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9/21/2017 9:00:00 AM
CATHOLIC CHARITIES AND MORE
Volunteers from Diocese heading south to help after hurricanes
CATHOLIC CHARITIES VOLUNTEERS Alisa Nurminen, Peter Catal, Samantha Coluccio and Bob Boehlert pose before leaving to help with aid efforts in Houston, Tx. David Gabrielson and Alysabeth VanBramer from Catholic Charities are also volunteering. Catholic Charities CEO Vincent Colonno told them, “You’ve shown the true heart of Catholic Charities. When you meet people who have lost everything, let them know that there are folks up north, and all over the country, who send their love and support.”
CATHOLIC CHARITIES VOLUNTEERS Alisa Nurminen, Peter Catal, Samantha Coluccio and Bob Boehlert pose before leaving to help with aid efforts in Houston, Tx. David Gabrielson and Alysabeth VanBramer from Catholic Charities are also volunteering. Catholic Charities CEO Vincent Colonno told them, “You’ve shown the true heart of Catholic Charities. When you meet people who have lost everything, let them know that there are folks up north, and all over the country, who send their love and support.”
PHYLLIS MESCIA
PHYLLIS MESCIA
Catholic Charities is coordinating the Albany Diocese's donations. All proceeds will be sent to storm-affected areas. Donate online at www.ccrcda.org or send checks to Hurricane Harvey Relief, c/o Development Office, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, 40 North Main Ave., Albany, NY 12203.
"If Yeshua [Jesus] was here, would He say I'm too old to do this? He'd say, 'I'll give you the strength. I'll give you the grace. Go,'" said 71-year-old Phyllis Mescia.

Mrs. Mescia, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in East Greenbush, is one of scores of residents of the Albany Diocese who have completed Red Cross training to volunteer with relief efforts after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

When she spoke with The Evangelist, she was awaiting a phone call to tell her when she'd be leaving and whether she'd be deployed to Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia or the Carolinas.

Meanwhile, six employees of Catholic Charities of the Albany Diocese of Albany left Sept. 18 for Houston, Tx., to assist with recovery from Hurricane Harvey. At least 18 others are waiting to be deployed in the coming weeks.

All the volunteers are spending two weeks providing "backup and support" to Catholic Charities in Houston, said Bob Boehlert of Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Latham, one of the six Catholic Charities volunteers.

Door to door
Mr. Boehlert expects to be canvassing neighborhoods in the Houston area, talking to residents about their needs and matching them up with available assistance.

Albany Catholic Charities already has extensive experience in providing volunteers in the wake of natural disasters. Groups of employees were deployed to do case management after storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, earning the nickname the "Albany Angels."

Mr. Boehlert, like three others in the group just sent to Houston, works for Catholic Charities' Disabilities Services. A part-time consultant, he previously spent 31 years doing quality assurance for the agency. The rest of the Catholic Charities volunteers work for the agency's Care Coordination Services.

Mrs. Mescia, for her part, spent 50 years in administrative roles in the medical field, including working in emergency rooms and coordinating a pulmonary and critical care program for Albany Medical Center.

Now that she's retired and still in excellent health, she said, "I have a desire to help where I can."

Mrs. Mescia was at Mass a week after Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas and Louisiana when parishioners began singing the hymn, "Make a Difference."

She said her heart told her, "Do something."

Devastation
From Aug. 25-30, Hurricane Harvey flooded hundreds of thousands of homes and displaced more than 30,000 people. Recovery efforts are expected to cost billions of dollars. Then Hurricane Irma hit. Beginning Sept. 6, the Category-4 storm devastated Florida -- especially the Florida keys -- several Caribbean islands and northern Cuba, among other areas. More than 125 deaths have been attributed to the back-to-back hurricanes.

After an eight-and-a-half-hour Red Cross course on everything from setting up a shelter to working with local governments on coordinating aid, Mrs. Mescia told The Evangelist, "I'm ready to go whenever."

Both the Red Cross volunteers and those from Catholic Charities are deployed for two-week stints. Mrs. Mescia also expects to interface with Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops' overseas relief agency, which is also at work in the hurricane-affected areas.

She said of the volunteers: "You can go home after two weeks. These people [affected by the hurricanes] are stuck with this reality."

Determined to help
Catholic Charities and the Red Cross caution volunteers that high humidity, 12-hour days, mosquitoes and transportation challenges await them, but none of that fazes the group.

"We're committed to doing whatever we can," Mr. Boehlert said. "The primary activity will be identifying needs in the community. The situation is still unfolding."

Volunteering, he said, is another way of furthering Catholic Charities' mission of social justice. He cited three priorities after a disaster: making sure people are safe, making sure they have a place to live and making sure they have food.

"I have four grandchildren," Mr. Boehlert added. He hopes that, if they were ever in a crisis like this, there would be people to step in and help them.

"Catholic Charities has a good track record of helping out where we can," he added.

"I'm optimistic that this will be a good experience, a rewarding experience," he said.

Mrs. Mescia, who is also a eucharistic minister at her parish and a member of Holy Spirit's funeral ministry, pointed to the faith connection in volunteer work.

With hurricane survivors, she said, "I just want to help. Give these people a hug and a prayer and let them know Yeshua is with them and will give them the strength to move on and rebuild."





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