Annual Award Coincides with National Volunteer Week Recognizing Those Who Freely Give Time and Energy to Help Others
ALEXANDRIA, Va., April 12, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The spirit of compassion, fellowship, and dedication shines brightly in the remarkable men and women who have been named finalists for the Catholic Charities USA 2011 National Volunteer of the Year Award.
Volunteering at their local Catholic Charities agencies, these committed servants have secured housing for the homeless and working poor, assisted refugees in adjusting to their new lives in the United States, provided meals for the hungry, advocated on behalf of the poor and vulnerable, and done so much more.
Catholic Charities USA's National Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes the invaluable contributions volunteers make in helping to reduce poverty in America. Each year, more than 260,000 volunteers assist local Catholic Charities agencies efficiently and effectively serve nearly 9 million people of all faiths and diverse needs.
"These dedicated finalists provide witness of God's preferential love for the poor and vulnerable in our society," said Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. "They are truly doing God's work, providing help and creating hope without seeking anything in return."
The 2011 award recipient will be announced during National Volunteer Week, April 11-15, and will be honored at Catholic Charities USA's Annual Gathering in September in Ft. Worth, Texas.
Theresa Meurs, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington
Theresa Meurs of Bellingham, Wash., is dedicated to the homeless. Eight years ago, she joined another volunteer to wander amidst the homeless in her community and offer sandwiches and warm gloves. That ministry has grown into the Hope House Street Outreach, a homeless feeding program of Catholic Community Services Northwest (CCSNW), a regional agency of Catholic Community Services of Western Washington. Theresa is now the volunteer coordinator of the Hope House Street Outreach Program, and every Thursday evening, she and two vans of volunteers depart from Hope House loaded with homemade lunches, warm clothing, blankets, and a lot of love! Theresa truly sees the face of Christ in each person she ministers to. With love, she offers them a voice and a friend to talk to. She has been responsible for several homeless addicts getting off the streets and getting clean. Theresa is also the coordinator of the CCSNW's annual fundraiser for Hope House, the Spirit of Hope Treasure Sale, which brings in $10,000 to $12,000 each year for Hope House.
Mrs. Donna Uselding, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Ft. Worth
In the four years she has been volunteering at Catholic Charities in Ft. Worth, Texas, Donna Uselding has become a dedicated advocate for the refugee community. At first, she worked with a Burmese family, then befriended another refugee family, and soon became the go-to person for needs in the refugee community. Donna has gone from serving a couple of refugee families to an entire apartment complex of refugee families. In addition, she teaches weekly English as Second Language classes, tutors kids with homework, helps families complete Food Stamp and Medicaid applications, brings people to Catholic Charities Immigration Services, helps people find employment, helps individuals get a driver's license, provides transportation to doctor's appointments, and so much more. In addition, Donna lives out the mission of Catholic Charities by advocating and working closely with agency staff and other service providers in the area to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our community. Most recently, Donna got elderly refugee women involved in Catholic Charities' new business venture named WORN, which hires women to knit scarves, pays them a living wage, and sells the scarves to local boutiques to bring awareness to refugees in the community. When asked what her husband thinks of her volunteerism, he says "You're doing God's work." This sums up the attitude and service of Donna Uselding.
Michael Schuette, Catholic Charities of Southern Illinois
For more than 15 years, Mike Schuette, of Breese, IL, has supported the work of Catholic Charities of Southern Illinois. During the last ten years, he served as chair of the CCSIL Board and for the last 15 years as the chair of Poverty Services, a volunteer-run agency of CCSIL which addresses the root causes of poverty by helping people overcome barriers to gainful employment. When Mike came to Poverty Services, he brought with him 30 years of volunteer literacy efforts for prison inmates and partnered Poverty Services with a statewide group to lobby state representatives for legislation that required inmate literacy classes. Then with the help of legislators and Kaskaskia College, Mike established an incentive-paid inmate tutoring position at Illinois Correctional Centers. In Mike's "Inmates Helping Inmates" program, prison authorities select the inmates to be trained by the community college as peer-to-peer reading tutors/teacher aides of illiterate inmate students. The program has been a phenomenal success, with reading improvement greatly increased among thousands of inmates. Mike has also worked to develop a program to extend "Inmates Helping Inmates" participants literacy classes toward GED and college as inmates re-enter society.
