Faces of Hope: Stefanie

Stefanie struggled to re-enter the job market after surviving a period of homelessness triggered by the fleeing of an abusive relationship with her former husband who held the housing voucher for the apartment where they lived.

“I’ve struggled with alcohol and drug addiction since I was about eighteen. I’m doing a lot better now. I left a five-year marriage. He had a housing voucher that he won in a lottery that got us off the streets.”

When their voucher ran out, the couple had to search for another apartment.

“When we were looking for another place, it was almost impossible. They’d tell us: you’ve got to have a good credit score, pay a non-refundable application fee and have a monthly income three times the monthly rent.’ How’re you supposed to do that when you’re just barely hanging on?” said Stefanie.

“A lot of apartment complexes would judge us by the way we looked. My husband and I worked as an arborist and we both dressed in our work clothes, the only clothes we had.”

The couple eventually received another housing voucher that would hold them over for a few months. But with the domestic violence in the household worsening, Stefanie’s hierarchy of needs was in jeopardy once again. Stefanie’s husband had the voucher and that left her without a secure place to stay.

“I tried to get into a domestic violence shelter. But there were no beds available at the time. That’s how I ended up at Samaritan House.”

Catholic Charities of Denver’s Samaritan House provides single women with safe dorm beds, three nutritious meals and support services including case management, goal setting, holistic wellness, employment readiness, housing navigation, financial and life-skills classes and referrals to community resources. Stefanie’s been using these tools to heal from the traumas of domestic violence and receive housing of her own.

“My advice to someone in a situation like mine? You’ve got to want to be clean. Be patient. Be aware of your surroundings. Be careful. I learned that if you breathe and take it one day at a time, it’ll work out. Everyone deserves a chance at a normal life.”

Volunteer finds joy offering ESL classes to migrants at Samaritan House

Patrick is a substitute teacher for Denver Public Schools who dedicates his Tuesday afternoons to bringing the art of the English language to migrants at Samaritan House. Since November of 2022, the influx of migrants from Spanish- speaking countries to Denver has brought about challenges. Patrick started the English as a Second Language classes at Samaritan House to alleviate the stressors of acclimating to a new culture.

Patrick starts off each class at Samaritan House the same. ¿De dónde eres? (Where are you from?) Each student has a different answer but it’s clear that the common goal is to succeed in a new country. With notebooks out and full attention shifted to the front of the room, students in this highly attended class are committed.

Week by week, the answers flow easier. Patrick ensures that each student is empowered to ask questions. He understands that learning something completely foreign can be uncomfortable. Patrick’s ability to help his students feel at ease comes from his background. His immigration work began about ten years ago when he volunteered with Casa de Paz, an organization that reunites families separated by ICE immigrant detention. Patrick’s career in teaching shifted, and he set out on a journey to help international students, refugees and immigrants learn the tools needed to navigate their new lives. He visited and advocated for immigrants incarcerated in Aurora as well as those facing deportation.

Since then, Patrick has volunteered with Catholic Charities as well as Lutheran Family Services to help Afghan families. Currently, Patrick works with Colorado Hosting Asylum Network (CHAN) supporting Venezuelan families. This endeavor led him to volunteer at Samaritan House teaching English as a second language.

“I believe that the ability to speak, read, write and use English is essential to succeed in the United States. Many immigrants face limited employment opportunities because they don’t speak English,” shared Patrick. “Currently, people are being exploited due to wage theft and contract fraud. Many times, this happens due to peoples’ immigration status and lack of English skills. The classes I teach stress basic communication skills to help people work and survive in the United States.”

Since the class began a few weeks ago, migrants living at Samaritan House use what they’ve been taught to communicate with shelter staff for basic needs. More importantly, it has brought about a sense of home to our new neighbors.

“My students are a delight and I enjoy my time with them immensely. They are engaged, motivated and appreciative of my efforts. Their commitment to learn inspires me and brings joy to my life,” said Patrick.



Knights of Columbus and St. Thomas More parish give record-breaking number of coats during record-breaking winter

The state of Colorado experienced record-breaking temperatures from December 2022 to January 2023. Months prior, Tony Cenedella and the rest of the Knights of Columbus Council 10205 at St. Thomas More Catholic Parish in Centennial were busy collecting coats and other miscellaneous items in preparation for the cold snaps predicted by the Farmer’s Almanac.

The Knights began the program in 2009, as a way of distributing coats and winter clothing to kids in harsh climates, especially for families with children that were struggling financially. Since its inception, the program has handed out hundreds of thousands of articles of winter clothing and accessories to children coast-to-coast and Canada.

The operation has evolved to best suit the needs of the unhoused community during the winter months.

