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Justice, Charity & Peace

Posted on May 8, 2019 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Huge Mandate Addressed by Dedicated Staff


L-R: Tom Dobbins, Alison Hughes-Kelsick, Richard Espinal
L-R: Gabrielle Threatt, George Horton, Donna Dairocas

By Alice Kenny

Meet our Social and Community Development department, Catholic Charities NY’s version of The Little Engine That Could. Similar to so many here at Catholic Charities, this eight –member crew chugs uphill despite its small size, pulling behind boxcars of folks whose lives they transformed.

Naming This Group Is Simple 

They include George Horton, department director; Msgr. Patrick McCahill, Catholic Deaf Center director and his upstate assistant, Sr. Barbara Ann Sgro, O.P.; Thomas Dobbins, justice and peace director; Richard Espinal, parish and community engagement associate director; Donna Dairocas, executive assistant and Gabrielle Threatt, department assistant. Named last only because her nickname merits special shout out is Alison Hughes- Kelsick, director of the department’s homeless outreach program, AKA “Special K”.

Describing Their Focus Is Fast as Well

“We live the mission of Catholic Charities,” Alison says, “bringing compassion and justice to New Yorkers among us.”. 

Detailing Their Accomplishments Take Far Longer

Let’s start with their inspiring boss.  Then we’ll mix it up a bit to take on their achievements

George Horton, the department’s director, has been honored multiple times for his innovative working empowering the homeless. He is also tasked with helping guide the nomination for sainthood of  that remarkable New Yorker, Dorothy Day

Through the Education Outreach Program he helped found, homeless individuals, typically deeply injured in childhood by abuse at the hands of mothers, fathers, those they trusted most, become empowered by sharing their stories and receiving support to reintegrate into society. 

Sacred Shelter

Alison, his right hand in this work, along with George are prominently featured in the recently published book Sacred ShelterThis powerful nonfiction work profiles 13 once-homeless people who share, in their own words, journeys from homelessness to healing.  Time and again, they credit support George and Alison gave them for their now independent, productive lives.  George even has his own chapter in the book. In fact, homeless people Alison serves named her “Special K” thanks to her fierce advocacy for them. Alison recently participated with contributors to the book in a legislative conference held in Albany and hosted by the NYS Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators. 

Coordinating Justice & Peace:  No Small Mandate

Meanwhile, Tom’s job title, Justice and Peace coordinator, hints at his comprehensive mandate. Tom connects staff, clergy and more to social justice service opportunities that address inequalities.  He is well known for his work on numerous boards including his chairmanship of the Roundtable, a national association of diocesan social action offices.  He also produces Catholic Charities JustLove Sirius XM radio broadcast.  And, similar to his fellow staff, he has been honored with multiple awards.  Most recently, Fordham University bestowed on him the John F. Hurley Commendation for his significant help with the international social service organization Catholic Relief Services. But the honor he values most, he says, is when Pope Francis invited him and others to discuss their participation in an interdenominational dialogue.  

Heading Up Charity & Justice: An Equally Enormous Task

As for Richard, he heads up Catholic Charity’s Campaign for Charity and Justice.  Teaming with local parishes, he supports community projects tailored to parishioners and their vulnerable neighbors’ specific needs.  Richard also works with various other staff within Catholic Charities that focused on immigration, housing and parish social ministry. The Archdiocesan Our Lady of Altagracia Committee recently honored him for his work.

Fair Trade

Then there is Donna Dairocas, the department’s executive assistant also studying for her master’s degree in nonprofit management at Columbia University.  Among her many tasks, she promotes Equal Exchange Fair Trade coffee, tea and supplies that support worldwide small farmer coops, community development and environmental stewardship.  While others might not prioritize this, she took its mission of helping struggling farmers so seriously that Equal Exchange recently placed Catholic Charities among its top 5% of its faith-based customers in the world.

Empowering the Deaf

Msgr. Patrick McCahill, meanwhile, heads up the archdiocesan deaf apostolate.  Born hearing and learning sign language as an adult to help the hearing impaired, he received numerous awards for his work translating for and providing religious and social services for deaf people.  Most recently the Center for Law and Justice honored his work with its Access to Justice Award. Sr. Barbara Ann Sgro, meanwhile, is a champion for people needing deaf apostolate services in the Hudson Valley.


Msgr. Patrick McCahill

Follow the Indicators

So many achievements for such a small team!  The key to their success?

“Jesus gave his disciples ‘indicators’ that, in turn, Catholic Charities gives us,” Tom answers, breaking into a broad smile.  “These indicators come from Christ’s answer in Matthew 25 when asked ‘Lord, when did we see you?’

“Christ answers ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

As Tom speaks, the whole group nods.  This is where they get their inspiration, they say.  And this is how they achieve so much.