Beating the Odds

May 17, 2017

Managing cancer is a full time job. It takes over your life, and as hard as it is to beat the odds, it's near impossible when experiencing homelessness. But Victor Hauser is battling his disease one day at a time, and he now looks forward with hope thanks to the support of Caritas of Austin’s Veterans program.

Despite reaching a major milestone last August of a “functional zero” for veteran homelessness in Austin, the work is not done and there are still veterans who find themselves in a housing crisis. Caritas of Austin is more committed than ever to ensuring no veteran remains unhoused for long now that an effective community-wide system is in place.

A military veteran of the Strategic Air Command (1973-1979), Victor's life was upended on Thanksgiving Day 2015 when his roommate passed away from a heart attack. He could no longer pay both shares of the rent, which triggered a move from Dallas to Austin that soon brought him to a local shelter. 

“When you're homeless, it infects you,” says Victor. “It isn't fear; it's hopelessness that there doesn't seem to be a future.”

After a few weeks, Victor found a security job at JW Marriott and temporary veteran housing with Green Doors. When a sore throat turned debilitating, he could no longer make it to work. Soon after losing his job, his temporary housing came to an end, which is when he found out about Caritas of Austin’s veteran support.

“If it hadn't been for Caritas, I would've been back in the homeless shelter and I would not have gotten my diagnosis and treatment for cancer in time. So without Caritas of Austin, I would probably be dead,” says Victor.

Through the help of the Caritas of Austin team, whom Victor describes as having a relentless “warrior mentality” towards helping others, he found a new home at a co-op in the Crestview neighborhood. The room came with a “welcome home” package of pillows, sheets, towels, and kitchen utensils, thanks to community donors, and the Caritas Pantry helped put food on the table for Victor.

It was shortly after moving that he received the diagnosis of Stage 4 throat cancer and began a regimen of chemotherapy, treatment he wouldn't have been able to maintain without transportation help from Caritas of Austin volunteers. For now the cancer is under control, but it could easily return.

“I've just come to the conclusion that I'm going to do the very best I can with what I have,” says Victor.

Like cancer, homelessness leaves scars that don't heal quickly. Even after transitioning into permanent housing, it's hard to escape from the devastation and hopelessness of life on the streets. For a veteran like Victor who arrived in Austin with only his Air Force duffel bag, owning some simple domestic items goes a long way towards creating a feeling of home. And co-op housing offered a built-in supportive social circle that starkly contrasted the survival that went along with homelessness. Only after six months does he finally feel the sense of security that most Austinites take for granted.

“Caritas is something worth continuing, growing, and nurturing. For all of you listening, please help Caritas, because it's helping all of us.”

Thank you for your continued support of Caritas of Austin’s work with veterans and hundreds of others as we work to restore stability, build holistic wellbeing, and help people reach their full potential.

 

 

 

In Gratitude to Volunteers

April 24, 2017

We are taking time this week to shine the spotlight on some very important supporters: our amazing community of volunteers. From serving lunch in the kitchen to helping refugees move into new homes, these are some of the people who are making an impact on homelessness in Austin.

volunteer Lauren Gore with a tray of food in the Kitchen

Lauren Gore, Community Kitchen Volunteer

"I am motivated by the difference these meals make in the day-to-day lives of the people we serve."

Lauren started volunteering as a way to use her background working in a sustainable kitchen to help people in difficult circumstances.

She sees the impact of the Community Kitchen first-hand and says, “Jenn and Brandon are amazingly creative and resourceful chefs, and hearing people say things like ‘Wow this is delicious—this is the kind of stuff I make for myself when I have money!’ is really awesome.”

Lauren is also preparing to help newly arrived refugees through an internship at Caritas of Austin.

Mark Janchar, Housing Services / Supportive Services for Veteran Families Volunteer

“I share the Caritas vision that every veteran should have a home and the resources to achieve stability and self-sufficiency.”

Mark felt personally called to volunteer after his job as a paramedic brought him into contact with many veterans experiencing homelessness. He shares that his father was a physician for the Public Health Service in the Vietnam War, “His service to our soldiers and veterans is an inspiration to me. Every vet that I talk to is amazingly grateful that someone has taken the time to listen to them. After all they have done, I feel this is the very least we can do.” 

Kristen Hansen, Administrative Volunteer for the Refugee Resettlement Program

“I’ve been humbled by the wide variety of stories people bring with them to Austin.”

