A Family Finds Stability Again

October 28, 2015
 

Lashanya, a single mother, has lived in Austin her entire life. She said she has never known anything other than stability until last year.“I always had a steady job and lived in the same apartment for nearly eight years,”she said.

Lashanya was pregnant with her son, Aiden, last summer and employed through a temporary staffing agency. She was put on bed rest when she was around seven months pregnant due to high blood pressure and was unable to work for the remaining two months of pregnancy.

Without a source of income and increasing medical expenses, Lashanya and her children became homeless, spending the next seven months bouncing around staying with family members and sleeping in her car. She remembers the cold, rainy nights being the hardest. Lashanya continued having health issues after she gave birth, which delayed her ability to find work again. She had no one to turn to for support.

Someone finally mentioned Caritas’ housing programs that help people experiencing homelessness, and she called for help. “It was such a good feeling to hear from Rachel, who became my Caritas case manager. She is amazing. From the moment I first spoke with her, I felt like I wasn’t even homeless anymore because she gave me hope that everything was going to be okay.”

Thanks to a strong relationship with a local landlord who believes in Caritas’ work, the landlord mentioned having a home for rent available that would meet Lashanya and her family’s needs. Within just a few weeks, they moved in.

“Being able to have a home that we can call our own felt so good,” said Lashanya. “The kids were so excited they wanted to miss school on the day we moved in! They didn’t even care that we had no furniture yet; they just loved running around in the house.”

Caritas was able to provide the family with household furniture for the home. Rachel also helped Lashanya get groceries from the Caritas Pantry and connected her to mental health services.

Most importantly, Lashanya now had the stability needed to seek employment. She recently found a job and is on the path to self-sufficiency. “I am so excited to work again,” she said. “I am ready to be the parent that can do all the things I want for my children again.”

Lashanya has a hard time even thinking back on how much they have struggled over the past year. “The hardest part was not knowing where we were going to sleep each night.”

Lashanya's stability is so important for her children's futures. We know that the less time children spend in unstable living situations, the more likely they are to thrive academically and lead productive lives as adults.

She can’t express enough gratitude for Caritas’ help during her time of greatest need. “This program helps you become the person you were before, and that’s priceless.”

Rachel has been inspired working with Lashanya. “Working with this family has been a joy. As early as our first meeting, I could tell that she was ready to work to get through her hard time and find a home for her family. Experiencing homelessness while pregnant is an unimaginable circumstance for a lot of people, but Lashanya got through it and has shown amazing resiliency.”

Now Lashanya’s looking toward the future with hope. Over the next year, her biggest goal is just to maintain stability and happiness for her family. This story of hope and resilience would not be possible without your support!

A Veteran Commits To Helping Others

December 10, 2015
 

Billy served in the United States Army for three years in the early 1990s. He was among the first troops deployed to Iraq during the Desert Storm War. His primary role in the Army was around refueling helicopters, which put him in the middle of combat.

He said he saw and experienced things that he will never be able to forget.

As is the case with many veterans, Billy had an extremely difficult time when he returned home to Texas. Rather than getting the help he needed to cope with the trauma he experienced, he just tried to block it out. Billy fell into drinking and substance abuse and continued to struggle with it for the next 15 years. He mostly worked in the oil fields, but had a hard time keeping jobs due to his addiction.

“For 15 years, I just hid behind the realities I lived through during the war in Iraq,” he said.

In 2014, Billy hit his lowest point, but is also turned out to be the best thing for his life. He was sentenced to nine months of jail time for theft and drug use. But soon after he began serving time, the first-ever Military Veteran Peer Network program was being implemented in Texas, and Billy was selected to be a part. The six-month program involved PTSD therapy, substance abuse treatment, and peer-to-peer veteran counseling.

“I never got the help I needed after the war. The peer network program really helped me realize my issues and face them.”

When he completed the program, Billy still faced some tough decisions. He decided to stay in the Austin area and get a fresh start rather than return to his hometown in west Texas. He lived in a temporary halfway house and had nothing to his name except a few sets of clothing.

Even though Billy was a changed man, now sober for over six months, he needed help getting a job and stable housing of his own. The VA referred him to Caritas’ veterans program, and he was amazed how quickly things started to fall into place. 

“From the first time I met with Karrie at Caritas, I felt sure things were going to be okay and that these people were committed to my success.”

They identified an apartment within a week’s time, and Billy moved into his own studio apartment just a couple of weeks later. “I can’t even explain what it felt like to be in my own place. It is so quiet and peaceful here.”

Just weeks after moving in, Billy was approached by a friend who worked on the maintenance crew for his apartment complex, seeing if he needed a job. After seeing Billy’s work, he was hired on the spot and now helps oversee all maintenance needs for nine neighborhood apartment complexes.

“It feels good to have a job and a steady income. I am really back on my feet now.”

During this time of transition, Caritas of Austin also helped Billy with apartment furnishings, food from the Caritas Pantry, bus passes, and budgeting assistance to help him plan for the future. Billy also still participates in ongoing mental health and sobriety counseling.

“We can’t forget about our veterans, those who are fighting for our freedoms. We can’t forget about what they are coming back with – they badly need therapy and to be connected to support services.”

