Our Visit to Hogar Niños de Cristo – Day 3

Today, we spent the day with 36 boys and young men who now call Niños de Cristo and their dedicated staff their home.  We were joined by Donnie Hodge and his wife Ana.  Donny is the owner of Altagracia Apparel.  I’ll write more about this tomorrow after we visit his “fair wage and working conditions” factory in Villa Altagracia and talk with some of the families whose lives have been changed because of these jobs. 

Sadly, some children cannot be raised and nurtured safely with their own families for many different reasons.  Niños de Cristo provides the “family” for about 40 of these youth in the Dominican Republic.  This home is located in the countryside of La Romana, about 1 hour west of Punta Cana.  The home is only 4 years old and took the place of a much more crowded and outdated facility.  This one is simple, clean and warm with a great amount of open outdoor space.  (This is not what we New Yorkers are used to.) Speaking of New Yorkers, the facility’s current psychologist, Karina, is a transplanted New Yorker – Dominican Republic born, but New York raised and educated. Two years ago she returned to the Dominican Republic and is now the on-site psychologist trying to help these youth that have experienced hurt and scars rebuild lives.  Karina guided us through the facility and she demonstrated knowledge, competence, and compassion. These same qualities were present in the home’s program director, Franklin, who oversees the day-to-day life of the home.  He clearly knew everybody by name and they knew him.  He was not a distant administrator but a caring professional that understands the individuality of each young person under the care of Niños de Cristo.  This sense seemed to flow through all the staff we met at the orphanage.

Luz Tavarez, our Catholic Charities Director of Government and Community Relations who coordinated and participated in the entire trip, quickly became all the boys’ “titi,” which is derived from the Spanish word for aunt. She introduced Donnie Hodge and his wife to the group and they presented each of the boys with a matching set of Notre Dame T-shirts from their factory in Altagracia. Luz brought her sense of caring and humanity to all the boys she met.

Luz made sure Catholic Charities also provided personal gifts for each of the youth.  We handed a personal tote bag kit to each of the boys.  We also presented the orphanage with one of the crosses blessed by Pope Francis during his visit with immigrants in New York two years ago. This will hang prominently as a sign of solidarity with Catholic Charities of New York.

There are many similarities and certain differences between this program and those of Catholic Charities in New York.  I was struck by the informality of the Niños de Cristo program and its familiar feel.  The number of staff appeared to be far fewer than programs in New York.  The outdoor’s spacious setting lent a lightness that is often hard to achieve in a more dense urban space.  In New York, there are now very few large congregate homes housing 40 youth.  Individual homes, or small residences, are now the norm. 

Although large, there was no institutional feel to the Niños de Cristo house.  It was warm and friendly and the impression that I picked up was that this atmosphere was a major part of the “therapy” these young people needed. I know enough to realize this is not the whole story and much more needs to be done educationally, formatively and therapeutically to rebuild lives scarred by family dysfunction.  There wasn’t an opportunity to explore these in detail and so I cannot say anything of the long-term impact of Niños de Cristo.  With this disclaimer, I have no problem speaking positively about what I saw and experienced.

I also point out that although the government is involved in placing these boys, there is no public funding.  All is privately funded with almost all from outside of the Dominican Republic.  This is unheard of in the current world of children placed in foster care in the United States.  One major plus is more flexibility; one major minus is fewer resources and services.

I must mention that Hogar Niños de Cristo currently thrives because of the generosity of Maestro Cares, Marc Anthony’s foundation, and GOYA Foods.  Rafael Toro, VP of PR/Communications/Corporate Giving for GOYA, was our host for this visit; however, he was much more. He demonstrated how much good can be done when financial philanthropy is coupled with dedicated personal involvement.  Even before we visited the orphanage, he introduced us to some of the youth he knew by name and who knew him.  His involvement is not that of a distant corporate giving officer who just writes checks, but that of a caring fellow human being who wants to better the lives of some young people who need a significant helping and caring hand to live a better future.  When we arrived at Niños de Cristo there was an outpouring of affection because he was again with them.  Would that more philanthropic endeavors could better emulate these characteristics!

