Hard Work Leads To Success
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
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!
Homelessness Is Down in Austin
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?
Empowering Through Employment
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: The Common Thread
Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week is November 15-23, and it is a great opportunity to raise awareness and understanding about these issues. It should also spur our community to identify how each of us can contribute to alleviating poverty, hunger, and homelessness right here in Austin.
As Caritas of Austin has grown tremendously in the past 10 years, both in our breadth of services and in the scope of whom we serve, we consistently get asked: what does it all have in common?
The common experience across every single person we serve is simple: homelessness.
At first glance, the various families and individuals we serve may appear to have little in common: individuals who have lived on the streets for years, families in crisis on the brink of eviction or living in their cars, veterans working to get back on their feet, and international refugees starting a new life in Austin. But upon further reflection, each person is on the spectrum of homelessness.
Homelessness happens for countless reasons, and each experience varies greatly. It is not simply the man or woman you see on the street corner (which actually accounts for less than 20% of overall homelessness).
Homeless happens to families who are living in poverty and are one lost job or medical emergency from being evicted. It happens to veterans who return home to find difficulty in transitioning to civilian life. And it happens to international refugees who have literally fled their home country due to war and persecution and arrive in Austin homeless, without any possessions except a suitcase.
You might also wonder what all of Caritas’ services have in common. We have a Community Kitchen serving lunch to over 300 people daily, a Pantry, an employment team working tirelessly to employ people, housing teams working with people to find stable housing they can afford, and an education program helping people learn to manage money, be a responsible tenant, and develop job readiness skills. The common thread: all are aimed at preventing and ending homelessness.
Every one of our relationship-based services is aimed at creating a turning point in people’s lives – away from crisis and homelessness. A stable home, a new job, a class on managing finances, or just a warm meal can be a turning point. Collectively, these comprehensive services - with social work professionals at the core - create a powerful foundation for people to change their life path toward self-sufficiency.
Homelessness is indeed the common experience of every person we serve, and self-sufficiency is the common goal that we work toward with everyone.
Changing lives, one at a time
Fidel had worked in construction his entire life, but as he aged and his medical conditions progressed, his body could no longer handle the physical labor. He has arthritis that causes severe leg pain, and his diabetes advanced to the point that he lost sight in one eye.
“I just kept trying to survive,” Fidel said. But with no job and no family to turn to for support, he soon became homeless and began living in a shelter. “It was so bad to live there. The noise was so much that I couldn’t sleep at night. You wait in line every day and hope for a bed, or you sleep on the streets.”
During this time, Fidel ate lunch in Caritas’ Community Kitchen every day and said that was the only meal he ate many days.
After months living at the shelter, Fidel was referred to Caritas of Austin. “He was prepared and desperately wanted to be in stable housing,” his case manager remembers. “He had every single piece of paperwork he needed and was ready to do anything it took.”
Within two weeks of working with Caritas, his case manager was able to get him an apartment of his own. Initially, Fidel worked to apply for disability benefits because of his health conditions, but when he was denied, he knew he had to find employment.
Determined to regain his self-sufficiency, Fidel began working with the Caritas employment team to find a job. Within three months, he began working part-time at a local grocery store.
“Like everything, he was motivated to do it and he believed he could,” said his case manager. Fidel started out working 20 hours a week to see if he could handle being on his feet. Over the past year, he has progressed to working full-time.
His Caritas case manager has supported Fidel through many other milestones as well, including helping him access both medical and mental health services. “I knew I needed to take care of myself,” he said. Fidel was experiencing severe depression when he began working with Caritas’ therapist. Two years later, his case manager says his progress is clear. “He has changed as a person. He is confident and at peace now.”
The two also worked together on things like setting up a bank account and starting a savings plan. His case manager even encouraged him to learn how to use a computer and communicate with his family through email. In recent months, Fidel saved up to visit his family for the first time in years.
He says that Caritas of Austin was so helpful because of all the support and resources they provided. “No other place has all of the help I needed.”
When he’s not working, Fidel’s favorite thing to do is walk down by the lake. He says it’s peaceful and it reminds him of his freedom now. “It’s a good feeling knowing I can do everything by myself.”
Will you join us in changing lives like Fidel's by making a donation today?