“It starts in my warehouse in September. St. Thomas More steps up to donate every week through September and October. We grab the donations to take to my warehouse, then we organize and bag up for distribution,” shared Cenedella. Regis Jesuit High School and Mullen High School students also team up to help the Knights with the organization process. “It is a blessing to come together as a community to help thousands of people every year. We certainly couldn’t do it on our own,” said Cenedella.

During this year’s drive alone, 1,816 items were donated to Catholic Charities. A dozen of our ministries and shelters have been given a cushion to clothe those in need. Tony Cenedella hopes to continue to grow in other cities and even states, to help with the need.

“It’s been such a joy to work alongside Tony, the Knights of Columbus and St. Thomas More on this extraordinary effort!” shared Mark Hahn, Catholic Charities Director of Parish and Volunteer Relations.

“Every year around November, I look forward to connecting with him, knowing that his and the Knights’ efforts provide so much warmth and compassion during our colder months. I am always so humbled by the sheer amount of quality coats, sweaters, and other winter wear collected through St. Thomas More.

Mulroy Senior Center: Building Community. Offering Hope.

With age comes wisdom, but it can also come with a loss of community and independence. Catholic Charities’ Mulroy Senior Center serves adults over 55 with on-site services to prevent isolation by providing a community and assistance specially designed to meet the needs of older adults and empty nesters.

Participants at Mulroy can join in on activities Monday- Thursday from 9-2. P.M. where a nutritious meal provided by Volunteers of America. Margarita Ceballos-Gomez, program coordinator for Mulroy, says, “This meal alone is so essential because some participants are unable to cook for themselves, and it may be the only meal they eat for the day – as they may not have the resources due to lack of transportation to shop for groceries or lack the financial capability to buy nutritious ingredients.”

After enjoying good food and good company, participants are encouraged to build community and have some fun. Many participate in activities such as Tai Chi or yoga, while others work out their brains with puzzles, games and arts and crafts projects.

Mulroy Senior Center is located at 3550 W. 13th Avenue close to Paco Sanchez Park, southwest of Colfax and Federal. The lively center is filled with the art and wisdom of the community. Hanging on the walls are the beautifully completed puzzles and artwork of our community members. One of the most notable projects done was a white board where participants were asked to give a piece of advice to younger generations: 

“Live life fully and don’t put yourself in sticky situations”

“Just be who you are. Never give up on yourself and follow your dreams. Never let anyone stand in your way.”

“Look up to older generations – you can learn a lot”.

Mulroy is a wonderful place to find friendship and activities. But don’t just take our word for it.  Here’s what some of our community members say:

“Mulroy has been my social outlet. After my wife passed, I felt lonely, and I have found a family here.”

“Mulroy has supported me morally, spiritually, and physically. I enjoy the distractions I have here…. “

“Delicious Coffee, exercise, bingo, friends and feeling like I am still part of society. I feel valued and respected. My opinion matters here – I belong here at Mulroy, there is no way you can beat that!”

Moving into this new stage of life can be a difficult transition, but there is no need to go it alone.  Here at Mulroy, we have created a community that we are proud of and hope to keep growing.


More women are given a haven at Marisol Homes through pregnancy, birth and beyond

Housing pregnant women experiencing homelessness is critical to maternal and infant health. Research shows that adverse environmental conditions such as being unhoused cause negative impacts to the mother and child. According to a recent study, women experiencing homelessness are more than twice as likely to have a complication that impacts their health during birth. They are also almost twice as likely to have early or threatened labor during pregnancy.

Given that vulnerability, places such as Marisol Homes have stepped up to serve more expectant women than ever. In 2022 alone, Marisol Homes, a longer-term shelter of Catholic Charities of Denver, gave nine women experiencing homelessness a haven during their pregnancies and a place to return post-partum for critical bonding with their newborns.

The line of defense doesn’t just stop at offering a roof over their heads. To reinforce the ongoing safety of both the woman and child, staff at Marisol Homes create birth plans and offer programming specifically targeted to help pregnant women. Programs such as prenatal, postpartum and parenting classes give essential tools to first- time parents, and to women with other children.

“It is vital that we offer stability to support new life,” shared program manager Vin Glover. “We have successfully given more women a protective net this year than ever before. Right now, we have six women in house who are expecting.”

Genevieve is one of the nine women who entered Marisol Homes program with a pregnant belly this year. She has used the tools and space provided to nurture her newborn, Carson.

“The security and safety have given me the courage to take on motherhood,” said Genevieve, who has three other children that aren’t currently in her custody. “To have a place to call home after I left the hospital with my baby was life changing.” Two years ago, the 34-year-old gave birth to a baby girl who was taken into foster care soon after delivery.

Many of the women at Marisol have been exposed to generational trauma and didn’t experience healthy childhoods where they felt safe and loved. While mothers instinctively want a better life for their children, they may not have the tools to foster healthy relationships. The goal at Marisol Homes is to empower mothers to believe they are capable parents through self-reflection, mental health awareness, wellness and a supportive environment.

