A ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot Tradition

November 17, 2016

There is so much to love about the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot. There’s no better place to be on Thanksgiving morning in Austin. And the event has raised nearly $3 million for Caritas of Austin since its inception. But in recent years, our new favorite tradition is the Caritas of Austin client team.

For the past four years, Caritas staff members have organized a team of 10 clients to walk together on Thanksgiving Day.

Timothy Rinn has participated on the Caritas team three years and said it’s helped him start a new Thanksgiving tradition. “Coming out together for the Turkey Trot has taken away the holiday blues of not being with family for me. It’s like a new family, a new tradition.”

Chris Kreizenbeck said he loves taking in the whole crowd on Thanksgiving morning at the Long Center. “I love all the people. There are so many different kinds of folks that come out for the Turkey Trot. It’s an event for everyone.”

After his mother passed away, Maurice was homeless for several years before being introduced to Caritas of Austin and using their services. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” He has been stably housed with Caritas for four years and said the Turkey Trot is one way he is beginning a healthier and happier chapter of his life.

Luke’s Locker has partnered with the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot for three years as a sponsor and packet pickup site, but they also go above and beyond to help make the event special for the Caritas team. Each Caritas participant gets a new pair of shoes from Luke’s Locker in advance of the race, free of charge.

 Sharon Ford has an extra pep in her step as she walks around in her new teal and purple running shoes. “I am not a shoe shopper, so this is special, and not paying for them is so nice. I love purple, so I had to get one that had purple.”

While many members of the Caritas of Austin team are participating in their third or fourth Turkey Trot, there are always a few newcomers. When Caleb walks into Luke’s Locker for the first time, he smiles and says, “It’s pretty awesome here.” Caleb has been stably housed for a year with Caritas and says it’s pretty special to be participating in the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot since it benefits an organization that has done so much for him.

Caritas of Austin program manager Tanya Greenough has coordinated the team since it started. “Running is one of my passions, so it’s a perfect intersection of work and life. What keeps me involved with this each year is this,” as she watches each person excitedly pick out their new footwear. “Clients look forward to participating every year. It’s really meaningful to them.”

Thank you to ThunderCloud Subs, Luke’s Locker, and all who support the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot each year. Your impact on the Austin community is greater than you know.

Register for the 26th annual ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot today, or purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win a brand new Honda Accord thanks to First Texas Honda.

 

Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week Gets Personal

November 16, 2016

Every week before Thanksgiving, National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week is observed as a time to reflect upon what we have and what we are thankful for. It is also a chance for us to reach out to our neighbors and friends who may not be as fortunate. 

This year at Caritas of Austin, we have decided to make this year's National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week one of education and empathy. With the help of our staff, volunteers, donors, and community supporters we are challenging ourselves to not only observe Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, but experience it on a personal level. 

One way that we are doing this is by having our Executive Director, Jo Kathryn Quinn, take the SNAP Food Challenge. This means she will be limited to spend $1.27 on each meal she eats for the next week, which is the average amount a SNAP client spends per meal. Reflecting on this challenge, Jo Kathryn says, "In all fairness to those who face this challenge everyday, I recognize my experience is actually nothing like yours. I can at any point go back to my cushy lifestyle. My hope is to gain insight and abundant empathy that will ultimately translate into real changes for my fellow Americans experiencing poverty and hunger."

We'll also be getting input from Caritas of Austin Case Managers, volunteers, and donors as to why ending hunger and homelessness in America should be a priority. You can join us on this journey by following us on our social media pages, Facebook and Twitter

 

A Transition Made Possible

October 31, 2016

Rebecca has a college education, a great job in the legal field, and a duplex with her youngest daughter. It’s hard to believe that just a year ago she was homeless.

An Austin native, Rebecca was struggling to pay for college and decided to join the Army as a means to have her education underwritten in the 1980s. She was stationed at Fort Bragg and worked in Communications, spending two years deployed in Seoul, South Korea.

Rebecca said she never wanted to be stagnant. She was constantly taking classes toward her degree during her military service. While in the Army, she also got married and had her first baby. After nearly five years of active duty, Rebecca decided to transition to a career in government.

“I’ve always liked having a direct effect on state and local government,” she says of her career. Though Rebecca divorced and was a single mom of four, she always remained stable.

Two years ago, her stability took a turn when she moved to west Texas for what eventually became an abusive relationship. Early this year, Rebecca found the strength to leave. She came back to Austin, but she had nothing. She was homeless and without a job.

