Impacting Lives Through Volunteerism

August 20, 2015

Arielle was teaching Arabic at a local high school when she encountered a family that would change her life. She was asked to help translate for a refugee family resettled in Austin after fleeing Iraq. This was her first exposure to refugees, and she said, “It blew my mind.”

She was struck by the horrific trauma the family had experienced, including the children witnessing a family member being killed. Now the family was in a brand new country and culture, starting over with nothing while trying to process the past they had to leave behind.

Arielle was so moved that she was ready to get involved helping refugees in a more structured way. Last August, she began volunteering at Caritas of Austin.

After going through volunteer training at Caritas, she was matched with an Iraqi family of four – a mother and her three children – to support them during their first months in Austin.

She assisted with grocery shopping, helping the family decipher coupons and choose healthy options. They explored Austin through free activities at Zilker Park, Barton Springs, and various parks around town. She worked with the kids on their English homework and assisted their mom with paperwork and scheduling appointments. “Mostly, we just had fun and went on adventures together,” Arielle said.

While Arielle’s proficiency in Arabic was invaluable with this particular family, she also started working with a Congolese refugee family. “Even though we can’t communicate well, we still enjoy being in one another’s company and have found ways to connect beyond our language barrier.”

Arielle helped expose this family’s children to English, and many neighbor kids who were also refugees often came over and gathered around the computer for her teaching lessons. “The kids are so engaged and eager to learn. I think there is more of an appreciation toward education with them; they don’t take it for granted.”

Over the past year, Arielle has seen Caritas’ work with refugees firsthand. “Everyone on staff provides such active support. Beyond just financial support, Caritas is always there to help these families. They are flexible and attentive, always available when needed.”

Reflecting on what she has learned from this experience, she focuses inwardly. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and how privileged I am to have grown up with so much stability. The trauma these families have been through, we cannot even understand. Coming here, there are so many details they do not have command over, which makes every part of life super difficult. But they are powerful people, growing incredibly strong and resilient during this process.”

When asked what she would tell others about volunteering, she said it has been a great way to step outside herself, especially after her long days of work, where time with these families put her own problems into perspective and give her a fresh sense of gratitude. “If you want an insightful, interesting experience where you have a tangible impact, volunteer with Caritas!” If you are interested in volunteering, contact Houmma Garba at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

 

Throwing First Pitch Honors Veteran's Success

July 1, 2015

On May 27, Tim York got to throw out the first pitch at the Round Rock Express baseball game to honor our local veterans. After recently moving out of homelessness to stable housing and employment, this event was a symbolic celebration of starting the next chapter in Tim’s life.

After moving to Austin last fall, the Army veteran soon found himself homeless, sleeping in his car.

Tim enlisted in the Army after high school and served for six years. He then settled in New Jersey and began running a demolition business with a friend. After that business eventually went under, Tim spiraled into a dark cycle of depression, isolation, and alcoholism. He knew he needed help and eventually found a rehab program to get clean.

Tim enrolled in community college, and after obtaining his Associate’s Degree, he pursued his Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Economics at Empire State College. He graduated last year but struggled to find a job in his field. That’s when he decided to pack up and move to Austin.

Tim expected to stay with a family member in Austin while he looked for housing and employment. But after that option fell through, he had nowhere to go and began sleeping in his car.

“I tried to look at the positive side of everything, even during this time. I thought to myself, ‘At least it’s not snowing’,” he laughed.

Before Tim started working with Caritas of Austin, he connected with Goodwill Industries to help him find a job. After he did not get selected for the first couple of jobs he applied for, his spirits were down. He got a temporary job at Popeye’s Chicken, just to earn enough to provide gas money to leave Austin for good.

Then he learned about an Area Project Manager position at Goodwill and was encouraged to apply. “I was a little cynical that they wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have enough qualifications and experience.” He ended up getting the job, and he now oversees maintenance teams for numerous business customers across the city.

“I love my job. I have flexible hours, it matches my skills, and I am trusted to get the job done.”

Things really started looking brighter as Tim also began working with Caritas of Austin’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Caritas staff helped Tim locate an apartment, and program funds were used to cover his initial housing and furniture costs. He was able to move in just three weeks after enrolling in the program.

His case manager Aimee said Tim has been inspiring to work with. “He has been so adaptable and resilient. He wasn’t afraid to start over.”

Now Tim is starting to feel like Austin is home. He’s been meeting new people in his apartment complex, exploring Austin, and is thriving at work. “I never gave up,” he said.

As for his thoughts on throwing the first pitch out, he said, “The plate is much farther away than I thought!”