“There is no such thing as ‘perfect parenting,’” said Lara O’Shaughnessy, LCSW, Marisol Services specialist. “Relieving all mothers of the pressure to be perfect releases some of the shame and guilt they carry from past experiences. At Marisol, we encourage our parents to focus on the present/future relationship with their children, reassuring mothers that it is never too late to strengthen the loving bond with their little ones. We strive to nurture connection between mother and child so that their family unit can thrive.”

Tiffany and Dianna are two of the mothers who safely carried their babies at Marisol Homes until their third trimester.

Marisol Health offers compassionate options for mother of twins, Alyssa 

The news of Alyssa’s pregnancy was unexpected. As many do in this position, she found herself contemplating different options and next steps. She took to the internet and started scrolling.

Towards the end of her search that was filled with frightening keywords, Alyssa came across Marisol Health and filled out a general inquiry. The very next day, she was accompanied by both nurses and case workers who walked her through the process with dignity and compassion. When the news came about her carrying not one, but two babies, she was understandably overwhelmed.

Alyssa shared that she felt cared for when the nurses showed her that first ultrasound. She walked away from the reception desk and knew that Marisol Health staff would be there to support her on this uncertain journey. And they did, they took her step by step.

Her twin girls Amelia and Brielle were born in July 2022, and Alyssa reflects on the many blessings Marisol Health continues to provide her, even beyond the gift of her beautiful daughters.

“I never thought motherhood of twins would be this hard. I feel like I can get up and do it every day, even when I am so exhausted, because I have support and resources such as Marisol Health.”

On top of offering prenatal care, Marisol Health assisted in the items needed for a mother of twins. They even helped Alyssa set up a baby registry. The postpartum counseling at Marisol Health that Alyssa receives from the support she needs as a new mother.

“I am blown away by the love I have received, even after my twins were born. From care packages to diaper donations, I am so grateful to have found Marisol Health,” Alyssa shared.

With help from Marisol Homes, Nichole regains custody of her son

When she entered Marisol Homes, 27-year-old Nichole had been fighting a battle with addiction for eight years. When she was in her early 20’s, despite her opioid use, she had been able to maintain jobs in Crested Butte and Breckenridge. Soon, however, her coworkers noticed challenges that came from her drug use, and she lost her job and her stable income. Her journey into homelessness began.

“I would stay on friends’ couches, in their garages or their sheds. I even slept in my own car more times than I care to remember,” shared Nichole.

Life took on a new meaning in October 2020 when she gave birth to her son, Aiden. Although she hoped the arrival of Aiden would force her to get clean, she continued to struggle with sobriety. Nichole moved to Denver with Aiden to find a new community and a fresh start.

“At first Denver was far worse, because we didn’t know many people and I was without a vehicle. For the first month, we stayed with some friends, but then they lost their housing. I had little money but was able to get a hotel room for a few nights to try to figure out what to do next,” said Nichole.

In her fight to get sober, Nichole suffered a seizure due to withdrawals. A trip to the hospital led to Aiden being temporarily placed in the custody of Child Protective Services (CPS). Looking back at this traumatic event, Nichole considers it a “blessing in disguise.”

“It was horrible at first, being without my son. But I knew he was safe. And at the time, that was more than I could offer him. The judge on our case said that I could get him back, but I needed to find stable, suitable housing,” Nichole shared. Nichole was staying at an emergency shelter in Denver that was preparing to close. She considers the next phase as one of God’s graces. That emergency shelter connected her to Samaritan House on Lawrence Street, operated by Catholic Charities of Denver. At the time, the family floor was full, so she was referred to Marisol Homes, also operated by Catholic Charities, which is a residence for single pregnant women as well as for single woman with children. Once her application was received, Nichole moved in almost immediately

“I remember talking to Vin (the program manager at Marisol Homes) on the phone, and I could hear the excitement that he had for me, knowing that when I moved in, I would likely get my son back,” said Nichole.

While at Marisol Homes, Nichole made it her mission to stay busy. She got Aiden back from the foster care system the day after she moved in and knew from then on, she wouldn’t and couldn’t experience life without him in her arms. With the ongoing support at Marisol Homes, she was able to provide him with the safety he deserved.

Nichole attended classes, both at Marisol Homes and at the Jefferson County Business and Workforce Center. She was earning certificates and had a newfound love for learning. At Marisol Homes, she actively participated in classes about sobriety, life skills and parenting — any class that was available to her. She said she wanted to learn as much as possible to be a better mother to her son.

During a weekly community meeting at Marisol Homes, Nichole learned of a job opportunity. She applied and has been working ever since at the Women’s Bean Project, a transitional job program that manufactures food.

