Soup Kitchen for over 15 years. She knows many clients by name and helps to creating a welcoming community for those who often feel unwelcome elsewhere. She says, “I’m blessed to be able to work with them and get to know them and just be there for them.”
Marcy held back tears while reading a birthday card that a guest from the Marian House Soup Kitchen (MHSK) had given her. A line from the card describes her perfectly as “the kind of friend who brings light wherever she goes, who brightens up a room and encourages those inside.” Marcy has spent the last 15 years volunteering at MHSK where she uses her gifts of mercy and compassion to befriend those that she meets. At a time before she volunteered, Marcy faced some personal difficulties of her own. A colleague at her job encouraged her to volunteer with him at the Marian House to take her mind away from her troubles. Marcy found her place after her first day of volunteering, “I usually do my bussing job, scraping the dirty dishes. I love that job because that’s how I get to meet the people. It’s the last place they come and nobody’s rushing them through the lines so we can stand there and we can chat.”
“I was broken,” Marcy admits, “They were broken. We kind of related to each other. I get to know these people and I feel so enriched by it.” The Marian House is often the only place where some guests feel acknowledged or are met with a smile. It is a place where they find community. Marcy makes a special effort to learn the names of guests she meets to give them a sense of belonging, “If I don’t see them for a while, I get worried. And when they come in I say, ‘where have you been? I’ve been worried about you!’”
Marcy tells countless stories of guests that inspire her. She will talk about long time Soup Kitchen guest, John. He was excited to inform Marcy that he was 6 months sober. John insisted that when he saw Marcy at the Soup Kitchen and she asked how he was doing and it kept him motivated. Three years later, John returned to the Soup Kitchen to tell Marcy that he is now pursuing Youth Ministry to help prevent young people from making the same mistakes that he had made in the past.
Another friend of Marcy’s is Jerry. Jerry is an author who had been writing his stories about homelessness and his travels for many years. She encouraged him to publish his work and, with help from the Marian House Life Skills Center, Jerry became a self-published author online.
“They give me back more than I ever give them,” Marcy expressed, “I can’t explain it.” Inspired by those she has met, Marcy writes poetry and paints portraits. Two of her poems, “He’s like the Wind” and “Our Brothers and Sisters” are displayed in the Marian House in addition to two portraits she painted of MHSK guests. She calls her series of works Faces of Survivors, “I call them survivors, not homeless, because they are surviving every day.”
Marcy’s compassion and for every individual she meets keeps even the most out of reach returning to the Marian House Soup Kitchen community.
Being alone and homeless is tough. It’s much more difficult with three young children. Liz had a good amount of savings to stay in motels while she looked for permanent housing; however, the funds depleted quickly and Liz found herself homeless with her two sons and one daughter, ages 2, 3, and 5. She and her children went to the shelter as a last resort. Liz admits, the shelter was “not what I expected” and felt uneasy bringing her children there.
While staying at the shelter, Liz took her family to the Marian House Soup Kitchen for a daily meal. She found out about the services at the Family Day Center. “I was hesitant at first,” Liz admitted, “But when I found out someone could help watch the kids, I thought it would be great to be able to just breathe and do what I needed to do.” Liz’s sons both show early signs of autism. She found it difficult to work on the computer and accomplish goals while attending to their needs. At the Family Day Center, trained childcare workers can watch her children while she works in the Computer Lab. Liz recalled, “I could tell that I could trust them when I walked in.”
With individualized attention from dedicated volunteers, Liz plotted a plan to being searching for housing. “I’m not computer saavy,” Liz acknowledged how she needed help to do research and fill out online applications. Liz especially appreciates the access to food, clothing, and other services all on one site as her car recently broke down. She found it difficult to walk back and forth between the shelter and the Marian House considering a hernia in her back, the hot summer weather and her young children. However, she keeps a positive attitude. “I just want to find a place to live and take things one step at time.” For individuals like Liz, the Marian House is a refuge where their children are safe and they can access the services they need while in crisis.
