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Wishing You and Your Family a Joy-Filled Christmas


Christmas is upon us, and your kind heart has been the most cherished gift of all. You are truly living what St. Francis of Assisi taught, "Remember when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received, only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage."

This Christmas, we thank you for helping us continue to care for our most vulnerable neighbors.

Holiday blessings to you and yours,

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan
Executive Director

Painting With Her Feet, an Artist ‘Expresses Who I Am’ - New York Times


PEEKSKILL, N.Y. — Sitting in front of a canvas, Linda Riveros paused to consider her next brush stroke.

She stretched her leg toward a cup of paintbrushes and gripped one with the two largest toes on her right foot. She dipped the brush in paint, lifted her foot to eye level and continued to fill in the palm tree on the canvas.

Ms. Riveros, who was born without arms, was creating art here this month for her first solo exhibition, “Painting With My Feet.”

“Happiness, faith, hope, harmony,” Ms. Riveros, 32, said of her pieces, which depict tropical birds, women’s legs and beach landscapes, among other subjects. “I’m trying to communicate them with the forms and the colors.”

Ms. Riveros, who has a bubbly personality, says the cheerful subject matter “expresses who I am,” though it belies the many years of her life that were filled with loneliness and rejection.

Ms. Riveros said she had no friends during her childhood in Bogotá, Colombia. She was born with tetra-Amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of limbs. At age 16, when the ridicule from fellow classmates became too much to bear, she dropped out of school. Because of her disability, she said, she felt ostracized even at her family’s church.

“I didn’t understand why everyone was treating me the way they did,” she said in Spanish. “In Colombia, I felt like a refugee lost in darkness, a person who only existed in her disability.”

Her only outlet was her art, she said, thanks to help from her older sister.

“I was like her little doll,” Ms. Riveros said of her sister. “She taught me how to grab a bottle with my feet, how to paint, and how to use my feet to fend for myself.”

In the early 1990s, her parents learned of a scholarship from the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World, an organization in Switzerland that supports disabled artists. At 7, Ms. Riveros applied for the scholarship by submitting two brightly colored paintings of clowns. She was accepted and offered a tutor and a monthly stipend of $400 for supplies. The next year, her work was shown at one of the association’s exhibitions, in Mexico City.

“When I began, I didn’t even know what art was,” she said. “But, thanks to the association, they helped me to discover that I am passionate about art.”

Over the years, Ms. Riveros grew more independent. She learned how to use her feet to bathe and dress herself, to wash her clothes, to open doors, and to embroider and sew clothing. When she was 12, she was offered the opportunity to receive prosthetic arms free of charge, but refused.

“I didn’t want them because I didn’t want to go against the word of God,” she said. “If he wanted me like this, it’s for a reason, so why should I try to change it?”

But even as she matured, she relied on her family, especially her sister, Andrea Rivero, and her brother, Jorge Samir Riveros, for many of her daily needs.

“In Colombia, I didn’t have a normal life,” she said. “I couldn’t go out and take a taxi or take public transportation. It was impossible because they don’t help you on public transport there. The only way I could survive was with the help of my family.”

One morning in 2008, her brother was fatally shot at a gas station; her family believes the killer was a gang member.

The shooting and the adversity Ms. Riveros faced in Colombia were factors in her decision to seek a better life in the United States. In 2010, she traveled to Miami, and then moved to New York, where she has lived off her stipend from the artists’ association, which was increased to $1,800.

Two years later, her sister back home disappeared.

“We still don’t know what happened to her, or if she was kidnapped — nothing,” Ms. Riveros said. After her sister vanished, she added, “I became totally shut in, swallowed in darkness and alone.”

Ms. Riveros filed an application for asylum in the United States in 2012. This past summer, it was approved. She was then referred to Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.

Her case worker, Mariana Duenas, encouraged her to hold an exhibition of her artwork. In September, the organization used $366 from the fund for painting supplies and canvases and helped arrange the exhibition, which opened this month and runs through Feb. 5 at the Robeson Gallery in Peekskill, about 50 miles north of Manhattan.

“Everyone was very touched by the colors and the figures, and no one could believe that I made them with my feet,” Ms. Riveros said after the show opened. “I feel very proud of myself.”

Her mother, Luz Miriam Ospina, traveled to New York before the exhibition, and as the day approached, Ms. Riveros worked seven days a week creating artwork. At her apartment in Sleepy Hollow, she cooked and cleaned for her mother, exhibiting an independence that Ms. Ospina said she had never seen before.

“This was not the same Linda who left my house,” Ms. Ospina said. “She was a different Linda. She was independent, strong, a fighter.”

Ms. Ospina said that her daughter’s relocation to the United States so soon after her son’s death “was the worst thing that could happen to me.”

“But I prayed to God,” she added, “and I asked that my daughter would be happy and that she would be somebody in life. And look at her now.”

