Dear Friends & Family of Catholic Charities:
What Would You Do?
We all have those moments in life, moments that define us as a person, moments that change us forever, moments that challenge the humanity within us, and moments that will forever stay with us, a frozen moment in time.
I recently had one of those moments; it was a phone call that unexpectedly put my faith in action along with my team’s. I received a request for assistance. I contacted the person who had made the request, and on the other end of the line was a quiet woman’s voice pleading for my help. It was not for her, but for a sick child. The woman was a nurse at a well-known children’s hospital here in San Diego.
One of her dialysis patients, a little girl, 11 years of age was struggling to get to her appointments. She needed dialysis three days a week and could not afford housing in San Diego to receive the treatment. The little girl’s mother had passed away and unfortunately, her dad was not in the picture. It was up to the aunt to keep her alive.
The nurse wanted to see if Catholic Charities could help. She was reaching out to anyone and everyone trying to find a place for the little girl to stay with her aunt so she could continue the treatments. This would also give her a San Diego address so she could get on the transplant list. I listened and immediately started running through all of our programs in my head; all the locations that we housed individuals in need. I took her name and promised to call back if I could help in any way.
I immediately called our Director of Homeless Services in San Diego. All the shelters we have in San Diego are for women and men but maybe, just maybe, we could help. As I passed on the little girl’s story, I could hear the hesitation in the director’s voice. “I’m so sorry Vino, but a shelter is not a place for a sick child and there is not really an option here in San Diego. We have House of Hope in Imperial Valley where she could stay starting today, but that’s a 2-hour drive one way and she would need to go three days a week for treatment…” That did not make sense.
As I hung up with the director, my heart sank. I struggled, thinking about my daughter, who’s nine years old and healthy, questioning how it is possible that a child can be so sick and we cannot help. As I tried to get back to work and focus on the endless people I needed to get back to that day, my phone rang again and I saw that my Director of Homeless Services was calling me back. She, too, was so troubled about the little girl’s situation and, determined to help, had a temporary solution that might just work.
One of our affordable houses had an open bedroom. If the women there were comfortable, we could let the child and her aunt stay there for a few months. I didn’t get my hopes up as I waited to hear if this was going to be the answer, the solution to help save this child. The hours slowly dragged on and my mind kept going back to that little girl. I worked. I prayed. I waited for an answer.
At the end of the day, I debated whether or not to call the Director of Homeless Services back. Had she forgotten? Did she get distracted with her day? I believed that if there was anything we could do, it would happen. I left work trusting, hoping, believing, and praying that we could figure this out – that an answer from up above would come.
It was late in the afternoon the next day when the Director of Homeless Services called me back. When I saw her number on my phone, I don’t think the first ring had even completed before I was there, anxious like a child, to hear if we could make this happen. “Vino,” she said, “I have a place for her to stay. She can move in tomorrow.” It was going to be temporary, just three months, but we had a solution.
The little girl and her aunt moved in the next day. Our staff rallied, like they always do, to look at the individual, analyze their situation, and come up with a game plan of how to help using all of our resources. The Service Coordinator for programs in our Homeless Women’s Service Department helped them move in.
She also helped the little girl enroll at the local school and advocated for an IEP (Individualized Education Program), and arranged transportation for her. The Service Coordinator remains involved and continues to navigate systems for them and maximize their access to resources. The initial request was to provide temporary shelter, but we became a home.
Months passed and I continued to get updates on the little girl and others we were working with across San Diego and Imperial County. Our team is always going above and beyond to help every individual with everything they can; I am amazed at the devotion and dedication I see here every day. It is loud and clear to me that my team at Catholic Charities is not here for the pay, but rather for the calling to serve.
It was almost our Christmas break when the Director of Homeless Services was at the main office for meetings. As I was just about to leave for a meeting myself, she came into my office and handed me a letter and box. She smiled and said, “This is for you.” When I opened the card, it looked familiar. There was a drawing at the bottom of the words, something I had seen in my own house from my daughter. It was a letter in Spanish, but there was a sticky note with the translation.
The letter began, “Mr. Director, thank you for saving my life.”
This young girl handwrote a letter to me, pleading with me to let her stay in the house longer so she could continue her treatment. As I stood there reading the letter with my team, I shared the little girl’s story with them and we all cried together. Inside the box was a set of beautiful cufflinks. This family had nothing – no money and barely getting by – and they had bought me a present. It was a very humbling moment. The agreement was three months and during that time they could find another place to stay, but unfortunately, they could not find stable and affordable housing anywhere else. Again, my team worked together pulling all resources and not stopping until they had a solution. By the end of the week and with the staff and providers working together, it was decided that the little girl and her aunt could stay with us for as long as they need to.
Thank you for saving my life. I have been able to go to school and continue my dialysis. Sir, I am writing this letter to ask you to let us stay in this house longer please. I have nowhere to stay. I am asking with all my heart. I am having a good time here.
I am sharing this story with you during this Easter season because this is a time to reflect.
Our identities are defined by our calling, core values, commitment, and character. These characteristics set us apart and give us guidance in what we do and how we do it. We are a nonprofit dedicated to exemplifying the scriptural values of mercy and hospitality by living out the gospel message found in “Matthew 25”. Catholic Charities is committed to going above and beyond the call of duty and treating each person that asks for help as an individual that requires compassion just like the Good Samaritan.
This photo was taken right after I told her that her mother is her guardian angel, looking out for her from heaven and always watching over her.
Now is the perfect time to ask yourself how you would define your identity and live out your life. I invite you to join us in our mission to serve and care for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized, and help us make a difference for people and local communities in need. The nurse went above and beyond her duties and responsibilities, because the little girl mattered. Our team went above and beyond their duties because everyone matters. Our residents who live with the little girl have gone above and beyond by welcoming the little girl and becoming her supportive family.
My wish in passing on this story is that we share the hope and love of this little girl. We all pray for the little girl to receive a kidney and get better; we all put our faith into action with our time, talent and treasures because everyone deserves help in whatever way we each can do it.
Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor
Chief Executive Officer