Catholic Charities and Bishop Olson share ways to assist unaccompanied immigrant children

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

July 17, 2014

Bishop Michael Olson, Diocese of Fort Worth, addresses the media during a press conference at Catholic Charities Fort Worth July 15 regarding assisting unaccompanied immigrant children. (Photo by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen/NTC)

Tom Strittmatter knows the importance of opening your heart and home to a young, parentless refugee.

The St. Rita parishioner and his wife, Sharon, have welcomed three children into their family since joining Catholic Charities Fort Worth’s International Foster Care program four years ago.

“They are very appreciative of what we do and what the program does,” Strittmatter said during a July 15 press conference at Catholic Charities Fort Worth headquarters. The media event, which included remarks by Bishop Michael Olson and leaders from Catholic Charities Fort Worth and Catholic Charities of Dallas, focused on local efforts to assist unaccompanied children involved in the current Texas border crisis.

The school-age youngsters living with the Strittmatters want to learn English, become educated, and get jobs.

“They are going to become really good Americans,” the retired Child Protective Services caseworker told the gathering. “I think the American people can be really proud of this program. It’s doing a lot of good.”

Strittmatter encouraged others who have the time and energy to welcome an unaccompanied minor into their home as an international foster parent.

“These children had parents who taught them right from wrong,” he added. “They’ve had a good upbringing but lost those parents for whatever reason.”

Bishop Olson addressed the human aspect of the border crisis in a letter sent to parishes in the diocese last weekend. He told reporters the situation requires a measured, stable, and collaborative response so no more harm is done to already vulnerable minors.

“This is a humanitarian crisis — not a partisan crisis,” Bishop Olson stressed. “Because of the nature of this crisis, it’s important to balance urgency with prudence.”

Catholic Charities is working with government agencies and elected officials to help protect the human dignity of children arriving here.

“This humanitarian endeavor is in no way violating the rule of law or undermining the common good of the United States, Texas, or local communities,” he stated. “I would like to remind all of us, especially Catholics, of our responsibility to care for those in need, to care for refugees and keep them safe from violence and injustice because they are human beings made in the image and likeness of God.”

Heather Reynolds, CEO of Catholic Charities Fort Worth, said the agency is looking for more families like the Strittmatters willing to become foster parents to the swell of children fleeing Central America without a parent or guardian. Approximately 57,000 illegal minors were apprehended at the Southwest border since October. Fifteen percent have no relatives living in the U.S. and require foster care placement.

“Currently we have 40 foster families at Catholic Charities Fort Worth and we’re trying to double capacity over the next few years,” Reynolds continued. “Spanish-speaking families are always a plus but what’s more important are families in line with the mission and values of Catholic Charities who are really committed to these kids.”

Lawrence O’Donnell, host of “The Last Word” on MSNBC, interviewed Bishop Olson the day of the press conference. (Video courtesy of MSNBC)

In addition to children from South and Central America, the International Foster Care program provides long-term care for youngsters fleeing persecution and violence from countries like the Congo, Ethiopia, Burma, and Nepal.

“We need foster families to provide a safe, nurturing, culturally-sensitive homes that will equip and empower these children to reach their full potential,” the administrator said.

Intensive training is required to become a foster parent with Catholic Charities. For more information contact the program’s coordinator Ruth Brasier at .

During the press conference, Reynolds shared other ways North Texans can best assist unaccompanied minors housed in a Catholic Charities shelter. The agency has a pressing need for financial and in-kind donations of cleaning supplies, school supplies, and activity boxes.

“An activity box is simply a shoebox-sized plastic container filled with things to keep young minds busy and engaged,” she explained listing small toys, a card game, crayons, and puzzles as appropriate content. “We serve children from preschool age to teenagers and need activity boxes appropriate for this range of ages.”

Caseworkers are also collecting “blessing backpacks” filled with school supplies, socks, underwear, hygiene items, and small toys. The backpacks are sent with a child once he or she is reunited with relatives or is transitioned from Catholic Charities care.

Gift cards from Wal-Mart and Target as well as monetary donations will enable the agency to help unaccompanied migrant children and further its mission to end poverty in the community. Over 90 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to more than 40 programs administered by Catholic Charities Fort Worth.

Donations may be dropped off at Catholic Charities’ headquarters, located at 249 Thornhill Dr. in Fort Worth from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. More information is available on the Catholic Charities website: www.catholiccharitiesfortworth.org.

Because of vigilant federal guidelines, there are no volunteer opportunities to work directly with migrant children at this time. The Fort Worth and Dallas Catholic Charities organizations are looking, however, for attorneys willing to offer pro bono legal assistance.

Vanna Slaughter, director of Immigration Services for Catholic Charities of Dallas called the border crisis a “complicated, complex issue.” Her agency has served migrant children for the past four years under the Legal Orientation Program for Custodians. She said the number of families needing legal assistance is exploding rapidly.

“In July, we saw several hundred of these children reunited with family members in the Dallas area. There are plenty of kids here already and more will be coming,” she pointed out. “We are working with very panicked parents who can’t find their children.”

She estimates that 40 to 50 percent of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. will have some relief in the Immigration Courts and will not be deported.

“Their rights need protection. If we don’t have attorneys lined up to do this very specialized representation, these children will not enjoy due process,” Slaughter explained.

Reynolds asked the community at large to serve as advocates for these children.

“Please reach out to family and friends and educate them about the needs of our community and what Catholic Charities Fort Worth does to address these needs,” she implored. “The more advocates we have in the community, the more positive impact we can make on the lives of these children and our organization’s mission as a whole.

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Additional articles and media coverage on Catholic Charities and unaccompanied immigrant children are available at the following links:

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Dallas Morning News:

See Also

Catholic Charities Fort Worth helping in crisis of unaccompanied alien children

Catholic Charities of Fort Worth (CCFW) is ahead of the times in responding to an “urgent humanitarian situation”: The thousands of unaccompanied children who are pouring over U.S. borders are picked up by border agents.

Catholic Charities Fort Worth leaders discuss efforts to help unaccompanied immigrant children

BUTTON-uac.jpgHundreds of minor children are crossing the border into the United States without a caregiver, but it was the story of one youngster that captured the attention of reporters covering a press conference at Catholic Charities Fort Worth (CCFW) headquarters on June 20. Armed with cameras and microphones, media representatives heard how the faith and service-based agency is addressing the humanitarian crisis on the border by expanding its federally funded Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program. At the request of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities Fort Worth will increase the capacity at its shelter from 16 to 32 beds by June 30.

Dallas_Press_Conference_BUTTON.jpgBishops Olson, Farrell address unaccompanied immigrant children crisis in joint press conference

Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas and Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth discussed the collective response of local Catholics to the Texas border crisis and appealed for more volunteer attorneys to represent unaccompanied minor children in immigration court during a joint press conference held July 21 in Dallas.

Tom Strittmatter knows the importance of opening your heart and home to a young, parentless refugee.

The St. Rita parishioner and his wife, Sharon, have welcomed three children into their family since joining Catholic Charities Fort Worth’s International Foster Care program four years ago.

Published (until 12/12/2031)
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