January brings a new year and a new beginning. Here at Catholic Social Services, 2014 was momentous. After much preparation, we received accreditation by the international Council of Accreditation, demonstrating the soundness of this organization and the high standard of our work. We also said goodbye to our long time executive director, Susan Bomalaski, who accomplished great things here with your help, and the help and support of a wonderful staff. Among her many accomplishments was the completion of the new Clare House for women and children in need of shelter — a huge undertaking that has already been a great reward for the community. We celebrate Susan and our past accomplishments, as we move forward to a New Year.
As CSS’ new executive director, I have begun getting to know our programs. There are so many wonderful stories of fresh starts and success. A recent story I heard from our Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services (RAIS) Program was about a client of ours from Somalia. She was resettled to Alaska three years ago and was successful in getting work and establishing a home here. Before leaving the refugee camp, however, she was separated from her children. She worked with our program to have them resettled to Alaska, and recently reunited with her two teenage daughters at the Anchorage airport.
When fleeing dangerous situations, many refugees are separated from their families, and because communication is severely limited, don’t know where they are, or if they even survived. Can you imagine not seeing your spouse or children for years and not knowing if they are alive? The RAIS program provides a lifeline to many refugees in our community, helping them connect with and reunite with loved ones throughout the world. What a beautiful new beginning for a family to be reunited in a safe community.
Stories like these are a part of our work every day at CSS, and they drive all of our staff. In my first month, I have been able to meet our staff and hear about the work they do. I have also had the opportunity to meet some of our volunteers and donors, our extended CSS family, whose contributions make the work of CSS possible. I have also met some of our clients — those struggling with basic needs but demonstrating great strength and resilience as they struggle to deal with their present circumstances. These encounters have been inspiring and, I think, worthy of a New Year’s resolution.
New Year’s resolutions are a renewed focus on areas of our lives we want to improve. For some it is dieting or increased exercise. The stories at CSS have inspired me — and I ask you join me — to focus on a different kind of renewal. This year, let’s try to consciously give and connect with our community. It will not be easy. It will require time and sacrifice, but the rewards will improve all of our lives. Perhaps that connection can come by meeting new people while volunteering at the St. Francis Food Pantry or through touching the lives of homeless families by donating to CSS programs through the Alaska Permanent Fund Pick Click Give program when you fill out your application. Wherever you find it, I hope you will think about joining me in resolving to connect with our community.
Happy New Year.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.