This week the glass is more than half empty for me!
After the devastation caused last week by natural disasters, Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and by the student stabbings in the Bronx, I, like so many others, am deeply pained.
I spent a good part of this week working on how Catholic Charities of NY might be of support for the individuals and families suffering in Puerto Rico. Some of my time was spent talking with elected officials and staff in Washington D.C., other time with nonprofit and business leaders. Both the sadness and resolve was intense.
Particularly strong prayer and solidarity goes out to one of our NY Catholic Charities affiliates, the NY Foundling. The destruction in Puerto Rico hits especially close to home for this agency that serves nearly 1,500 children through Head Start and Early Head Start programs at 42 locations throughout the island. I have spoken with them and heard the sadness, hurt and concern for “our families” and also the immediate response and action they are taking. We are committed to figuring out the best way to lend our support. Fortunately, we have a well-established relationship with Catholic Charities – (Caritas) of Puerto Rico. While suffering themselves, they are there on the ground and positioned to help. We have talked with them and are arranging help and support through a number of partnerships.
But the glass is not completely empty! A bright spot is that last Monday, Catholic Renewal, a group of professionals in the corporate restructuring community and a strong supporter of our Catholic Charities Emergency Food programs, with characteristic generosity and enthusiasm agreed to support our use of $125,000 of funds they raised to aid relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
On Thursday, Catholic Charities partnered with Comite Noviembre, the National Supermarket Association & the National Association of State Latino Chambers of Commerce to serve as a conduit for funds for Puerto Rico relief and recovery.
We have not forgotten the other responses in Florida, the Gulf Coast and Mexico, even as we focus on the devastation in Puerto Rico. We will be posting updates on our website at CatholicCharitiesNY.org/disasterrelief
The agonizing emptiness is also close to home in the Bronx: one teen in the morgue, one teen in the hospital, one teen in jail.
Media reported that a bullied teen at a high school in the West Farms section stabbed to death one classmate and wounded another. Maybe it moved me so much because I am betting that many of our Catholic Charities agencies, before they saw the exact location and name, feared, like me, that some of “our kids” were involved.
So many of our Catholic Charities programs engage the most struggling and hurt among our young people. And as we know, struggling, hurt and angry people sometimes take out their hurt, anger and struggles on others.
Throughout the Bronx and Manhattan, whether it be Charter, Beacon, Community, Renewal or whatever the name of the program or school, Catholic Charities agencies are at the heart of the effort to reach out and build hope for a better future for our children in New York. Summer programs, tutoring, family support, mental health, recreation, arts, social skills, financial assistance, college prep, dropout prevention — the list of our services goes on. The agencies of our Catholic Charities federation are at the center, reaching out to improve the lives of struggling youth and families of New York.
There are thousands of young people in our Catholic Charities programs that fit exactly the same demographics as those young people tragically involved in the Bronx melee. I share a very personal thought when I read the last name, Cedeno, of the accused 18-year-old youth – that was the same last name of my first girl altar server in Washington Heights. I did the math. She might well have an 18-year-old son going to school in the Bronx. Probably not, but maybe, I thought….
I also realized, when I saw the address, that right around the corner are 600 newly renovated housing apartments of an affiliate of the Association of Catholic Homes. Nearby on a now-empty lot 300 more apartments will be built in the next few years. Also down the block is yet another Catholic Charities affiliate, the Bronx campus of Kennedy Child Study Center, an early intervention school for preschoolers with special needs.
Where help and hope are needed Catholic Charities people and programs are at the center. This unavoidably means risk and opportunity. It means genuine sadness and hurt when tragedies strike.
So even though the glass looks quite empty to me this week, I again express my appreciation and gratitude to the Catholic Charities family of caring individuals who day in and day out deal with some of the most difficult problems and experience profound pain when things go wrong, as they inevitably do, despite all our efforts and hard work.
This takes an incredible toll on staff who are in the neighborhoods and schools every day. And it takes a toll on the supervisors and executives who try to find the balance between safety and opportunity to intervene. Yet we will continue to engage in even the hardest situations.
I also want to say thanks to the Trustees, Boards and benefactors. Their commitment and confidence in this work is strong and indispensable.
Whether in Puerto Rico or the Bronx, whether the glass seems emptier or fuller, the Catholic Charities family of agencies and services say “presente” and add “siempre.” We have for more than a century – and we will for another century – Provide Help and Create Hope.