Ms. Riveros said of her life in America: “Now I feel like a free bird, who can search for what she wants in her life, in her art, and who can express who she really is. I don’t feel disabled here.”

She still faces some challenges. A life spent contorting her body to use her feet has damaged her knees and spine, and she experiences back pain when she walks. She would like to buy a car, but she cannot afford the necessary modification.

But she does not see those challenges as insurmountable. As she stood in the gallery, she looked around at the walls filled with her work.

“The beautiful thing about this exhibition is that it shows that there are no limitations,” Ms. Riveros said. “Everything is possible. Limitations only exist in your head.”

Read More on the New York Times

Catholic expert calls Puerto Rico recovery “a tale of two islands” - The Crux


NEW YORK - Nearly 100 days after Hurricane Maria plowed through Puerto Rico on September 20, leaving much of the U.S. territory in ruin, the head of Catholic Charities of New York says the relief effort is “a tale of two islands.”

Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, who has served as executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York since 2001, has visited Puerto Rico twice since Maria made landfall. While his first visit was limited to the capital city of San Juan, his most recent trip last week took him to the more rural parts of the island that were both hardest hit and still suffering through sluggish recovery efforts.

“You have a very dichotomous situation down there now,” Sullivan told Crux. “In parts of San Juan, fortunately, many things are getting back to normal…and then outside of the capital, down to the south of the island, there we saw telephone poles down, wires still all over the street, and no electricity.”

Three months later, half of Puerto Rico is estimated to be without power. In early December, a New York Times investigation unveiled that the actual death count from the storm is very likely over a thousand people - despite the fact that the official government record lists only 64 individuals.

Some experts have predicted by the time the entire island returns to some state of normalcy, it will surpass Hurricane Katrina in terms of overall damage from a natural disaster to the United States.

In an interview with Crux, Sullivan offered a sharp contrast of scenes from his visit: In San Juan, he happened to pass a formal wedding taking place and shopping malls that were full of people carrying on with Christmas shopping. Meanwhile, in a town down south, he passed a store that was open for business but entirely dark due to the lack of power.

“We could only see the shadows of people moving around,” said Sullivan, “and it was rather eerie.”

“In my experience, there is a certain kind of rebound that has happened…but there are places that are still in dire straits where there has not been any type of recovery, and that’s part of the story, too,” he said.

Sullivan said that Catholic Charities of New York has partnered with Caritas of Puerto Rico in various relief initiatives. This most recent trip focused on giving out food and supplies to families in need, along with visiting Head Start sites that are being operated in partnership with a New York based Catholic Charities agency, the New York Foundling, working to promote school readiness for young children.

Earlier this month, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago made a four-day visit on behalf of Pope Francis, and in October, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, made a joint pastoral visit to the island delivering over $800,000 in aid relief.

On Wednesday, the archbishop of San Juan, Roberto Octavio González Nieves, led a prayer vigil at the United States Capitol in an effort to remind congressional leaders of the plight of Puerto Ricans.

Sullivan participated in the interfaith service sponsored by Jubilee USA, and said there should be a two-pronged focus going forward, with a focus on both the present needs, but also the future of the island.

“There are the immediate relief needs, and it’s very important that they continue to be met,” he told Crux. “There is the immediate rebuilding and making sure the basics are there, such as water and power, and that is still months and months away from being fulfilled.”

“I also think that equally important is looking at this as an opportunity to rebuild the economy of Puerto Rico, which everyone admits was in a dire situation prior to the hurricane,” said Sullivan.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to now do things that can help the economy of Puerto Rico and set it on a better future. It’s kind of simple: You create some type of enterprise zones, you devote enough to rebuild an up-to-date infrastructure, and you could probably create some strong economic engines that could provide jobs and a much better future for the people that are there.”

“That too is really part of the recovery efforts that we need to focus on,” said Sullivan.

Read More

‘I Was Not Going to Accept It’: After Captivity, Blind Syrian Forges Path to U.S. - New York Times Neediest Cases


Hope often came in subtle waves of clarity for Amier Agha. He would recall his younger brother’s new, prosperous life in San Francisco, which invariably made him think of images he had seen of sprawling metropolises and the New York City skyline. The thoughts filled him with warmth and wonder.

If all else failed to distract him from his incarceration by the Syrian government, he could sense through the darkness the presence of his best friend, Saeed Hadidy, manacled nearby.

Mr. Hadidy had always been there for Mr. Agha, 23, even after Mr. Agha and his siblings and their parents left Syria and resettled in Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004. Years of prosperity were dashed when the Syrian civil warbegan in 2011. The Agha family’s business, a bus company that had shuttled customers between Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia, closed.

All the while, Mr. Agha’s eyesight slowly faded, a congenital failure that also afflicted his brother. Navigating Saudi Arabia, where disabled foreigners are seen as hopeless, challenged him.

