The program staff at St. Margaret of Cortona, a Catholic Charities program in Woodbridge, Virginia, assist homeless families with both time and support so that they can reestablish their independence.
However, their work goes beyond just the physical.
“St. Margaret staff is very mindful of the suffering, fear and loss experienced by our families,” said Veronica Roth, Program Director. “Saying we are present for you because we care is meaningless until the families see us demonstrate care in our actions. Our families are not ‘cases,’ they are individuals, parents and children seeking a safer, steadier path for themselves.”
Sometimes, the way the staff does this is by organizing activities.
Last year, there was a community wide Advent activity. The children used construction paper to cut a paper candle to add to the Advent wreath each week. All the children were given slips of paper titled “Caught You Being Kind.” They delivered these to parents, siblings, and even school and daycare teachers.
The goal was to return with the form completed every week by another person describing the act of kindness performed by the child. The children talked about the good deed they accomplished, and the Child Services Coordinator pasted each of the “acts” on a paper loop of a garland. The children enjoyed seeing the garland of goodness grow. It helped them see how their individual kindnesses contribute to a larger effort.
In other instances, Roth shared, the St. Margaret staff has used Bible stories and parables to great effect.
One preschooler, on hearing that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus had to “runaway from Bethlehem after he was born” was very agitated and kept returning to the picture of the baby in the stable. She repeatedly asked “What happened to them?”
After turning the page several times, the child at last pointed to the animals in the stable. She wanted to know what happened to them. When she became homeless, they had to give away a family dog. It worried her still, but she found an avenue to talk about it.
And it isn’t only children who find this experience at St. Margaret’s.
A mother of four described her St. Margaret Case Manager as a “steady light,” explaining that she had frequently picked the wrong people to trust in her life. Her Case Manager had suggested to her that by taking the time to think through when and how others in her life had been faithful, genuine, and caring she could see who has been a light in her life and why. This helped her look for those qualities in others now as she rebuilt her support systems.
These are small things, but the team at St, Margaret believes any interaction is an opportunity for a meaningful intervention.