Learn more about our Veterans program and how you can help end local veteran homelessness by 2016 HERE!

 

Hard Work Leads To Success

June 16, 2015

Sergio Montes came to the United States as a refugee from Cuba at just 18 years old. When he and his family arrived in Austin in 1996, they had nothing. A Caritas of Austin staff member was waiting for them at the airport and took them to a hotel where they stayed for a few days before their apartment was ready.

Through friends and a local church, Sergio was able to get a job working for Buell Supply (now BMC Millwork). Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, BMC is a provider of building materials, trusses and components, doors and millwork, and targeted construction and installation services.

Sergio's first role primarily involved cleaning duties. Looking back, he says, "I am proud that I started by sweeping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms. I tell my kids that you have to earn what you want, and that's what I did."

Over the past 19 years, Sergio has been promoted into many new roles at BMC, ranging from driving and deliveries, inside sales, and his current role in outside sales. In fact, he is currently the top salesperson in his region.

One of Sergio's biggest barriers when starting work was that he spoke no English. "I started learning just by working next to people and catching on to what they were saying. Then I was doing deliveries with people who spoke no Spanish, so I started practicing conversation." His proficiency continued to improve and after proving to be an asset to the company, Sergio's boss even offered to personally pay for private language lessons. Today, his English is impeccable.

Sergio can now provide for his family, but he is thankful for help in the initial months after arriving in Austin. "Without someone like Caritas to help me in those first months, who knows where I would be. Helping us with a place to live and getting started in a new life – that goes a long way."

Knowing the value of hard work and a fresh start, Sergio and BMC have recently begun working with Caritas' employment team to hire refugees. Sergio also does anything he can to support friends from Cuba as they start a new life in the United States. "When I look at young guys from Cuba or somewhere else just trying to get started, I see myself."

BMC Operations Manager Greg Scott said they have had great success employing refugees and leveraging their skills and motivation. "We look for motivation to get the job done right. People with high standards are gems, and we want those who will go the extra mile."

Partnerships like these enable Caritas of Austin to place over 600 individuals in jobs each year. Based on their skills,>experience, and goals, individuals are placed in jobs across manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, and other industries. Learn more about Caritas' Employment Program and how you can become an Employment Partner HERE.

 

Living Happily Ever After

June 2, 2015

Newly married and settled into their own 3-bedroom apartment, you would never know the struggles Nanette and Robbie have been through.

"Caritas has been integral in helping me get back to where I am now. I was homeless, hopeless, and had nowhere to go," said Nanette. Today, joy and strength emanate from her as she speaks.

After Nanette left an abusive marriage and endured a long, painful divorce, she had nowhere to turn. "That whole experience fractured me for years." Nanette lived temporarily at a local shelter until she found out about Caritas' supportive housing program at Skyline Terrace Apartments.

When she moved into her own apartment there, she faced tremendous health challenges. Her degenerative disk disease caused by a horse accident that left Nanette temporarily paralyzed greatly affected her mobility. She also struggled with severe depression.

"My Caritas case manager, Megan, was incredible. She helped me get basic things like a phone, helped me connect to the medical benefits I desperately needed, and she had me start meeting with a counselor." Nanette said having Megan onsite at Sykline Terrace Apartments was invaluable, especially when her health was bad enough that she could not leave her apartment.

"Megan helped me really get back on my feet. I became so independent and strong during my time with Caritas. I learned to love being with myself." Megan is extremely proud of how far Nanette has come. "Nanette is an inspiration. She took full advantage of the supportive housing program and used its fundamental objectives to launch herself into self-sufficiency."

Nanette met Robbie through a friend, and they quickly hit it off. Robbie had been on his own difficult journey of struggling with addiction. He went through The Salvation Army's rehabilitation program and came out a changed man.

"I finally let God into my life," he said. Through ups and downs over the past three years, they say their struggles have bonded them and grown their faith. Now, both Nanette and Robbie are committed to helping others. Robbie is a sponsor through Alcoholics Anonymous, and Nanette is involved in The Salvation Army's Celebrate Recovery program. They have also been able to rebuild relationships with their family members.

Professionally, Robbie now has a career he loves working as a chef at The University of Texas. "Now I have a career, not just a job. I get so much fulfillment from my work," he said.

On Valentine's Day this year, the couple got married surrounded by their family and friends, and moved into their own apartment.

One of the things Nanette loves most is that each of her two youngest children now has a bedroom of their own. Nanette's health has also improved greatly over the past year. "My health is to where I can do all the things I want. We live in gratitude. It's taken every moment of our lives to get to where we are today."