With treatment options sparse and no money coming in, Mr. Agha returned with his family to a home they owned in Damascus, the Syrian capital, in 2012. The family’s difficulties continued there. The Aghas’ home was burglarized. During the uprising and war, a cousin of Mr. Agha’s who had joined the Syrian Army died fighting. An uncle was never heard from again.

But there was good news for one of Mr. Agha’s brothers, Laurel, who also lost his eyesight. He received a student visa to study in the United States around the time of the family’s return to Syria, and applied for asylum shortly after arriving in San Francisco.

In Damascus, Mr. Agha came to rely on Mr. Hadidy, who acted as an indispensable guide.

Around the city, military checkpoints were used for conscription. And young men like Mr. Agha and Mr. Hadidy, who did not want to flee the country to live impoverished lives away from their relatives, took risks by walking the city.

On Oct. 18, 2013, the two and another friend were stopped at a checkpoint by Syrian Arab Republic fighters, aligned with government forces overseen by President Bashar al-Assad.

“Why aren’t you in the army?” a soldier asked the three, who were in their late teens.

Mr. Hadidy and the friend said they had legally paid for a deferment, once a major source of income for the government. Mr. Agha told the soldiers he was blind, though young men with medical exemptions were often assigned to administrative roles in the military.

“Your eyes are good,” the soldier said. The three were arrested and placed in separate, dark holding cells.

Over two days, they went without food. Water was provided twice. Mr. Agha was beaten. Then, the three young men were brought together, and without warning, Mr. Hadidy was executed.

“That was their way of putting pressure on us psychologically,” Mr. Agha said, recounting his story through an interpreter in a conference room in Manhattan this fall. He kept his hands clasped in his lap below a table; underneath, his knee bounced.

“They brought us together and killed him,” Mr. Agha said.

Finding Strength to Flee

Because he was blind, Mr. Agha was released; his other friend was also freed. At home, Mr. Agha fell into a depression over all he had lost.

“I was not going to accept it,” Mr. Agha said of his best friend’s death and his health. “All the time I called hospitals to find a solution. I was not content.”

He relied more on his family for emotional and physical support, especially his mother, who helped build his self-confidence between bouts of uncertainty and woe.

By mid-2017, more than five million refugees had left Syria, but passages out of the country could be blocked and treacherous. All cross-border travel was banned for men between 18 and 42.

As the conflict worsened, the family set their minds on escape and applied for visas to the United States. Mr. Agha’s father, Samr, arrived in San Francisco on a visa to visit Laurel in April 2014. From there, he continued to apply for derivative immigration status for the entire family.

The next year, Mr. Agha’s mother, Norhan, led the remaining family members to escape, telling border guards that they were seeking medical treatment in Beirut, Lebanon, for Mr. Agha’s vision. They were held at the border for nearly two days, but passes were issued and they fled to Istanbul.

In Turkey, stumped by the visa and admissions process, Mr. Agha started to lose hope of coming to America and began learning German.

“I was thinking of going alone to Europe,” Mr. Agha said, “but my mother told me, ‘You are not going.’ She always had hopes that coming to America will be a reality.”

In January 2017, the family received mixed news after interviews at the American Consulate in Ankara, Turkey. The visas for Mr. Agha’s mother, two sisters and a younger brother had been approved, but Mr. Agha and another brother required further security checks because of their travels to Saudi Arabia.

The family decided to wait for all the visas, and on Jan. 27, Mr. Agha and the other brother received theirs. “This was like the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Agha said.

But later that day, President Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from seven mostly Muslim nations, including Syria, from entering the United States. Syrian refugees’ entry was barred indefinitely.

small crowd had gathered outside Kennedy International Airport in New York to protest what civil rights activists and lawyers there saw as unconstitutional and illegal detentions. The protests grew into a national outcry.

“We felt very bad after the ban,” Mr. Agha said. “But then when we saw people protesting and demonstrating in New York and other cities against the ban, we regained hope.”

He added, “If it wasn’t for those people, I wouldn’t be here now.”

Before the announcement in September of a new travel ban, which rolled back some of the previous restrictions but still included Syrian refugees, a federal judge in Seattle blocked the executive order on Feb. 3 and allowed for families like Mr. Agha’s to enter the country. They left as soon as possible, arriving in New York City on Feb. 5.

Toward a Glittering Future

Immigration and refugee services at Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, helped the family acclimate to their new lives.

Mr. Agha was connected to the Catholic Guild for the Blind, where he is now enrolled in mobility and language courses. Having never received formal services for the blind, Mr. Agha is learning basics like cooking, grooming and doing laundry; he is also learning English and hopes to one day study psychology.

In September, to help with Mr. Agha’s studies, Catholic Charities used $383 from the Neediest Cases Fund to buy him an iPad. The organization also successfully applied for support through the state’s Commission for the Blind — which supplied Mr. Agha with an audio recorder, batteries and a battery charger — and for Supplemental Security Income.