In 2012, after nearly 16 years of cocaine use, Michelle found herself alone in a shelter in Colorado Springs. “For a couple months I was clean and started thinking clearly and decided that I didn’t want to do drugs anymore,” Michelle said. She reached out for support by calling Andy, a man she had met in Texas, who also struggled with drugs and alcohol. Together, Michelle and Andy came to the decision to quit using drugs. Andy got a bus ticket from Texas to Colorado Springs to escape the familiar pressures of drug use. The two started the journey of cleaning themselves up together. Three months later, while still living in the shelter, Michelle and Andy decided to get married. Catholic Charities helped the newlyweds pay their first deposit so that they could rent an apartment together. Shortly after, the Pickney’s were both working and self-sufficient.
Things seemed to be looking up until Michelle’s mother in Texas became ill. The couple returned to Texas to care for Michelle’s mother until she passed. Unfortunately, being back in Texas, struggling to find work, and the stress of dealing with family issues caused both Michelle and Andy to relapse. Michelle quickly pulled herself together, attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and staying off the streets. However, resisting the cocaine was more difficult for Andy. The Pickney’s were struggling to keep their marriage strong and fought constantly with the influence of drugs and alcohol in their relationship. “I told him he had to quit doing drugs or we couldn’t be together,” Michelle remembers. When Michelle finally turned off her phone to stop talking to Andy, she found out that Andy immediately checked into rehab. “I love her,” Andy stated firmly, “I’d follow her to the ends of the world. I love her that much.” The couple realized that their strength together would keep them away from drugs and make them stronger to pursue a better life. In September 2014, Andy was released from rehab, Michelle picked him up, and they took a bus back to Colorado Springs. Michelle said, “We knew we could come here and get help and get on our feet.”
The Pickney’s stayed in the R.J. Montgomery Center when they first returned to Colorado Springs. They visited the Marian House Soup Kitchen and sought help from Catholic Charities’ Client Services program. Andy looked for work and Michelle relied on Social Security income for disability due to major depression. They could not afford to rent an apartment. Once more, Catholic Charities provided help for the Pickney’s with half of their deposit for an apartment. “I don’t know that our relationship could have withstood what we were going through if it wasn’t for Catholic Charities helping us,” Michelle said. Soon, Andy found full-time work with a roofing company. Catholic Charities Community Outreach assisted the couple with furniture and even delivered it directly. Michelle also accessed help to get a new birth certificate. Now living in a furnished home with help from Catholic Charities, the Pickney’s are excited to continue moving forward and becoming self-sufficient. They adopted a kitten, Mikey, to keep Michelle company while Andy is at work and to distract Michelle from her memories of drug use. “He keeps me busy,” Michelle says, “Now we’re officially a family all together. All three of us.” Michelle is researching Truck Driving School for Andy so that the two can travel and keep a good paying job. Although Michelle and Andy regret some of the decisions they made in the past, they are excited to pursue their future with positivity. “This is home for us now,” Michelle says, “We love Colorado. We love Catholic Charities.”
Education comes in many shapes and sizes. From learning the alphabet in kindergarten to filing taxes as an adult, educational challenges are encountered throughout one’s lifetime. For many newcomers to the United States, this challenge is learning to speak English. It is difficult to seek out assistance as an adult, especially when resources are limited. This is how Matilde felt in 2004 when her family moved to Colorado where her husband found a good job. With perseverance and a good attitude, Matilde was able to find work as a caretaker and a house cleaner. She and her husband learned enough English to get by with help from their children who learned to speak English fluently at school.
However, she was frustrated with relying on her children to help communicate with doctors and their teachers. She wanted to take English as a Second Language classes (ESL), but wasn’t sure where to begin. In the past she had been embarrassed and discouraged when her English was misunderstood. “I would just become quiet and give up,” Matilde admitted. A friend mentioned she was taking ESL classes from Catholic Charities.