Billy says he felt like he lost his whole life, and now he has it back again thanks to Caritas. “I can’t say enough about Caritas. You all have changed my world. You have been my rock.”

Now Billy is committed to helping other veterans who are struggling. “Anything I can do to help another veteran, I will do it. No one understands what a veteran has been through except another veteran.” With your assistance, we can continue to assist veterans like Billy as they move towards self-sufficiency. 

 

Impacting Lives Through Volunteerism

August 20, 2015

Arielle was teaching Arabic at a local high school when she encountered a family that would change her life. She was asked to help translate for a refugee family resettled in Austin after fleeing Iraq. This was her first exposure to refugees, and she said, “It blew my mind.”

She was struck by the horrific trauma the family had experienced, including the children witnessing a family member being killed. Now the family was in a brand new country and culture, starting over with nothing while trying to process the past they had to leave behind.

Arielle was so moved that she was ready to get involved helping refugees in a more structured way. Last August, she began volunteering at Caritas of Austin.

After going through volunteer training at Caritas, she was matched with an Iraqi family of four – a mother and her three children – to support them during their first months in Austin.

She assisted with grocery shopping, helping the family decipher coupons and choose healthy options. They explored Austin through free activities at Zilker Park, Barton Springs, and various parks around town. She worked with the kids on their English homework and assisted their mom with paperwork and scheduling appointments. “Mostly, we just had fun and went on adventures together,” Arielle said.

While Arielle’s proficiency in Arabic was invaluable with this particular family, she also started working with a Congolese refugee family. “Even though we can’t communicate well, we still enjoy being in one another’s company and have found ways to connect beyond our language barrier.”

Arielle helped expose this family’s children to English, and many neighbor kids who were also refugees often came over and gathered around the computer for her teaching lessons. “The kids are so engaged and eager to learn. I think there is more of an appreciation toward education with them; they don’t take it for granted.”

Over the past year, Arielle has seen Caritas’ work with refugees firsthand. “Everyone on staff provides such active support. Beyond just financial support, Caritas is always there to help these families. They are flexible and attentive, always available when needed.”

Reflecting on what she has learned from this experience, she focuses inwardly. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and how privileged I am to have grown up with so much stability. The trauma these families have been through, we cannot even understand. Coming here, there are so many details they do not have command over, which makes every part of life super difficult. But they are powerful people, growing incredibly strong and resilient during this process.”

When asked what she would tell others about volunteering, she said it has been a great way to step outside herself, especially after her long days of work, where time with these families put her own problems into perspective and give her a fresh sense of gratitude. “If you want an insightful, interesting experience where you have a tangible impact, volunteer with Caritas!” If you are interested in volunteering, contact Houmma Garba at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

 

Throwing First Pitch Honors Veteran's Success

July 1, 2015

On May 27, Tim York got to throw out the first pitch at the Round Rock Express baseball game to honor our local veterans. After recently moving out of homelessness to stable housing and employment, this event was a symbolic celebration of starting the next chapter in Tim’s life.

After moving to Austin last fall, the Army veteran soon found himself homeless, sleeping in his car.

Tim enlisted in the Army after high school and served for six years. He then settled in New Jersey and began running a demolition business with a friend. After that business eventually went under, Tim spiraled into a dark cycle of depression, isolation, and alcoholism. He knew he needed help and eventually found a rehab program to get clean.

Tim enrolled in community college, and after obtaining his Associate’s Degree, he pursued his Bachelor’s Degree in Management and Economics at Empire State College. He graduated last year but struggled to find a job in his field. That’s when he decided to pack up and move to Austin.

Tim expected to stay with a family member in Austin while he looked for housing and employment. But after that option fell through, he had nowhere to go and began sleeping in his car.

“I tried to look at the positive side of everything, even during this time. I thought to myself, ‘At least it’s not snowing’,” he laughed.

Before Tim started working with Caritas of Austin, he connected with Goodwill Industries to help him find a job. After he did not get selected for the first couple of jobs he applied for, his spirits were down. He got a temporary job at Popeye’s Chicken, just to earn enough to provide gas money to leave Austin for good.

Then he learned about an Area Project Manager position at Goodwill and was encouraged to apply. “I was a little cynical that they wouldn’t hire me because I didn’t have enough qualifications and experience.” He ended up getting the job, and he now oversees maintenance teams for numerous business customers across the city.

“I love my job. I have flexible hours, it matches my skills, and I am trusted to get the job done.”

Things really started looking brighter as Tim also began working with Caritas of Austin’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. Caritas staff helped Tim locate an apartment, and program funds were used to cover his initial housing and furniture costs. He was able to move in just three weeks after enrolling in the program.

His case manager Aimee said Tim has been inspiring to work with. “He has been so adaptable and resilient. He wasn’t afraid to start over.”

Now Tim is starting to feel like Austin is home. He’s been meeting new people in his apartment complex, exploring Austin, and is thriving at work. “I never gave up,” he said.

As for his thoughts on throwing the first pitch out, he said, “The plate is much farther away than I thought!”

Learn more about our Veterans program and how you can help end local veteran homelessness by 2016 HERE!

 

Living Happily Ever After

June 2, 2015

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

 

 

Hard Work Leads To Success

June 16, 2015

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.