Mr. Agha has settled on Staten Island with his parents and several of his siblings, paying $2,400 a month in rent. One brother works at CVS and is enrolled in college classes. Mr. Agha’s father drives for Uber. Mr. Agha travels by Access-a-Ride into Manhattan. He says that he can tell by smell which borough he is in.

“I had a dream, seven years ago, that I was living in New York,” he said. “I had an image of New York in my head, and it turned out to be just the one I had.”

Oftentimes Mr. Agha will ask his mobility instructor to walk with him down Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue, or he goes it alone to the Library for the Blind downtown.

Sometimes he visits Trump Tower, which he calls his favorite building in the city. His eyes perceive it as a fraction of a light, proof, to his mind, that darkness is never without light.

In fact, he says it glitters.

Read More from the New York Times


Friends Like You Helped Save Little Maria’s Life


Sharing All the Best This Holiday Season!

It's important to remember the stories about your New York neighbors in need —like Edgar and Amalia's story. They were struck instantly with devastation when they discovered their 4-year-old daughter Maria had chronic kidney failure and needed a kidney transplant. Edgar — a New York native who has been legally blind since childhood — struggled to balance the demands of his career with his daughter's medical needs, including dialysis three times a week. They fell behind on rent and faced eviction.

But because of steadfast friends like you, Catholic Charities was able to help the family pay off their rental arrears. Our Catholic Guild for the Blind assisted Edgar with his job search, while Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service provided both financial and nonfinancial support for the family.

Most important, Catholic Charities publicized the need for an organ donor to save Maria's life. A donor gave her the greatest gift of all —a kidney that saved her life. She and her family are now thriving.

Let Edgar and Amalia's story serve as inspiration as we count down to Christmas. Your tax-deductible gift today will enable even more essential support for so many of your New York neighbors who still desperately need you.


Give Now

Please make a tax-deductible gift in 2017 before time runs out.

With my utmost gratitude,

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan
Executive Director

P.S. Please make one last tax-deductible gift before Christmas to help Catholic Charities provide for our poor and vulnerable neighbors like Edgar and Amalia.

Wishing You a Wonderful Christmas Holiday


From All of Us at Catholic Charities 

Cardinal Dolan's Special Advent Mass at the Catholic Center

 Cardinal Dolan held a special Advent Mass at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in the Catholic Center. 

His homily focused on how certain things we want in life are worth the wait.


Listen to the Catholic Center Carolers for some Christmas cheer.

Msgr. Sullivan Advocates For Puerto Rico Recovery


Joins Ecumenical Prayer Vigil in DC

Just back this week from a humanitarian trip distributing food, clothes and support to those hit hardest by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan traveled again today, this time to Washington DC, for a prayer vigil and show of solidarity as Congress considers recovery and relief packages for the hurricane-torn island.

“There is general consensus that Puerto Rico was in a very dire situation prior to Maria,” Msgr. Sullivan said.  “Simply, the economy had tanked, debt had skyrocketed and population was fleeing the island in tens of thousands on a regular basis. 

“To define success as achieving the goal of restoring this unacceptable situation is a betrayal of the hope and commitment that religious peopled bring to this earthly pilgrimage.  It is a betrayal of the vision and values of these United States which does not settle but always seeks a better future in which the dignity of individuals and families might flourish and the common good of all sought.”

Msgr. Sullivan prayed at the vigil held in a congressional Cannon House office building.  He was joined by the major presider at the service, Archbishop Roberto González Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico and representatives from a number of major religious groups including the United Church of Christ, the National Association of Evangelicals, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, the Franciscan Action Network and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

The groups’ prayers called for adequate rebuilding aid, debt relief and financing for healthcare and child benefits on par with what US States receive.

“To me the solution is simple to design and admittedly hard to implement,” Msgr. Sullivan added, “a Marshall-like PR redevelopment plan that includes the basics of infrastructure modernization and the creation of enterprise zones to encourage business relocation need to be at the heart of the plan. We should not shirk the challenge of forging the political will and capital needed to implement such a plan.

“With every disaster, there are distinct challenges and opportunities.  The recovery of Puerto Rico after Maria and Irma provides the United States with the prospect of turning what was a bleak future for many into one of growth, development and hope.  This is neither easy nor assured, but it is a viable option – if we have the courage to undertake it - with both our fervent prayers and hard work.”

Stay tuned to our blog posts for first-hand updates on their humanitarian visits to Puerto Rico this week by Msgr. Kevin Sullivan and our coworker, Teresa Santiago. 

Help us help Puerto Rico recover

Archbishop and Religious Groups Hold Puerto Rico Prayer Vigil at US Capitol


Washington DC - As Congress considers recovery and relief packages for hurricane-hit Puerto Rico, the island's Archbishop and national religious groups are holding a vigil in a Congressional office building on Wednesday.