Matilde’s husband was reluctant. He thought the classes were too far from their home and felt her English was good enough. However, she was eager to become independent, so she began to attend biweekly classes. “It wasn’t easy,” Matilde admits. She was overwhelmed with information in her first few classes, but worked hard in class and began to feel more confident and comfortable speaking English. “I know my English is not perfect,” Matilde said, “but I could talk to anyone and I wouldn’t feel nervous.” While taking classes, Matilde encountered a situation where her ESL lessons became applicable to her daily life. Her family had been renting a home for nearly seven years and in early 2014, maintenance issues arose with several appliances. She mentioned them to her landlord, but felt that she was being ignored. Months passed and the issues began to pile up. She told her ESL teacher about the problem she encouraged Matilde to write a formal letter to her landlord. In her letter, Matilde explained her frustration and warned the landlord that she would send the letter to the city if the problems were not resolved. Three days after the landlord received the letter, all of the maintenance issues were fixed. “It was incredible,” Matilde said, “I didn’t know a simple letter could do so much. Our relationship with the landlord is getting better.” Matilde’s husband is very proud of her and now encourages her education. “He knows when my classes are,” she said, “and he says ‘you better hurry, you can’t miss class!’” She feels empowered to pursue bigger goals. “My next step is to get better at using the computer so I can take GED classes,” she said. “Before ESL classes, I was too afraid to do anything. Now I can do everything.”
Education comes in many shapes and sizes. From learning the alphabet in kindergarten to filing taxes as an adult, educational challenges are encountered throughout one’s lifetime. For many newcomers to the United States, this challenge is learning to speak English. It can be difficult to seek out assistance as an adult, especially when resources are limited. This is how Matilde felt in 2004 when her family moved to Colorado where her husband found a good job.
With perseverance and a good attitude, Matilde was able to find work as a caretaker and a house cleaner. She and her husband learned enough English to get by with help from their children who learned to speak English fluently at school. However, she was frustrated with relying on her children to help communicate with doctors and their teachers. She wanted to take English as a Second Language classes (ESL), but wasn’t sure where to begin. In the past she had been embarrassed and discouraged when her English was misunderstood. “I would just become quiet and give up,” Matilde admitted. A friend mentioned she was taking ESL classes from Catholic Charities. Matilde’s husband was reluctant. He thought the classes were too far from their home and felt her English was good enough. However, she was eager to become independent, so she began to attend biweekly classes. “It wasn’t easy,” Matilde admits. She was overwhelmed with information in her first few classes, but worked hard in class and began to feel more confident and comfortable speaking English. “I know my English is not perfect,” Matilde said, “but I could talk to anyone and I wouldn’t feel nervous.”
While taking classes, Matilde encountered a situation where her ESL lessons became applicable to her daily life. Her family had been renting a home for nearly seven years and in early 2014, maintenance issues arose with several appliances. She mentioned them to her landlord, but felt that she was being ignored. Months passed and the issues began to pile up. She told her ESL teacher about the problem and she encouraged Matilde to write a formal letter to her landlord. In her letter, Matilde explained her frustration and warned the landlord that she would send the letter to the city if the problems were not resolved. Three days after the landlord received the letter, all of the maintenance issues were fixed. “It was incredible,” Matilde said, “I didn’t know a simple letter could do so much. Our relationship with the landlord is getting better.”
Matilde’s husband is very proud of her and now encourages her education. “He knows when my classes are,” she said, “and he says ‘you better hurry, you can’t miss class!’” She feels empowered to pursue bigger goals. “My next step is to get better at using the computer so I can take GED classes,” she said. “Before ESL classes, I was too afraid to do anything. Now I can do everything.”Matilde – Education & Empowerment
“I appreciate the opportunity to serve,” Bob said when asked why he volunteers at the Marian House Soup Kitchen (MHSK), “having your own personal ministry that you’re comfortable with, that you’re not ashamed of…that’s important.” Bob was inspired by Pastor Peel of First Lutheran Church to cultivate a personal ministry, which he found at MHSK.