When Kristen began looking for a way to take action on the refugee crisis, she noticed that Caritas of Austin kept coming up in her searches. Helping with the essential filing and paperwork for Resettlement is truly rewarding, she says. “Every staff member I’ve met just seems to be passionate about helping those in need no matter where they come from or what their circumstances are,” Kristen shares. “At the end of a volunteering session, I always feel like at least one staff member’s load is a little lighter, so they’re able to concentrate more on the people they serve.” 

Wortham Insurance, Community Kitchen Volunteers

“The impact you can have on another person’s life is often much bigger than you think."

The employees of Wortham Insurance feel that it’s important to give back to the Austin community, and one way they do this is through serving in our Community Kitchen. They shared that it’s fun to do hands-on work together for an important cause. “Volunteering at Caritas is a great way to step outside your ordinary routine and do some good. I would encourage other businesses to do the same,” one employee says.

Bayley Chang, Apartment Setup for Refugee Resettlement Volunteer

“I wish more people know how easy it is to get involved and volunteer.”

Bayley began volunteering as a way to help meet the needs of the refugee community, one family at a time. She says, “I felt I needed to stand up for those being marginalized.” As an apartment setup volunteer, Bayley helps furnish an empty apartment, making it as welcoming as possible for an arriving family. “By volunteering my time to set up an apartment, it allows the staff more time to work one on one with the clients,” she says. “I continue to be inspired by the resilience, bravery, and tenacity demonstrated by the clients of Caritas.”

 

 

 

12 Things to Know About Refugees Right Now

February 13, 2017

When a refugee lands at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, they’re technically considered homeless. Although Caritas of Austin might be best known for our Community Kitchen or helping end veteran homelessness, we also work to ensure newly arrived refugees have a safe home, basic needs, and comprehensive support during their first months in Austin.

Here are 12 things you might not know about Caritas’ refugee services, the potential impact of federal changes, and how you can get involved.

  1. Last year, Caritas of Austin resettled refugees from Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Burundi, Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Cameroon, Uganda, Syria, and Zambia.
  1. Were President Trump’s travel ban to be reinstated with regard to refugees, Caritas of Austin could face a $400,000 to $500,000 funding gap during the proposed 120-day pause on new refugee arrivals, putting several of our staff positions at risk.
  1. Already-arrived refugees would still receive temporary financial assistance, but there likely would be a temporary loss of funding for the professional staff members who support these refugees, including #4 - #6 below.
  1. Each of our resettlement case managers simultaneously supports numerous refugees with tasks such as picking them up at the airport when they arrive in Austin, setting up their apartment, helping children enroll in school, and connecting refugees to healthcare and other resources.
  1. Employment specialists at Caritas of Austin connect refugees to jobs and ensure self-sufficiency within six months of arrival, including resume and interview assistance, workforce training programs, and ongoing employer support. Over the past year, our employment specialists have helped over 400 refugees find work at employers ranging from the healthcare industry to hospitality and manufacturing.
  1. Education specialists teach week-long cultural orientations when refugees arrive and job readiness classes to teach skills that help refugees obtain employment. Refugees experience drastic culture differences and must learn new ways of grocery shopping, interacting with public safety professionals, and navigating transportation.
  1. The potential effects of a temporary ban are devastating because Caritas of Austin is still required, and committed, to serving the 495 refugees on its current caseload (separate from new arrivals). That includes 249 refugees who have arrived since September, 87 of them children. (Numbers as of 2/6/17)
  1. Since the stay was issued last week, Caritas of Austin has returned to “business as usual”, welcoming 5 new refugee families last week and 12 families this week.
  1. After becoming registered as a refugee with UNHCR (The United Nations refugee agency), all refugees are already subject to a multi-layer vetting process including background checks, interviews, and health screenings with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State. This entire process takes more than a year, often multiple years.
  1. Within 8 months, the vast majority of refugees are living self-sufficiently, and are no longer eligible for SNAP, Medicaid, or other assistance programs. Additionally, every refugee who is at least 18 years old must repay the U.S. government for their plane ticket, further reducing their economic footprint.

And now, most importantly…

  1. Want to help? We need you now more than ever. Monetary donations ensure that Caritas can maintain a full staff during times of funding uncertainty. You can also donate HEB or Walmart gift card to go toward groceries, or a rice cooker, which is the most requested item by refugees.
  1. Calling your representatives might seem futile, but it is not. It is the best channel to make your voice heard across both political parties. If you want refugee resettlement to continue without pause, please continue to call your national legislators and tell them so.