"Puerto Rico needs a Congress that is sensitive to the pain of the people of Puerto Rico," noted the Most Reverend Roberto Octavio González Nieves, O.F.M. Archbishop of San Juan de Puerto Rico. Gonzalez will be the primary presider at the service. "It needs a Congress that respects Puerto Rico's right to reconstruct with dignity."

San Juan's Archbishop will be joined at the prayer vigil by a number of major religious groups including: the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the United Church of Christ, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Catholic Charities USA, the Franciscan Action Network, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and Jubilee USA Network.

The various groups will be praying and calling for adequate rebuilding aid, debt relief and financing for healthcare and child benefits on par with what US States receive.

"Puerto Rico desperately needs adequate rebuilding aid so its power grid and infrastucture is strong enough to withstand the next storm," noted Eric LeCompte of the religious development group that is organizing the event, Jubilee USA Network. "Puerto Rico needs debt relief and equal access to Medicare, Medicaid and child tax benefit funding.

The event will be held at noon on December 20th from noon-1 pm in room 121 of Congress' Cannon House Office Building.

Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 US organizations and 650 faith communities working with 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee USA builds an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable. Jubilee USA wins critical global financial reforms and won more than $130 billion in debt relief to benefit the world's poorest people.


Available for Interview: Eric LeCompte, Executive Director

Contact: Lydia C. Andrews, Deputy Director / (o) (202) 783-3566 x109 (m) (847) 772-2305

Fleeing Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Family Rebuilds in Rockland County


Check Out This New York Times/Catholic Charities First-Person Account

Like millions of others in Puerto Rico, Enid Rosa had her normal life washed away in September by Hurricane Maria, reports The New York Times in this special Sunday edition Neediest Cases editorial. Her house in Rincón, a coastal city on the western edge of the island, was inundated. Outside, the flooding was even worse….

“It was really bad,” Ms. Rosa said. “But it was scarier after the hurricane: No food. No water. All our basic utilities lost. It was really after the fact that it got scary.”

With devastation all around, she felt she had to leave. In mid-October, she took up her brother’s offer of shelter and moved with her children  Ava, 15, and Juan, 9  into his house in Spring Valley, N.Y…

Still, having lost almost everything to the storm, she needed help rebuilding her life. It came from Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York.

Catholic Charities NY immersed itself helping Puerto Ricans recover.  We provide staff, promote fundraising, offer resources and have even made personal visits to ensure those in most need receive help.  This past week, Catholic Charities Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan led a team of staff to deliver food, water, clothes, even Christmas gifts to Puerto Ricans in some of the hardest to reach and most devastated parts of the island. 

Meanwhile, here in New York, Catholic Charities mans a new city service center set up in East Harlem that serves as a one-stop-shop linking critical services to the Puerto Ricans, like Ms. Rosa and her children, fleeing to New York in record numbers.  Those lucky enough to score the few available airline tickets can bring with them only the one carry-on and one piece of checked luggage allowed.  Aside from their lives, they have been forced the hurricane’s devastation to leave nearly all they valued behind.

Ms. Rosa, for example, left behind her job renting vacation beach homes that, of course, no longer exist.  Her children, Ava and Juan, left behind their school. They left their home, their house wares, whatever they could not fit in their luggage or on their laps.

Fortunately, they found their way to Catholic Charities Community Services in Rockland.  Catholic Charities used its resources and community connections to provide them with everything they needed to rebuild their lives.  The children received book bags filled with school supplies.  Ms. Rosa was given interview clothes and career counseling.  The family received food from Catholic Charities’ food pantry and a full turkey-to potatoes-to stuffing and more meal to celebrate their first Thanksgiving dinner in New York.

Now I’m working,” she said, “and trying to get myself back together.”

Her life from now on will be in the New York region, she said, because “there’s no way I can go back.”

Read the full New York Times editorial about Ms. Rosa and help she received from Catholic Charities NY

Stay tuned to our blog posts for first-hand updates on their humanitarian visits to Puerto Rico this week by Msgr. Kevin Sullivan and our coworker, Teresa Santiago. 

Help us help Puerto Rico recover

How We House the Hardest-to-Help Homeless


Sheltering Those Who Lived on the Streets for Years

By Jacqueline Victoria-Kline

Program Director

Jackie Victoria-Kline (R) decorates Holy Rosary
Shelter Christmas party tree

“Providing Help. Creating Hope.”  This is not just our Catholic Charities motto; it’s words I see in action every day at Holy Rosary, a former convent and house of prayer where New York City’s hardest-to-help homeless, those plagued by severe mental disorders and living on the streets for years, now call “home.” 

Who are these new Holy Rosary residents and how were we able to reach them?