In 2000, Bob joined the volunteer group from First Lutheran that had been coming on Fridays for several years. 16 years later, Bob is the kitchen lead every Friday. Bob’s leadership skills, from working as a CFO for multiple companies as well as serving on the Board of Directors for the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (now TESSA), are put to use in the kitchen. He can be found at MHSK on Thursday afternoons, surveying the stock of food to plan the meal for the following Friday. “The managers allow us to be creative,” Bob stated, “part of the love doing the cooking is the challenge to make something good out of what we have.” He returns to the kitchen early Friday morning to direct his crew, “You have to be recognized to be on the varsity before I let you do certain things. And then we have the junior varsity. And if they really screw up, I put them back on the intramural team.” He proudly describes a system he and his predecessor established years ago that remains a standard each Friday. Each week, six volunteers take home a donated turkey to bake at home. The six pre-cooked turkeys are brought back to MHSK to serve in a special turkey casserole every Friday, which Bob notes clients look forward to. This system allows for volunteers to participate, even if they can’t make it to MHSK for the volunteer shift.
As a longtime volunteer, Bob recollects the transition from the old MHSK building to the new one in 2008. He appreciated the opportunity to work with the lead cooks from other churches that prepared the meal throughout the week. Bob recalls how the cooks stood together when they were told MHSK operations would have be put on hold during some of the construction, “We said, ‘No we’re not. We’re going to make it work.’ And we did it over a weekend.”
At home, Bob enjoys cooking but emphasizes that he is the Su Chef to his wife, the true Head Cook. While he and his wife have their own personal volunteer efforts, they respect each other’s needs and are very supportive of one another. Ultimately, Bob’s passion for his work at MHSK stems from his belief that everyone should have access to a warm, nutritious meal, “That concept is important to me. They know that they can always get a hot meal and they know they can always see a smiling face.”
Cyndi was adopted when she was three months old. Her mom told her that the first time they saw her, she was a mess. She was sick, and had a horrible runny nose. After seeing her, Cyndi’s brothers aged 5 and 6, immediately asked their parents, “Can we keep her? Is she ours?”
Cyndi always knew she was adopted, even before she really knew what that meant. She says, “I always felt I belonged to my family. I never felt like I was apart from them. I have wonderful parents and a great family. I had a great childhood and a good life. It has been a blessing.”
When she was 18, her parents gave her the non-identifying information. “I was very interested in finding my birth parents; part of it was that even though I looked like I belonged to my family, I didn’t look like anyone in particular. I didn’t have the same nose or eyes, or anything that I could point to and say I looked like them,” says Cyndi.
She contacted Catholic Charities, and found that the records were sealed, making it impossible to facilitate a reunion at that time. Cyndi continued with life. She had married, had a daughter, divorced, was a single mom for 10 years, and then remarried in 2006. Her new husband encouraged her to try again to find her birth parents, so in 2007, Cyndi called Catholic Charities again and was put in contact with Sarah, a counselor with Life Connections. Sarah told her that the laws in Colorado had recently changed and that she would contact the birth parents and facilitate a reunion, as long as all parties were open to it. Cyndi says, “Sarah is a blessing. She was firm, honest, but always kind. She gave me a list of books to read, and I’m so glad she did because I was better prepared when things started happening. The books contained stories about what it was like to be an unwed mom at that time. It would have definitely been more difficult had I not read them.”