This was another good day rubbing shoulders with good, dedicated people making a positive difference in our world.  Our exiting highlight was when Luz and I were asked to place our painted hand prints – hers yellow and mine blue – on the “wall of honor” at the entrance to the home.  It was an added bonus that we were able to place our prints very near to those of Phil Dorian, Catholic Charities Agency Relations Director, who visited Niños de Cristo a number of months ago with his family.

Even though I am thousands of miles away, the connecting arm of the Internet makes all too available the barrage of tweets, posts and headlines that continue to demonstrate the ongoing troubles we are experiencing in our country.  These can’t and should not be ignored. Yet, a day like today enables one to see our nationwide troubles in the context of a world in which there is also much good to be noted, celebrated and most importantly imitated. 

Tomorrow off to Altagracia with Donnie Hodge and his family to a “fair wage and working conditions” factory. We will also visit with the families supported by these jobs.

Our Visit to the GOYA Plant in Santo Domingo – Day 2

Our generous partner in feeding hungry New Yorkers, GOYA Foods, invited us to tour its plant in the Dominican Republic.  This provided an opportunity to see one of their busy factories that employs about 500 people. In addition to seeing the hard working men and women on the floor of the plant we also met the factory administrators. We also saw the finca (land) where gauyabas (guava) are grown. 

I was accompanied on the tour by the director of quality control, a chemical engineer, charged with complying with regulations of both the Dominican Republic and the United States. He said most of the product from this factory is shipped to the United States. He also proudly spoke to me of the care that is taken to ensure no contamination enters into the products. And he shared with me the sad reality of the added precautions required to protect against intentional poisoning as a terrorist action. 

You may rightly ask why did I, as the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, take the time to visit this GOYA plant in the Dominican Republic.  I hinted at one reason:  GOYA is a most generous partner.  It supports Catholic Charities food programs with hundreds of thousands of pounds of donated food products each year.  I was glad to see where they produce some of their products.  A second reason is the importance that I believe is often understated of businesses for the work Catholic Charities and those trying to help those who are poor and struggling. Their importance is NOT that they give us donations, although we always need and accept these.  It is that they provide decent jobs that support families and quality products and services that people need to live well.   I am always interested to understand better the operations of these businesses because of their critical importance to the good of our society.

After a morning visit to a single factory, I do not claim any expertise but am a little bit more knowledgeable.  I saw very hard-working men and women who to my eye took great pride in doing their part to produce a good product as they earned a living for their families.  As expected, much of the work is automated; however, not the cracking open and peeling of the coconuts. With incredible skill, 60 men swing machetes and with only a few swings removed the outer shells of the coconuts. An aisle away, 40 women were peeling these de-shelled coconuts in preparation for them to be processed into coconut milk and cream.  (I now know that to make coconut cream you leave some of the skin on the coconut.  Don’t ask me why; all I know is what I saw and was told.)  I saw supervisory staff that seemed to know their workers and a very supportive atmosphere.  There was only one lunch/dining room with a kitchen: small, simple and very well kept.  It had a large window that looked out into the plant floor. Both staff and executives eat daily in the same dining room together.  Talk about longevity – the cook/server/cleaner in the dining room has worked there for 32 years.  The two senior executives have worked at the plant respectively for 42 and 45 years. It was a wonderful, informal and delicious lunch that we shared with them. 

Now for an unexpected, delightful and impromptu part of the visit – probably not too frequent in United States-based plants.  I’ve rarely heard this talked about in supervisor-employee relations manuals, but these administrators were quite solicitous for the future prospects of the “solteras” in the office.  Solteras means single women in Spanish. So much so that they extended our visit to gather all of them into the “executive office” together for a special blessing.  I happily blessed them – and even “las casadas” (married women) also. All in a day’s work!