They are mothers and fathers, grandparents, widows, sons and daughters. Currently there are 30 residents at Holy Rosary with multiple cultural and ethnic backgrounds (Caucasian, African American, African, Asian, and Latino). Some had been living on streets and subways for 2 years, others for over 20 years. Most suffer from bipolar, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders and have a long history of substance abuse addiction including opiates, heroin, cocaine/crack, K2 and alcohol.

Let me introduce you to a few.  To give them privacy – something completely absent during the years they huddled under blankets on the streets – I am substituting initials for their names. 

KH lived on the streets for seven years before moving into Holy Rosary.  He said he lost faith in the “shelter system” and never thought he could find or keep a job or have his own place in the city. Here he became engaged with case management services and was linked to mental health services.  Finally he received the ongoing treatment and psychotropic medications he needed to help decrease the symptoms associated with his bipolar disorder. He found work. And, in September 2016, KH was placed in a studio apartment through Volunteer of America’s Supportive Housing program . He calls Holy Rosary a “miracle place.”

Another resident, GN, who had been homeless for over 20 years, said: “I was lost for a long time. I did not know what it was like to have your life back, to have self-respect until I came here.”

EA and CR go to church every Sunday. EA said: “I’m alive because of my faith in God. I’m blessed for the roof on my head and a bed to sleep.” Holy Rosary is EA’s only hope because the prospect for him to obtain long-term housing is unlikely due to his legal residency status.

We know the homeless crisis in New York City and around the country is rising.  Catholic Charities has taken a firm stand to address this issue.  We are responding to the Mayor’s Office initiative to partner with faith-based organizations to help decrease the rise in the number of street homeless in the city.

Holy Rosary Facade in East Harlem

The Holy Rosary- Stabilization Bed program was created in June 2016 under a partnership between Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York and the Bowery Residents Committee (BRC) with funding from the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Under this partnership, BRC is responsible for the 24/7 day-to-day program operations while Catholic Charities serves as a subcontractor to deliver on-site holistic and comprehensive case management services to formerly homeless adult males and females with severe mental illness and substance abuse addition. This program, a unique low threshold, harm reduction model, is located at the former convent of the Holy Rosary Church at 448 E. 119th street in East Harlem. Already, we have served over 50 homeless men and women.

After living on the streets for years, our new Holy Rosary residents are becoming acclimated to community living. They have re-learned how to take care of themselves, to share a meal at a table; to participate in a group, and share their personal stories about how their “faith” had given them strength over the years while living in the streets. Most have been linked to mental health and medical services and entitlements.  Some received help obtaining lost documentation needed to establish their identity. And, more importantly, they have connected to who they are as people and regained a sense of self-respect, long lost on the street.

These men and women are smart, intelligent, talented and true survivors. Some also had careers, like the economist from Nigeria, the carpenter from Guyana, the chef from West Indies, and the artist from China, to name a few.  Some are Christians, Muslims and Catholics.

Our residents love to eat warm, home-cooked meals.  Some like to garden, watch movies, BBQ, go to museums, bowl and wear clean clothes. They are human beings like the rest of us. They are not defined by their pathology or addiction!

A Holy Rosary Resident photographed during a
2016 Christmas Event with Cardinal Dolan

These “chronic mentally ill street homeless” were removed from the streets and provided with shelter.  More importantly, they have been treated with respect, without judgment, and with the human dignity they deserve. Most have reconnected with who they are as men and women as they continue to struggle with their addiction and mental illness and work toward a more permanent and stable housing situation beyond Holy Rosary.

To me this is mental health in action. This is Catholic Charities in action- “providing help and creating hope” one homeless person at a time! Or, as Saint Mother Teresa said: “doing small things with great love!”

In the joy of Christmas!


Mom, Son Strive To Build a Life in New York - Wall Street Journal


By Melanie Grayce West Dec. 17, 2017 3:39 p.m. ET

A few days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September, Jessica Torres, drove her car to the one passable highway, climbed a mountain to get mobile reception, borrowed a stranger’s phone and called her parents in Yonkers.

Between tears, she let them know that she and her 5-year-old son Manuel were safe, and all extended family were accounted for, too. But her home in the central town of Cayey was destroyed.

Her family had a message as well. “They told me, ‘You’re leaving,’ ” she recalled.

 Ms. Torres, 30 years old, and her son arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport with the clothes on their back, personal documents and a few items. Ms. Torres said she anticipates living in New York for some time.

“I see my son doing well here,” she said while at her parents home. “If I can see me being stable here, I will stay.”

There is no official figure on how many people landed in the New York area from Puerto Rico this fall and stayed. Research from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, part of the City University of New York, shows that the majority of Puerto Ricans displaced after back-to-back hurricanes—Irma and Maria—migrated to Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas, avoiding New York, mostly because of the high cost of housing.