Thank you for empowering life change for Nanette and many others - make a donation today

 

 

Empowering Through Employment

February 3, 2015

At Caritas of Austin, we know that a stable income is the key to lasting self-sufficiency. While much of our initial work with families and individuals is focused on housing, we also have an employment program dedicated to helping people find jobs. In 2014, Caritas Employment Specialists placed nearly 600 individuals in jobs – a 25% increase over 2013.

While finding a job in Austin’s booming economy might sound easy, many of the people we serve face significant employment barriers. Barriers include a lack of job experience or transferrable skills, disabling conditions, and language barriers. This is particularly true for international refugees.

Tailyn was a practicing dentist in Havana, Cuba before she fled as a refugee in early 2014. Now living in Austin, she must start over to become a dentist in the United States. “The main difference between practicing medicine here and in my country is the technology, and [here] everything is computerized.  Although there was no technology in my country, we graduated with much knowledge and preparation,” she said.

Caritas of Austin’s employment services range from pre-employment preparation, resumé development, and workforce training programs to job placement, referrals to vocational training, and help with long-term career development.

“Caritas’ employment program played a critical role in me being able to work in a dental clinic,” said Tailyn. Team members helped her obtain an initial volunteer job at a local dental practice in order to gain experience and learn the vocabulary. She said language was a big barrier. “When I arrived, one of my challenges was the English language, but Caritas of Austin offered ESL classes and this helped me along my path.”

The Caritas of Austin team eventually helped her gain employment as a dental assistant, where she currently works at a pediatric dental office.  “My goal is to study and return to dental school, so that I can become a dentist in the United States.”

Another critical piece of Caritas’ work is partnering with over 200 local employers who hire clients seeking employment.  “Our plan for each person we work with is customized based on their skills, experience, and career goals, so it is important we have strong relationships across many industries,” said Maritza Rosario, Caritas of Austin’s Employment Program Manager.

One recent partnership is with JW Marriott Austin. In the last two months, they have hired more than 50 individuals through Caritas’ employment program.

“The opening of our JW Marriott Austin hotel is a historical event, as it is the largest hotel in Austin and the largest JW Marriott in North America.  Our partnership with Caritas of Austin is crucial in our success.  We truly enjoyed meeting all the applicants from Caritas and we have hired most of them!  We look forward to continuing our relationship and support Caritas of Austin in all their efforts,” said Mily Kennison, Director of Talent Acquisition – Austin Market, White Lodging.

Your support of Caritas of Austin’s employment program empowers hundreds of community members toward the life they want.

Homelessness Is Down in Austin

March 24, 2015

The results are in: for the fourth year in a row, homelessness in Austin is down. According to ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition), results from the January 2015 Point-In-Time count estimate the number of individuals experiencing homelessness on any given night has decreased by 6% over last year in Austin/Travis County and is down 29% since 2009.

What does that mean?

Our solutions are working.

Caritas of Austin’s comprehensive services are helping to permanently reduce homelessness in our city. The most critical issue in ending homelessness it is to first provide people with permanent housing they can afford. Access to housing is an important turning point because once an individual is housed, he or she can start addressing other needs like employment and medical and mental health services, and take other necessary steps to permanently transform his or her life.

The numbers speak for themselves: 80% of people in our Supportive Housing programs remain stable in housing, not returning to the streets. This affirms our belief that people lack not the motivation to improve their lives, but often the opportunity to do so. That’s our goal at Caritas of Austin:  helping our most vulnerable community members connect to the opportunities needed to move forward on their path toward self-sufficiency.

So, have we succeeded?

While we are making progress, we have much more work to be done. ECHO’s annual point-in-time count indicates that on any given night 1,877 people are homeless in Austin/Travis County.

We can [and must] do better.

Homelessness is not an individual problem – it affects our entire community. It is also expensive. Between shelter, emergency medical care, and other uses of public resources, it costs our city an average of $40,000 per chronically homeless individual annually. It only costs a fraction of that for Caritas of Austin to provide permanent supportive housing and support services for that person.

What’s the answer?

It sounds overly simplistic, but the answer to homelessness remains housing.  Our city still does not have enough available supportive and affordable housing for all 1,877 of the individuals experiencing homelessness. As a community, we have to stay committed to expanding new supportive and affordable housing units.

We are making progress. Remember, the homeless count is down nearly 30% over the past six years because Caritas of Austin, ECHO, and many other agencies are using solutions that work. We can make homelessness rare, short-term, and nonrecurring. Will you join us in this commitment?