Catholic Charities’ employees regard their clients like family. They don’t go to jobs; they are called to serve those in need. This passion was never so evident as it was during the Bethany Family Apartments’ Family Day held August 19th!
The annual event, typically hosted by the social workers of St. Leo University, is all about bringing a day of fun to our residents and their children! This year’s celebration had to be rescheduled due to inclement weather (not untypical in Florida during the summer and fall seasons!). Unfortunately, our St. Leo friends couldn’t attend the rescheduled date, but we are ever so grateful for their donation of food, drink, and supplies for the event!). Bethany usually holds 4-5 events a year on property to give the residence a sense of home, community. The residents on their own have cookouts and potlucks as they choose.
Everyone enjoyed hot dogs, chips, soda and juice beverages along with candy and even retro candy from the 1970’s! The children, and even some intrepid adults, braved the ‘oh so slippery’ slip ‘n slide water slide! For as many children as there were (about a dozen), and the disparity in ages (between 1 ½ and 17 years old), there were very few arguments. In fact, with very few exceptions, everyone got along and treated one another with respect. The children, along with their parents, behave as one big family. When the event was over, both parents and children completed their assigned clean-up chores giving life to the adage ‘many hands make light work’. This lesson in responsibility and shared sacrifice is one that the staff uses to develop the residents in preparation for the day they must eventually leave (when they no longer have legal dependents living with them).
Bethany Family Apartments provides what is know as permanent supportive housing for homeless families with a head of household member who is disabled . The residents are everyday people who ran into situations with which they were unable to cope (bankruptcy, loss of a loved one, addiction, etc.) and who happen to have a disabled family member. As Program Manager, Taryn Mahabir-Best says, “a stigma is usually attached to the homeless and many come in defeated.” At Bethany, they are loved and guided through on-site case management and supportive services (e.g., GED education) provided by community partners so that they have a supportive environment that aids them and “provides them opportunities to recognize their self-worth and improve on themselves” as they work to turn their lives around and return to the path of self-sufficiency.
Residents include people like new resident Kristen Sundwall who arrived within the past week with her teen son, having relocated to Florida from the northeast several years earlier. Long-time resident, Maria Romero and her son, Michael, an excellent student and athlete, freely shares her story. After losing her fiance, former major league baseball MVP Ken Caminiti, to a fatal drug overdose in Brooklyn, Maria moved to Florida to be near family but her life quickly unraveled, leaving her jobless and homeless. During the ten years she’s been a resident at Bethany, Maria has had one son grow to adulthood and leave, recovered from her addiction, earned her GED, and recently was selected as the property’s resident manager. Her turnaround is truly remarkable and she attributes it completely to the “tough love” of Director, Tomi Steinruck and Program Manager, Taryn Mahabir-Best, both of whom she says she loves for their unqualified love and support.
Taryn sums up the residents and her and Tomi’s approach well: “What can I say about our residents is they are a strong, resilient, determined community, appreciative of all Catholic Charities has done and continues to do. They often comment on our approach as a ‘help up’ and not a ‘hand out’ which I think puts them in the right mind set to work towards the goals that they set for themselves while in the program.”