As a concrete sign of our appreciation, I was happy to present this plant with a cross blessed by Pope Francis when he visited immigrants in New York City two years ago.  I let them know that on that occasion their CEO, Bob Unanue, a Catholic Charities trustee, read the verse from the Gospel that praises feeding the hungry as feeding Jesus himself.  They immediately sought out the most prominent place at the entrance to the plant to hang the cross.

My time at this plant “distracted” me from the current turmoil and divisiveness embroiling the United States about which I have written elsewhere.  But in addition to the “distraction,” this time gave me some hope.  We were able to experience supervisors, businesses, workers, religious, and charities coming together to draw upon the strengths that each brings to create a better reality than if we remained apart. This is not everything, but it is something.  And enough “somethings” in multiple places turn into a big deal.



Catholic Charities Joins Goya Foods and Maestro Cares in the Dominican Republic – Day 1

In partnership with Goya Foods and Maestro Cares, singer Marc Anthony’s non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for orphaned children throughout Latin America, Catholic Charities visits the Dominican Republic to learn more about the children and the work of Maestro Cares. Msgr. Kevin Sullivan illustrates his first day on the island.

Stay tuned throughout the week for more updates from the trip.

boys in Dominican Republic

Take A Step Back This Summer

These are very good weeks to remind others and ourselves that society is broader than government and politics. Sometimes rather than engage its best to “shake the dust from our feet.”  There is plenty of room and need to concentrate on family, work, self, friends, relationships and anything or anybody that can advance love, faith, peace, hope, reconciliation, goodness, growth, happiness, etc.  You get the point.  We can’t always avoid confronting what is wrong, yet, sometimes the best approach is to pause, take a step back, not get caught up in the nonsense and possibly risk the contamination of distraction from what is really important. I’m thinking this is one of those times.

In Honor of 4th of July Family Picnics & BBQ’s

One aspect of the administration’s executive order on the travel ban against nationals from certain countries merits special 4th of July attention, viz. what is a bona fide family relationship?

After the recent Supreme Court decision[1], the administration issued guidelines that interpreted a bona fide (real) family relationship to include parents, children and siblings. They left out grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts and cousins. They also initially excluded fiancées, but then subsequently included them. By that action alone, the administration demonstrated that there is discretion in the interpretation of a bona fide family relationship.

Continue reading

This July 4th Weekend: Pledge Allegiance to One Another

The following message was sent to our Catholic Charities network for the 4th of July weekend.

Capitol of the United States

Capitol of the United States

Allow me a word of appreciation and thanks for all you do to make our world a better place – each, in your own way, as trustee, staff, volunteer, donor, or friend. 

I attach my own picture of the Capitol of the United States from the visit I made two days ago with Catholic Charities people from throughout NYS to visit with members of Congress and convey to them the need to enact policies and budgets that give due consideration to the needs of the poor and vulnerable.  Included among our discussions were Catholic Charities’ wide areas of concern: children and youth, those with addictions, the hungry and families needing affordable places to live, immigrants who are feeling particularly anxious and those dealing with emotional and physical challenges.

In light of this visit, and as we approach the 4th of July weekend, I am reminded that the title of the Declaration of Independence is both accurate and partially misleading.  It is accurate in that it is a declaration.  And, it is true that it declared the colonies’ independence from England.  Yet, the title can also be misleading because it fails to capture the values embedded in its non-severable concluding paragraph: God, honor, and solidarity:

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Continue reading

Bey’s Twins

Further Name Reflection


Blue is a color, or mood

Ivy is plant – usually green.

“Blue Ivy” combines a plant with a non-traditional color, or, maybe a mood.

Therefore 2 options for “the twins.”


With a sweet fruity flavor…

  • Tangerine Orchid
  • Raspberry Elm

With an ominous foretaste of sibling rivalries and insecurities…

  • Green Thistle
  • Yellow Poppy