“Sarah located who she believed was my birth mom, but she did not want contact,” said Cyndi. “She asked if I wanted to find my birth dad, but the story I was told was that my birth mom got pregnant and the father left. I thought he was a big jerk, but I told Sarah to go ahead and try to find him. Just before Thanksgiving 2008, Sarah called to say my birth dad, John, wanted contact. I agreed and received an email from him the next day with a picture of him and his parents.” Although John never told his parents about the child he had fathered, he did share the information with his wife. Sarah facilitated the initial exchange of information and the first phone call, which was a conference call with Sarah, Cyndi, and John and his wife. It lasted about an hour and Cyndi was able to get more information about what had happened all those years ago. “John told me my birth mother had gotten pregnant and he had suggested getting married, but then she left town and he never heard from her again.”
They started emailing and Cyndi began learning about her birth family. She had two half siblings, two step sisters, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. John began telling the family about Cyndi, and his sister Jan immediately contacted her. Cyndi says, “We bonded instantly. That summer, Cyndi and her family visited her husband’s in-laws in Florida, which is also where John and his family live. They met in Orlando. Cyndi says, “It was nerve-racking. I was sitting in the car with my husband saying, ‘I can’t do this”. Come to find out, John was doing the same thing with his wife.” They did get up the nerve to go through with the meeting and according to Cyndi, “it was wonderful. He is the nicest man. He immediately started sending my kids birthday and Christmas Cards, and welcomed us into the family. It was awesome!” John said, “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I didn’t know what Cyndi and her family expected. It was a true blessing. When we got ready to leave, Cyndi gave me a big hug that seemed to last forever. I didn’t’ know I would be that emotional, and when we left, my wife asked me if I wanted her to drive because I was having trouble seeing. I show pictures to everyone and share my story. I am very proud to call her my daughter.”
John was nervous about telling his parents. He thought they might be upset, being from a different generation. He was surprised and relieved when they welcomed this new addition to the family with open arms. Cyndi says, “I wrote them a letter, telling them all about myself. Grandpa wrote right back and sent pictures, and told me he was so happy to have me as part of the family. I had been thinking about going out to meet them, but kept putting it off. Then in August of 2012, grandma passed away. At this point, I knew I had to get out there. I made arrangements to fly to Michigan, where they lived, and Aunt Jan met me at the airport and we had dinner with my other aunt that evening so I could meet her. The next day, we went to see Grandpa. When I walked in and said, ‘hi Grandpa,’ he said ‘I would know you anywhere.’ It was the most natural thing in the world. I spent the next day and a half, sitting at his feet, listening to stories. It was life-changing. At one point, Aunt Jan took me into the kid’s bedroom, where there was a wall covered with pictures and I thought, ‘this is my family.’ Before I left, grandpa took me into his bedroom and had me pick out a piece of jewelry for my daughter and myself.” John said, “these are the only things that dad has given away that were moms.”
Cyndi eventually asked John for her birth mom’s name and he gave it to her. “Once I had that information, my husband was able to find her in five minutes on the internet. I wanted to contact her, but I knew she didn’t want contact. I knew I needed to talk to her, but I wanted to respect her life. But after the experience of meeting my grandfather, I knew I had to call. The conversation went like this:
Cyndi: I just wanted to say I was born in 1969. Thank you for having me. I have a great life.
Birth Mom: (laughing) I don’t know what you are talking about.
Cyndi: John gave me your name. I found your sibling and other family. When I first began looking, the records were sealed, so it was until recently that I was able to find you.
Birth Mom: Don’t you think the records were sealed for a reason? Thank you for calling. Have a nice day.
After this conversation, Cyndi notes, “It would be nice to have more, to have a relationship, but I am content to have said what I said to her. There is no longer an aching need to get that out. I have had no contact since, and I’m fine with it. I know that if I had given a child up, I would always wonder if they were happy, if they had good parents. I just wanted her to know that.”
Through the whirlwind of a journey, Catholic Charities helped Cyndi with every step: “I don’t think it would have been the experience it was without Sarah. She made it safe and I felt protected. John also said that Sarah was so protective of me. She guided us through the process and was just amazing.”