According to a spokeswoman for the office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, about 4,700 displaced Puerto Ricans have checked in at JFK airport’s welcome tables since mid-October. Twenty-five displaced people have enrolled at City University of New York colleges and another 50 are at State University of New York schools.

The New York City Emergency Management reports that some 2,000 people have visited a Hurricane Service Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which also opened in mid-October. There, clients are referred for social services offered by the city or through charities.

On Monday, city officials are expected to announce a donation of about $1.5 million in goods for those who were displaced by Hurricane Maria and are living in the city. Items will include coats, bedding and other household goods. Another $200,000 in donations have been given or pledged, and mostly will support aid organizations working in Puerto Rico.

Ms. Torres has received help from her family, the city and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. Still, a black coat, borrowed from her mother, is just a little too short and her mittens a bit too thin. These are minor inconveniences, she says, noting that the people in her hometown are still without power.

During Hurricane Irma, which hit Puerto Rico in early September, Ms. Torres and her son were without electricity for nine days. When the power returned for a few days, she prepared for Hurricane Maria, abandoning her wooden home for a friend’s cement house. There, she and Manuel weathered the storm and tried to carry on in its aftermath. They returned to Cayey and found their home “blew off,” Ms. Torres said. “It’s done.”

“The hurricane, it take everything and made noise,” Manuel explained.

Ms. Torres endures daily questions from her son about the hurricane. He is mature enough to understand the severity of the storm, and recalls how he swept up branches and distributed water to neighbors.

But there is a trauma in surviving a hurricane, she says, and in adjusting to a new school, peers, home and routine. Teachers have said the kindergartner sometimes is “too playful” or distracted, Ms. Torres said. Other times, he has been afraid to eat lunch in the bustling cafeteria and he is terrified of some alarms.

Ms. Torres is worried about her son falling behind in school. On a particularly rough day, he broke down in tears and asked to return to Puerto Rico. Still, there are things in Ms. Torres’s favor that have made the transition easier.

She and Manuel are bilingual, speaking Spanish and English. A large, extended family in New York helps with child care, and grandparents shower Manuel with attention and small gifts. A cousin in East Harlem is providing a room where they live. She and her son are healthy and they have health care.

Ms. Torres’s employers in Puerto Rico, Advance Auto Parts , helped her get a job within the company at a location blocks from her parents’ home in Yonkers. She likes the work pulling auto parts and delivering them to local garages. Her son’s school isn’t far from her job.

Every night, Ms. Torres says she jots down in her journal a list of “gratitudes” which include: Living one more day, her son’s education, a roof over her head and a job.

Still, Ms. Torres will take a day to “cry it out completely,” she says. She isn’t sure when she will resume her studies in cinematography. She worries about leaning too much on family. The cost of a small studio apartment near her parents in Yonkers, roughly $1,200, is beyond her means. Losing a lottery for a Section 8 housing voucher was a recent low point, she said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in October discouraged evacuees from coming to the city unless they had family, citing the lack of available housing. The city would only be able to provide health care and educational support, he said at the time.

Ms. Torres remains determined. “The reason why I’m here, my son is my priority 100%,” she said.

Write to Melanie Grayce West at

A Way to Help Refugees From Puerto Rico - New York Times


Like millions of others in Puerto Rico, Enid Rosa had her normal life washed away in September by Hurricane Maria. Her house in Rincón, a coastal city on the western edge of the island, was inundated. Outside, the flooding was even worse. “It was really bad,” Ms. Rosa said. “But it was scarier after the hurricane: No food. No water. All our basic utilities lost. It was really after the fact that it got scary.”

Ms. Rosa, a single mother of two, had stocked up on bottled water and canned food, but the supply couldn’t last indefinitely. With devastation all around, she felt she had to leave. In mid-October, she took up her brother’s offer of shelter and moved with her children  Ava, 15, and Juan, 9  into his house in Spring Valley, N.Y.

It was a homecoming of sorts for her. Ms. Rosa, 48, grew up in New York but left for her mother’s home in Puerto Rico after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. She was ready then, she said, to “change my life.” In Rincón, she managed a real estate office. Once back in New York, she wasted no time looking for work and found a job in the accounting department of New York Waterway, the ferry and bus service.

Still, having lost almost everything to the storm, she needed help rebuilding her life. It came from Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, which used $377 from The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund to buy boots, coats and other warm clothes for the children, who were about to experience their first winter in the Northeast. The charity also provided book bags filled with school supplies and, for Ms. Rosa, career counseling and appropriate clothes for job interviews. Ava and Juan took readily to their new circumstances, she said. As for herself, “I’m adapting.”

“Now I’m working,” she said, “and trying to get myself back together.” Her life from now on will be in the New York region, she said, because “there’s no way I can go back.”