“It was so scary. I knew it was temporary and that I just needed to find a job, but I had no resources.”

She first went to the VA for help, who referred her to Caritas of Austin’s veteran program.

Rebecca focused her time on applying for jobs but was also just trying to meet her basic needs. She said it was hard sleeping different places each night, not having food, being separated from her youngest daughter, and having to board her dog.

Then Caritas of Austin called. “I started bawling. After that call, the wheels started rolling.”

Rebecca started a new job in May working in the legal field, which she loves. Caritas of Austin provided a financial bridge which helped her move her possessions out of storage, cover her first month and a half of rent before she got her first paycheck, and pay for outstanding utility debt that was preventing her from obtaining stable housing.

She also relied on the Caritas Pantry for food and toiletries in her transition period. “The Pantry was big for me. Caritas was one of the better places I could go to get quality food and toiletries.”

Rebecca can’t hold back the tears when talking about her case manager. “Maegan treated me with respect and dignity. She was kind, professional, caring, and available. There are people who come into your life for a short time but that you will never forget. She is one of them. We should have more Maegan’s in the world.”

She says Caritas of Austin gave her hope when she had none. “This agency has been the biggest blessing for me.”

Rebecca and her family are now closer than ever after the past two years of struggle. “My kids were so proud to watch me work my butt off to get back to where I am now.”

Because of you, Caritas of Austin has supported Rebecca and 220 other veteran families over the past two years in the goal to end veteran homelessness. Thank you!

 

On The Road To Success With The Austin Yellow Bike Project

October 6, 2016

Mike, an Employment Specialist at Caritas of Austin, can think of many ways that not having access to consistent transportation impacts his clients as they look for a job.

“They may be late to appointments with their case manager or miss classes. But the greatest impact is when they start working because punctuality is essential.”

The majority of Caritas of Austin clients do not have cars, and rely on public transportation to get to work. As Mike points out, if the bus is not running on schedule it can impact their clients’ ability to find and sustain employment. Relying solely on public transportation can also prevent clients from finding jobs that pay better, or are more suited to their skill set. 

Local nonprofit The Austin Yellow Bike Project (YBP) recognizes this problem and aims to put bicycles on the streets of Austin to combat some of the major challenges our city faces in regards to public transportation. In addition to donating bikes to those who need them, YBP also teaches bike maintenance so that their riders can get the most use out of them. 

Last year, YBP was struggling to figure out how exactly to get bikes to people who needed them. At the same time, Caritas of Austin was looking for a partner to assist them with finding bikes for clients so that they could achieve a degree of independence. YBP volunteer, Conti, describes their relationship with Caritas as that of a matchmaker, with YBP bikes being connected with Caritas of Austin clients who need them the most.

“We see bikes as a tool for self-sufficiency, so we couldn't be happier that Caritas recognizes that value,” Conti says of YBP and Caritas’ similar missions in empowering others. 

One year later, YBP now donates at least ten bikes a month to Caritas of Austin clients. They also provide any bike accessories that clients may need such as lights and bike locks. Caritas’ Employment Team even visited YBP onsite to learn more about bike maintenance and repair, so that they can share that knowledge with clients.

Both Caritas of Austin and YBP understand what having one's own personal form of transportation can mean for a person’s independence. Caritas Employment Specialist, Ghassan, tells a story of one client spending two hours riding the bus to and from work every day before he got a bike. “Having a bike gives him an option to go to work unbound by someone else’s schedule,” Ghassan says.

Conti is also inspired by how the relationship between YBP and Caritas of Austin is changing lives. “It's really the best,” she says. “We've heard about bikes putting smiles on children's faces. We've heard about bikes that meant transportation to meant jobs that otherwise wouldn't have been. Every one of those stories is tough to beat.”

Caritas of Austin’s partnership with The Yellow Bike Project has impacted lives in positive ways that no one involved could have anticipated. It is another reminder of what wonderful things can happen when different community organizations come together with a common goal. Thanks to The Austin Yellow Bike Project, more Caritas clients are on their way to finding employment and independence, and are achieving self-sufficiency!

 

Redefining Success: Social Connection

 September 9, 2016

Relationships are woven throughout our lives, and they play an important role in homelessness.

Many people who have experienced homelessness say they had no one left to turn to in their time of need. Some burned bridges with those closest to them. The paradox is that homelessness can bring about a sense of isolation, and yet, there is a very strong sense of social connection found there.