Marion Slack, Catholic Social Services, Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Meeting Mother Teresa of Calcutta when she visited Marion Slack's hometown of Levittown, PA, 35 years ago had a life-changing impact on Marion. It resulted in her founding a food assistance ministry called Mary's Cupboard, a ministry that has worked in collaboration with Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for 25 years. What began small in her own parish blossomed to involve ten Catholic parishes and local churches which donate food or funds monthly. Marion began with her husband Donald, but now has 61 active volunteers whom she coordinates, most serving a few times each month. They pick up and deliver donated groceries from churches or supermarkets; receive, sort and stock food items; and prepare individual boxes of food to provide families in need enough meals and supplies for a week. Mary's Cupboard provides meal packages to over 1500 family households per year, totaling an estimated 78,000 meals annually. In these difficult times, more families are in need of this vital food assistance than ever.
Libba Claude, Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens
Libba Claude of North Salem, N.Y., volunteers her time and resources to the hundreds of families who benefit from The Children's Center, operated by Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York. The Children's Center is a unique model program that unites children with their incarcerated mothers. Libba's service to The Children's Center began more than 15 years ago, when she first volunteered as a driver for the Center's visitation programs. Traveling across the state, she brought children back and forth to the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility so that they could enjoy visits with their mothers, who were often serving long sentences. Soon after, she became a Children's Advocate, acting as a liaison between an incarcerated mother and the various entities that impact her child, such as guardians, schools, hospitals, social workers, social service agencies and the family court system. Through the years, Mrs. Claude has kept children and their incarcerated mothers closely connected, despite the physical separation imposed by their circumstance. In 2005, hoping to create a more normal environment for children to visit with their incarcerated mothers, Mrs. Claude tirelessly raised funds for a playground and garden to be constructed adjacent to the Facility's Visiting Room. Thanks to Mrs. Claude's dedication, The Children's Center "Patio" is a beautiful and welcoming site that hosts joyful reunions and sun-filled visits for mothers and their families.
Nancy Zabawa, Catholic Commission of Summit County, Diocese of Cleveland
Nancy Zabawa of Doylestown, Ohio, exemplifies all that Catholic Charities stands for in empowering people to move out of poverty and advocating for the most vulnerable in our society. Nancy not only volunteers with the Catholic Commission of Summit County, in the Diocese of Cleveland, but personally mentors people in poverty, doing what is needed to help them help themselves. After studying the CCUSA document, Poverty and Racism, she put together a committee to study these issues and worked with the Diocesan African American Ministry Office to look at the particulars of racism and the way it keeps people in poverty. Out of that first year, a retreat was developed. She not only brought that retreat to reality, but developed a detailed manual that can be used in parishes or with other groups to conduct that same retreat. Continuing on with the work, she has studied, with her committee, many programs, making connections with parishes and in the larger community to bring together people of interest in doing. As a result, the agency now has mentors in the Bridges Out of Poverty Program and more people aware of the need for mentoring.
Jody O'Connor, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Chicago
Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Chicago, hosts a nightly supper five days a week for 130 hungry and homeless clients. Jody O'Connor of Wilmette, Ill., owner of Jody O'Connor Photography and Board of Advisors member, has been coming to the supper on Tuesday nights for nine years. During that time, she has been working on a unique idea called "After Supper: Visions of My Life," a photo project that allows the dinner guests an opportunity to express themselves creatively from behind the camera lens. The project combines art with social services to give the clients a sense of normalcy, a means of expression, a development of talent and skills, and a much-needed source of income. Clients are given disposable cameras to take photos with, and after several months of training, preparation, and narrowing of photographic choices, St. Vincent Hall is transformed into a glamorous photo gallery where their art is exhibited and sold. The proceeds generated from the sales go directly to the artists. Jody has six children, but still carves out a great deal of time for this meaningful program. On the rare occasion that she doesn't attend a Tuesday supper, many of the guests ask, "Where is Jody? Is Jody coming?"
Catholic Charities USA's members provide help and create hope for more than 9 million people a year regardless of religious, social, or economic backgrounds. For almost 300 years, Catholic Charities agencies have worked to reduce poverty by providing a myriad of vital services in their communities, ranging from health care and job training to food and housing. In 2010, Catholic Charities USA celebrated its centennial anniversary and introduced new federal legislation – the National Opportunity and Community Renewal Act (NOCRA) – to transform the nation's approach to poverty.