 

 

2016: A Year In Review

January 20, 2017

One year ago at Caritas of Austin, we were looking toward 2016 with excitement and high expectations. 2015 was a strong year, and we knew that we had the strategies in place to make 2016  even stronger.

Thanks to the support of people like you, 2016 proved to be  even better than we hoped.

Here are just a few of the things that this community made possible:

  • Last August, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that the city of Austin has officially solved veteran homelessness, and Caritas of Austin was a leading partner in that accomplishment
  • Caritas of Austin smashed our fundraising goals at events like Words of Hope and the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot, which raised $450,000 and $330,000 respectively.
  • Volunteers in our Community Kitchen logged a total of 20,450 hours and served thousands of meals to lunchtime clients
  • Our generous donors provided enough Welcome Home baskets, household supplies, and children’s items to make this holiday season an incredible one for the hundreds of clients in Caritas’ programs.

Last year was not without its challenges. We faced more uncertainty than ever around our work with refugees, and yet we remain committed to serving this resilient group of people. Our city is still struggling to find solutions to homelessness that are proportionate to the problem (watch the video below to hear something exciting news!). And Austin continues to be less affordable, making our efforts to help clients gain living wage jobs all the more important.

But as supporters like you demonstrated in 2016, we can accomplish great things together and tackle problems that once seemed insurmountable. We know that with your continued partnership, Caritas of Austin can accomplish even more in 2017.

Watch this two-minute video from our Executive Director to hear her highlights of 2016 and more specifics on where we are headed in 2017.

Thank you so much for being a part of this journey with us. None of this would be possible without you!

 

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.

 

Stepping Stone School Students Give Back

November 21, 2016

Our partners at the Stepping Stone School sponsor the Stepping Stone Kids' K every year at the ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot. They also strongly believe that giving back should be a part of a child's curriculum as they move through school. On this guest blog post, Stepping Stone's Associate Director of Curriculum explains why this is a core value of their students' education

By Susan Brunk, M.Ed.

Associate Director of Curriculum at Stepping Stone School

Generosity and gratitude are fundamental cornerstones of character development behind Stepping Stone School’s comprehensive Platinum Learning for Life™curriculum.

As our faculty model, our efforts begin in the classroom, practicing and teaching the value of sharing and caring for others. We promote these attitudes through charitable giving events throughout the year and teach monthly character building with focused learning activities. 

Research demonstrates that children develop an attitude of charity and compassion when they experience opportunities for giving throughout their development.

Since 2003, Stepping Stone School has sponsored the Kids’ K and activity center at the annual ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot and we participate in canned food drives for Caritas of Austin and Central Texas Food Bank at each of our 19 area campuses. To date, almost $3 million has been raised for Caritas by the Turkey Trot. Rhonda Paver, Founder and Executive director of Stepping Stone School said, “Stepping Stone School is proud to have partnered with ThunderCloud subs for the last 13 years and we strongly support the efforts of this joyful and lasting partnership to support the wonderful work by Caritas of Austin. We always look forward to the annual Turkey Trot where our vibrant community comes together in the spirit of kindness, caring, gratitude and giving to others.”

During the month of October, Stepping Stone School partnered with Austin Diaper Bank and other local businesses for “The Great Central Texas Diaper Round-Up” by collecting over 5,400 diapers to help reach the goal of collecting 100,000 diapers for babies and seniors in the Central Texas area.

From selling refreshing lemonade, warm cookies and creative crafts, students put their business minds and giving hearts to work during the Young Entrepreneurs & Philanthropists™ summer camp program in support of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas (RMHC CTX). The students raised over $6,000 through the sale of their goods, effectively doubling the amount raised last year including additional monetary contributions and in-kind resources provided by Stepping Stone School. Together, they donated $10,000 this year and over $33,000 to date in support of the families with hospitalized children that rely on RMHC CTX.

Last but not least, every winter, school age children make cards and treats to bring to local area nursing homes and deliver them along with carols and hugs. 

Why?

Because we care about our local community.  These efforts reach out to our surrounding areas bringing a greater connection between children, families, our schools, and businesses.  We enthusiastically embrace opportunities to help make Central Texas a better place to learn, work, live and grow together.