‘Tis the season to help the helpers
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – In less time than it takes to watch a “Friends” rerun, the local Catholic Charities staff fielded three requests for emergency assistance and a homeless family.
‘Tis the season.
That doesn’t include scheduling appointments and dealing with clients who need help navigating the three dozen agencies with which Catholic Charities partners.
It’s just another day for Megan McGee Bonta and Marian McDonough. McGee Bonta runs the local Catholic Charities offices in Eagle and Eagle-Vail. McDonough is Catholic Charities’ Western Slope coordinator and spends more time on the road than anything not named Goodyear.
More than 67 percent of Catholic Charities’ clients are Caucasian, McDonough said.
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Yes, most of their clients speak English, McGee-Bonta said. But think of it like this: If you were plunked down in England, you could probably communicate effectively but if you needed help you wouldn’t know where to turn or how to ask.
They work with lots of people from the immigrant population. Do not confuse that with illegals.
“Immigrant does not mean illegal,” McGee-Bonta said.
They’re seeing more working poor ask for help, more middle class families who’ve been thrown into trouble by some unforeseen expense.
“They’ve gone through their savings and trimmed expenses and they’re surviving, but then something happens or the car breaks down, or one of the kids need glasses,” McDonough said.
The Immigration Integration Collaborative combines the efforts of 35 agencies. Somewhere in there is the help these people need.
“Partnering with 35 agencies makes an interesting conversation,” McDonough said. “Megan’s ability to navigate the agencies is remarkable. Other agencies send clients to her because they know she’ll find the solution.”
Solutions should be sustainable, they said.
“What’s sustainable? Putting people in hotels is not sustainable,” McDonough said.
Clients are asked about family and friends first. If they have them, that’s the first move, McDonough said.
Sometimes they contact a homeless shelter. But there are no guarantees even then. Most shelters are full and busy. Some have had to go so far as running a lottery, McDonough said. The winner gets a warm place to sleep.
They spend more time working with wage disputes than almost anything else.
Working people sometimes don’t get paid. Sometimes it’s because the employer doesn’t have the money, sometimes it the economy, but sometimes he’s being a bonehead.
It’s across the board and happens in all kinds of businesses, McGee-Bonta said.
McGee-Bonta negotiates on the worker’s behalf, usually successfully.
“These people are working and earning paychecks, and then those paychecks stop,” McDonough said.
Since July 1 they’ve helped workers recover $125,000 in unpaid wages.
Most problems revolve around money, or the lack of it, so once the have their money they’re taught to take care of it and their families.
So McGee Bonta teaches budgeting and everything that goes with it. Budgeting with clients means even going through the grocery bills looking for ways to help, she said.
Then there’s homeless assistance. “We have homeless people up here,” McDonough said.
The goal is to catch clients before they’re actually homeless, to try to keep them from becoming that way. They range from high school drop-outs to people with post graduate degrees, McDonough said.
“We see all walks of life who need that help,” McGee-Bonta said.
Rental assistance is huge, especially this time of year. Occasionally someone needs a little help with utility bills, McGee Bonta said.
Then there’s the Law Enforcement Advisory Committee. It brings together representatives of the immigrant community with representatives from Eagle County’s seven law enforcement agencies to share information and resources.
“The goal is to help victims of crimes feel safe,” McGee Bonta said. “We look at what the barriers are, and help remove them.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.