“There are strong bonds among people who are experiencing homelessness. They are surviving and need to rely on each other,” explained Johanna, Supportive Housing case manager. “But on the other hand, they are constantly worried about others stealing from them and using them. It’s not always healthy, but they really do take care of each other.”

“I went into savage behavior… I was in survival mode,” said, Adrienne, who was homeless for eight years. “People get aggressive with their territory and belongings.”

When moving into stable housing, many feel freedom in separating themselves from others. “To get my own place allowed me to be away from people and behavior I was susceptible to,” said client Ted.

But others experience an increased sense of isolation once housed. They may even revert back to homelessness because it is the only community they know.

On the journey from surviving to thriving, developing healthy social connection is a big milestone.

We focus on teaching clients about healthy relationships.  Even though they have little, the people we work with are so generous, sometimes to a fault. We have to work on setting boundaries and assessing what relationships are beneficial,” added Johanna.

As individuals utilize Caritas of Austin’s Therapist to work through past trauma and reflect on past or present relationships, many begin to have a desire to rebuild some connections.

While homeless, Adrienne lost touch with her children for years. During her time with Caritas of Austin, she has been able to rebuild those relationships and now talks to her son every Saturday.

Caritas staff members also work hard to develop community among their clients. They hold activities like art club and walking group, host group holiday dinners, and even come together in the saddest of times.

“We hold a memorial for any one of our clients who passes away. To know that they had a place to call home and people who cared about them is such a gift despite sad circumstances. We just had a gentleman who passed away. He had recently reconnected with his daughter after 20 years, and at the memorial service we held for him, his family from all over the country came to celebrate his life. That is incredible,” Johanna said, tearing up.

Whether it’s finding peace in past relationships, developing a new idea of healthy relationships, or finding lifelong friendships, one of the most valuable things Caritas staff can do for people is to help rebuild a support system. After all, the people who love us help sustain all of us through life’s good and difficult times.

Our next and final edition of Redefining Success will focus on wellbeing, what it means and how people get there. 

 

Redefining Success: Empowerment and Wellbeing

September 27, 2016

Years of homelessness causes people to devalue their lives. They no longer believe they have worth or even deserve the support of people or organizations like Caritas of Austin.

“I had really gotten to the point where I did not care if I lived anymore,” said housing client Clay.

Having stable housing can have an incredible impact on those views. 

“When I first got an apartment with Caritas, it didn’t feel real. When someone gives you a chance to rebuild your life, that is special,” said former client Hugh.

It is a long road and takes a lot of hard work to remain stable in housing, address health and sobriety, and finally deal with trauma and loss experienced. But once they do, individuals in Supportive Housing begin to see their future, and not just dwell on the past.

“Some might think people just need housing and a job and they should be on their way. It’s so much more than that and it takes a long time to get to a point of wellbeing and empowerment. When I hear clients begin to talk about their future, I know we have come a long way. That might take two years though,” said case manager Johanna.

Looking forward, individuals are able to pursue old and new interests and hobbies.

“It breaks my heart when I ask clients what makes them happy, and they have no idea,” said case manager Becky.

The Caritas of Austin team coordinates a walking group, art club, music jam sessions for clients. “Clients love it. It gives them a chance to relax and create,” said Johanna. For individuals whose health allows them to work, case managers and Caritas’ Employment team work to help them obtain employment or go back to school.

Clay, a supportive housing client, worked all of his life before becoming homeless. Since being housed, he has gotten back to work doing a job he loves. “I love it. I love interacting with people. It makes me feel important, like I matter,” he said.

I have several clients who have gotten jobs they really enjoy. And others choose to go back to school and pursue education. It makes me happy to see how far they’ve come. The little steps and goals accomplished empower them to do the bigger things. They see that others believe in them and they finally start to believe in themselves,” explained Becky.

“They did it for themselves,” added Johanna. “We are just here to help. They always want to give us credit, but we turn it back to them. It’s amazing to see, and it’s why we stay doing this work.”

The journey out of homelessness is long, hard, and unique for each individual. Success is not measured just by getting a job and successfully transitioning out of Caritas’ Supportive Housing program.

It is experienced in countless ways. Success is being sober for one week, or one year. It is taking medication to manage high blood pressure. It is attending a therapy appointment. It is cutting off unhealthy relationships. It is reconnecting to the things you love. It is valuing your own life. It is believing you have something to contribute to this world.

Your support of Caritas of Austin enables this journey for many of our community’s most vulnerable members. Thank you for your belief in this work – you are helping individuals reach self-sufficiency and the countless steps toward success along the way!