Most recently, Nichole received her Peer Support Specialist certification to help women that have been in her shoes. “I want to be a Family Advocate working with families that have lost their children to the CPS system, as well. I want to pass on the resources I’ve learned and create that feeling of hope for families that have lost theirs,” said Nichole. “I gained my hope back being surrounded by the people that helped me through my toughest times, and I want to be able to give other people that feeling back, as well.”

Madison’s Garden: An Amazing Group of Volunteers. “Feeling needed and valued for the little things we do.”

“A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” - Mark 12: 42-44 -

Receiving more than you give is a common experience for Catholic Charities’ volunteers. Serving people experiencing life’s challenges is a heart-warming and humbling opportunity to learn more about yourself and neighbors in our community.

For one special group of volunteers, the experience means even more.

Every week, a team of adults from Madison’s Garden, a day program for adults with developmental delays, spends their Tuesday afternoons at Samaritan House preparing sandwiches for thousands of neighbors Catholic Charities serves. Working closely with the food services team, these generous people know that their volunteering will make a real difference.

“I like helping people who are hungry,” said Maria Waymel, one of the dedicated volunteers from Madison’s Garden. “I put together 100 sandwiches today and that will help 100 people. I enjoy it.”

For Maria and her friends, the act of volunteering is broken down into three main categories: connection, accompaniment and fellowship.

Madison’s Garden considers itself a “community connector” by linking adults — who have developmental disabilities — to social and community needs. The organization is a day program for adults and their caregivers to grow closer to each other and their community. Since the group started their volunteer venture at Samaritan House, they have grown closer as a group, and are especially empathetic to the unhoused community.

The small but mighty Madison’s Garden volunteer team at Samaritan House has engineered an assembly line to get as many sandwiches prepared as possible during their two hours of service.

Maria ensures that all of the bread is laid out for Pete and Sandra to stack on the meats and cheeses. David oversees the operation by closing the sandwiches to prepare for wrapping.

Their record is 170 sandwiches in one day, but they plan to beat it.

Maria also volunteers at Marisol Family, a ministry of Catholic Charities that provides families with diapers, wipes and other items. Recently, Maria spent time putting together several layette baskets for expectant mothers to receive.

Madison’s Garden director Rosa Amezcua, has noticed a big difference in the group’s dynamic since they’ve started.

“As a director of a day program for adults with developmental disabilities, I find that volunteering is the most complete and rewarding activity for our participants. When we visit the ministries of Catholic Charities such as the Samaritan House and Marisol Family, we receive more than what we give,” shared Rosa. “The sense of belonging to a community, feeling needed and valued for the little things that we do, the welcoming and appreciation that our group gets when we arrive has been a great blessing for all of us. Everybody looks forward to it every week!”


Helping more neighbors than ever

“Every day, Jesus walks through these doors,” said Bishop Jorge Rodríguez when he blessed Phase Two of the Samaritan House renovation project in 2021.

In the past several months, many more families than usual have walked through the doors of Catholic Charities’ ministries and been welcomed like Jesus. As the volume of people seeking shelter and food assistance has sharply increased, our entire team has leaned into its mission to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and those in need.

Samaritan House in Denver, as well as Samaritan House Fort Collins and Guadalupe Community Center in Greeley, have welcomed more people than ever who need safe shelter, nutritious food and support.

“We’ve seen this influx for months now,” said Joshua Zielinski, program manager of the family floor at Samaritan House in downtown Denver. “We didn’t exactly know how we’d make it work, but we do know our mission which is why we jumped at this chance to help more families. We knew we’d have to make this work.”

The teams in Denver, Fort Collins and Greeley have reworked buildings to temporarily house more families than ever before, including reconfiguring women’s dorms, opening up common areas and even utilizing conference rooms and offices as spaces that families can stay together. Partitions have been constructed, temporary curtains have been hung and the staff has worked overtime to make sure that all who come through our doors are treated like the Holy Family on a cold night.

“We were able to take some pointers from our teams in Fort Collins and Greeley. We are actively working on all sorts of situations, as all families are different. We are piloting the conversion of some conference rooms into dorms for single fathers with their children,” said Zielinski.

Samaritan House isn’t the only Catholic Charities’ ministry experiencing greater need. Little Flower Assistance Center in Aurora has seen a dramatic increase as well.

“The need at our Center has nearly tripled since September of 2022. There are individuals with full-time jobs, those who didn’t have the disparity they have now, coming to our doors and out of their comfort zones to ask for help,” shared Virginia Fincco, volunteer at Little Flower. “We’ve also seen a great number of migrants show up at our doors.”

Last year, we saw a record number of families and individuals who needed help with groceries, clothing and personal hygiene items. In a single day in late December, 105 families (about 400 individuals) came to our doors seeking food and clothing assistance.

“We’re so grateful for our team, donors and volunteers who are helping us manage the increased needs,” said Donna Potter, supervisor at Little Flower.