Donors experience the heart of ministry at Catholic Charities

Shepherd's House
For Nicholas Degel, a tour of Catholic Charities was an eye-opening experience.

"I've learned so much about Catholic Charities. I always thought they were mostly just a food bank," said Degel, a parishioner at St. James Cathedral, Orlando.

Degel is one of 22 guests who joined Bishop John Noonan on September 25 for a four-hour tour of the Orlando-based headquarters of Catholic Charities of Central Florida, including a visit to Shepherd's House, a transitional housing program for homeless single mothers and their children.

Sponsored by The Catholic Foundation of Central Florida, the event was the first in an ongoing series of tours designed to help Catholics in the Diocese of Orlando to understand the true impact that their gifts to Our Catholic Appeal have on real people and their families. Five of the guests, including Degel, are members of the Corpus Christi Society, a group of faithful donors who support Our Catholic Appeal annually at a level of $10,000 or greater.

Julie Yetter, Central Regional Director, and Richard Logue, Immigration Services Director, were on hand to explain a wide variety of Catholic Charities' ministries, such as Think Smart, an abstinence education program that gives students an opportunity to experience the realities of parenthood.

The innovative program features remarkably lifelike dolls that cry frequently, must be diapered regularly, and contain monitoring equipment that records any attempts to ignore or harm the baby.

Guests also had a special opportunity to meet and welcome a group of new American citizens who were attending a class on job interview skills. Catholic Charities annually assists approximately 3,000 people, whom Richard Logue described as "true risk takers," with immigration paperwork and other assistance.

"All of this hit me in the heart. When I came from Egypt to the United States, I came with five dollars," said tour guest Selim Ayoob, a parishioner at Annunciation, Altamonte Springs, and a member of the Corpus Christi Society.

The highlight of the tour was a visit to Shepherd's House, where eight duplex apartments provide comfortable accommodations for up to 16 homeless mothers who are finding hope and a fresh start for themselves and their children.

A common area located a short drive away gives the mothers access to parenting classes, counseling, career guidance, and computers for researching jobs and distributing resumes.

Guests were inspired by the stories - and the gratitude - of the residents. One former resident returned to the Shepherd's House common area just to say "thank you" to the guests as she recounted how she is currently working on her own "Habitat for Humanity" house and pursuing her third year of study toward a Bachelor's degree.

"Seeing the actual faces of the people who are helped by our contributions has touched me," said tour guest Lori Gullickson, St. Teresa, Titusville. "You hear about [the programs] and then you realize this is where it is actually taking place."

Bishop Noonan echoed Gullickson's view, noting that "we've seen change happen in our own lives, but when you see that change happen in the lives of others, it truly gives you a great sense of the grace of God."

Gifts to Our Catholic Appeal in 2012 provided approximately $1.2 million in critical operating support for the work of Catholic Charities.

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