The Archdiocese-affiliated organization that helped her get started is one of eight charities that receive donations from the Neediest Cases Fund. The others are Brooklyn Community ServicesCatholic Charities Brooklyn and QueensChildren’s Aid, the Community Service Society of New YorkFPWA(formerly the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies), the International Rescue Committee and UJA-Federation of New York. To help, please make checks payable to The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund and send them to P.O. Box 5193, New York, NY 10087. Donations may also be made with a credit card at (800) 381-0075, or online at

Read More on the New York Times

Huge Thanks to Our Christmas Elves !


AKA St. Nicholas Shopping Day Volunteers

Catholic Charities Trustee Bill Pruellage’s family volunteers for Shopping Day fun.

Merry Christmas and a huge thank you to our army of elves who banded with us at our St. Nicholas Shopping Days to handpick warm clothes, blankets and winter necessities for more than 4,000 people we serve! 

While outside snow and ice made getting there treacherous, it added to the holiday spirit inside the Kmart stores where the shopping days were held.  At our two events, one in White Plains on December 2 and the other at Astor Place on December 9, nearly 1,000 volunteers grabbed prewritten Santa’s lists, then swapped shopping carts for sleighs filling them with warm clothes the folks we serve need most. Ho, ho, ho-ing all the way, Cardinal Dolan led the pack as he shopped for one of the displaced families from Puerto Rico served by Catholic Charities that fled fallout from Hurricane Maria.

Held for years, our St. Nicholas Shopping Days have become a holiday tradition passed down from friends to families.  Generous donors provide the funds.  Our case managers work with clients to draw up individualized lists.  And volunteers donned in Catholic t-shirts tie the two together in a neat Christmas bow, using their savvy shopping skills to make Christmas special for those in need.  A record 203 volunteers pitched in at the White Plains Kmart this year, a 160-percent increase over last year.  And last Saturday, despite the snow, 730 volunteers – 53-percent more than last year – joined the holiday fun.

We couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you for making Christmas special for those we serve.

Missed the holiday fun?

Watch this special St. Nicholas Shopping Day coverage on CBS news


Find yourself, family and friends in our special St. Nicholas Shopping Day Facebook album. 


Visit the St. Nicholas Project web page if you would like to donate an additional gift to this year-around initiative.














Special NYC Shelter Battles Surge of Homelessness Among Young Adults


Check Out the Latest in Catholic Charities New York Times Neediest Cases

Moussa Konate, 21

 “Nestled on a residential block in Harlem, Create Young Adult Residences looks like any other apartment building; a fire escape snakes up its rust-colored facade.” writes New York Times reporter Emily Palmer in this special Neediest Cases story published today and excerpted below featuring Create, a transitional housing program for young men 18 to 25 affiliated with Catholic Charities NY. 

Throughout the day, young men who live in the building, on West 128th Street, come and go, heading to and from school, jobs and neighborhood restaurants.

Create, a 50-bed transitional housing program, serves men 18 to 25, many of whom have recently aged out of the foster care system. Its residents are encouraged to study or to work, and to find permanent housing within nine months. The support system has proved invaluable to many.

Since 2009, Create, which is affiliated with Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the eight organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, has been home to nine recipients profiled over the years during the fund’s annual campaign. Combined, they have received almost $3,000.

One recipient this year, Moussa Konate, 21, a college student, shares a third-floor room that overlooks the back garden. Mr. Konate, who is Muslim, keeps an aqua-and-yellow prayer mat, a parting gift from his mother when he left Mali, at the head of his bed.

“This is the only shelter where I feel like I am home,” said Mr. Konate, who has stayed in two other city shelters. “I leave for work and come back to sleep. And when I’m back, I feel like I’m home.”

Create provides tenants with services like job-skills training, educational support and the opportunity to gain work experience.

G. Stephanie Ali, the vocation coordinator at Create, says the program provides a unique space to enable young men to gain their footing and transition into a permanent setting. Aspiring painters, novelists, basketball players, engineers, rap artists and producers have passed through the halls over the years, she said.

“Oftentimes at this age, young men feel they should be doing more,” Ms. Ali said, adding that overwhelming possibilities can hinder residents from focusing on goals. “So we’re there to help them see the broader scope of what’s out there and get them engaged in education and employment to meet that ultimate goal of housing.”

Soon after Idi Diallo, 21, a soccer player from Ivory Coast moved to New York, he found himself sleeping in the prayer hall of a mosque. After coming to Create (and helped by Catholic Charities NY, The New York Times Neediest Cases fund and donors who read his story), he later moved into his own apartment in the Bronx. He is now enrolled at Long Beach City College in California, studying business accounting.

“I can’t even describe how much Create and all the wonderful people there have helped me,” Mr. Diallo said recently. “Today, I look back on it as my new start. Moving there was the beginning of my success.”

Read Emily Palmer’s full profile of Create Young Adult Residences in The New York Times

No one should have to live on the street.  Catholic Charities helps the homeless find shelter.

Find a Catholic Charities agency or partner that offers emergency shelter.



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