stories of need
Below are just a few of the thousands of stories we hear everyday. These voices from the desperate, the hopeless, and the needy. Most important, they are people who live right here in New Jersey in neighborhoods of rich and poor, urban and rural, black and white.
Fortunately, Catholic Charities has helped these people pull themselves out of despair and into a life of self-reliance. Read more on how we've helped those in need.
Stronger Than the Storm: Stories of Hope
Tricia and Neils are two Ocean County residents whose personal journeys to survive and recover from Hurricane Sandy provide insight into the sheer power of courage and determination in overcoming terrible adversity and loss.
Niels’ Story of Survival
During Hurricane Sandy, Niels and his adult son Lance were awaiting evacuation in a first-floor apartment in Point Pleasant when the storm hit and seawater rapidly rose to chest-level. Wheelchair bound, Niels could not climb the stairs so Lance carried him to the second floor, where the two rode out the storm in the dark without food, water or the power needed for Niels’ oxygen tank. Two days passed before Lance heard a neighbor calling out for survivors. He rushed outside and asked for help for his ailing father.
After his rescue, Niels suffered a near-fatal heart attack and spent 100 days in a nursing home to regain the use of his legs. He then ended up living in a motel room, several miles from another motel where Lance was housed. It was at this point that Catholic Charities learned of Niels and his situation. Case manager Michael Best worked diligently to insure Niels and Lance would be reunited in appropriate housing.
Today, father and son share a home in Brick. Lance appreciates the home’s proximity to the Visitation Relief Center, where he bikes each day to serve as a volunteer. Niels, a veteran and widower who always prided himself on his self-reliance, now says Hurricane Sandy and the ordeal that ensued have given him a renewed faith in God. “The thing about that storm — as bad as it was for all of us — it also brought all the angels out,” said Niels.
Tricia’s Journey of Hope
Tricia has also walked a difficult path since last fall. While dealing with the death of her mother, Hurricane Sandy destroyed Tricia’s home. A few weeks later, Tricia then lost her neighbor in a horrible accident as he cut down tree limbs that threatened both of their properties. Then, a few weeks after Christmas, Tricia’s husband passed away unexpectedly.
This string of unimaginable losses took its toll on Tricia and she sunk into a deep depression. One morning her son returned from a walk along the beach in Mantoloking with a jar of sand and set out to make Tricia a present that would soon become the turning point in her journey towards healing. He poured the sand into some tan paint and used it to paint a single word on a sky blue background. That word was hope.
Tricia began to carry the sign with her everywhere she went, looking for (and finding) hope in areas devastated by Sandy. She found hope in some daffodils emerging from a washed out area of land and in a tattered U.S. flag firmly planted on a stretch of dunes. Carefully placing her sign in each scene, Tricia began taking pictures that captured signs of hope. Her photos now overflow multiple photo albums.
As a volunteer at the Visitation Relief Center, Tricia has helped others who experienced loss as a result of Sandy find hope. Perhaps, she is one of the angels Niels describes as emerging from a terrible storm to bring light to those in need.
To hear Tricia's story in her own words, click here to watch her video.
Helping Michael* and his family start a new violence-free life
Michael, his mother, and his two sisters entered the emergency shelter. Michael was a 12-year-old boy who had witnessed his mother being verbally, emotionally, and physically abused by his father his entire life. When Michael first entered the shelter he had not been going to school because he wanted to stay home and protect his mom from his dad. The children's caseworker assisted Michael and his mom by going to the school with him before he actually had to attend and helped him become readjusted to the idea of leaving his mother alone. Michael also needed a new book bag and school supplies, which were left behind at home and thanks to donations from the community, Providence House was able to provide these things. The children's case manager provided individual counseling and group counseling for Michael. He was very hesitant to meet with her at first, having been previously told by his father that he should never speak about the family abuse. During counseling, Michael recounted how one time his dad kept calling his mother names and hit her back with Michael's baseball bat. Another incident that he spoke about was when his dad started a fight because he did not have any more cigarettes. He blamed Michael's mother (who did not smoke) and started to hit her and pushed her to the ground. Michael said he thought that is his dad would keep hitting his mother and eventually kill her. The children's case manager met with Michael weekly and formed safety plans for his school and new house. She also worked with him to express his feelings about the fighting and to boost his self-esteem. When Michael left the shelter to move into his new three-bedroom house, Providence House gave him a CD-player, skateboard, and games, again all donated by the community. Later that year, Michael and his younger sister attended a week of Providence House's summer camp. Michael had such a good time he said he would never forget it. He said he appreciated all Providence House has done for him and his family and was happy to be living in a violence-free home.
*real name not used
The Stewart family could have been homeless.
The Stewarts, a family of five- mother Shelley, father Jim and three children under the age of 7 (Emily, Tommy and Nick) - came to Burlington County from another state to seek better job opportunities. They stayed briefly with relatives but were asked to leave due to overcrowding. The Stewarts ended up in a motel and used up what little money they had left. Jim had just secured a job but was waiting for his first pay when they contacted Catholic Charities Emergency and Community Services.
The family was sheltered for a few nights and provided with food and clothing. Staff assisted Jim and Shelley by informing them that their children had the right to be transported to their previous school despite their current location. Numerous calls to the school’s homeless liaison resulted in Emily and Tommy being able to go back to school, and truancy charges against Jim and Shelley were avoided. The Stewarts continued to receive food and were offered help with the first month’s rent once the family located permanent housing.
Amy may not have been alive today.
Amy openly admits that she might not be alive today if it were not for the help she received from Catholic Charities. After graduating from high school Amy knew what she wanted to do- after all, she was a successful young musician with a bright future. While she had been living with Bipolar disorder for five years, the stress of going away to college led Amy to start using cocaine. Within 8 months she had spiraled so far downward that she could no longer function. That began the first of 13 psychiatric hospitalizations and 12 suicide attempts over the course of the next four years.
She cycled in and out of programs, but nothing appeared to help. As Amy says at one point, “no one would take me into a program because I was considered a liability. I had been unable to turn my life around in several programs that I was terminated from so Catholic Charities was really my last chance.” She felt welcomed at the program and for the first time ever, someone asked what she wanted to do when she grew up. Amy realized that someone believed in her and that she had numerous strengths. Today Amy has graduated from the Partners in Recovery program, has become a certified Peer Specialist and volunteers as the agency’s Consumer Advocacy Leader. She is preparing to work full time…and wants to work at Catholic Charities.