Voices of Poverty


Rachel could have fallen victim to the stereotype… teen mom who never finished high school, living in low-income housing, unable to find work, barely making ends meet… essentially living off the system. But not this girl, she was destined for so much more. She’d be lying if she told you it was easy, but Rachel is a fighter and she was determined to change her and her son’s lives. When asked, “What does it mean to have your son, Jayden?” Rachel immediately responded, “Everything. I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if it wasn’t for him. Don’t even know what I’d be doing.”

Rachel was just 15 years old when she found out she was pregnant. A scared teenage girl, she wasn’t proud; she was embarrassed and ashamed. Rachel hid the truth for as long as she could, in many ways even from herself. “I think there might be two pictures of me when I was pregnant. I was in denial the whole time. I think it finally hit me two weeks after I had given birth that I actually had a child.” But that’s when Rachel’s denial ended. She didn’t bury her head in the sand. With a great deal of determination, Rachel finished high school one year early, while working and raising her son.

Rachel continued to advance her goals, completing her CNA and enrolling in the LPN program at GST BOCES. Now as a single mother of a 6-year-old and college student, Rachel decided to buy her first home. After finding information on Catholic Charities’ First Time Homebuyer Program, Rachel attended the necessary pre-purchase workshops, received her down payment assistance and became Catholic Charities’ youngest homebuyer, at only 20 years old. When asked, “What does this house mean to you?” Rachel responded, “a lot, I feel like I worked really hard to get it. I plan on staying here forever. There’s a lot of stuff I want to do with it eventually.”

Rachel’s story continues with aspirations of being an RN, buying and renting out a duplex by age 26 and continuing to raise her son in Elmira. “I want to be part of making Elmira a better place to live.” A doting mother, Rachel continues, “I hope one day he’ll look back and see everything that I went through. Hopefully, he’ll have even better circumstances to achieve what I did.” Rachel is a testament to the power of inner strength and drive. She is an amazing role model to other parents and even more importantly, to her son.

Make a gift today to help others achieve their dream of homeownership!


Listen to Rachel tell her story about buying her first home and the support she received from Catholic Charities. She is our youngest first-time homebuyer!

Rachel’s story appeared in our 2015 Annual Report and was shared, by Rachel, at our 2016 Gala.


At Catholic Charities, Edie’s laughter is a familiar sound. Her lighthearted, sweet personality is known by most of the Staff, including those that do not work directly with clients. She shares more than a smile and a giggle, creating art and kind notes for Staff. She is absolutely one of a kind.

After the passing of her mother in 2003, Edie began an extreme case of attention seeking behavior by repeatedly calling 911 for false ailments. She could not maintain employment, care for herself, or her apartment. This behavior continued for approximately two years before Edie entered the Catholic Charities’ Gateways Community Residence, a transitional, rehabilitative group home for adults who have been diagnosed with a serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI). Catholic Charities’ Staff taught Edie tangible skills, provided her support, and helped her achieve her independence. By 2007, Edie’s attention seeking behavior stopped, she became employed at the ARC and she moved into her own apartment. Armed with a Gateways Case Manager, “(Catholic Charities) taught me a lot about the importance of a support system and guided me in the right way,” states Edie. “I wish I knew what I know now back then.”

Over the last five years, Edie has maintained her apartment, not missed a day of work and has not demonstrated attention seeking behavior.

When asked, “What would your life be like if Catholic Charities hadn’t come into your life?”, Edie responded, “I’d probably be lost.”  She was then asked, “Is that how you felt before… lost?” Edie’s eyes filled with tears and she nodded her head yes. Every human being deserves to feel seen and heard. Edie is truly a beautiful person and with the assistance of Catholic Charities, she is able to live with dignity and respect.

Would you consider a gift today to help others achieve independence?


When asked, “What would your life be like if Catholic Charities hadn’t come into your life?”, Edie responded, “I’d probably be lost.” She was then asked, “Is that how you felt before… lost?” Edie’s eyes filled with tears and she nodded her head yes. Every human being deserves to feel seen and heard. Listen to Edie tell her story.

Edie’s story was featured in Catholic Charities’ 2015 Annual Report.


While planning her third wedding, Cathy thought she had finally found the man of her dreams. And after two extremely abusive prior marriages, she believed she knew the warning signs. Controlling, possessive…not words she would use to describe her soon to be husband. However, in the months leading up to her wedding, Cathy thought things were strange. She was aware that her fiancé had served in combat and had some of the tell-tale signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): agitation, anxiety, and jumpiness. His previous wife had also passed away; another shock she would soon find had not healed. And once her fiancé stopped taking his medication, she soon learned the severity of the situation.

It all came to fruition on their wedding night. What should have been a blissful night, soon turned into a nightmare. Cathy recounts, “On my wedding night, we came home and he told me that I would have to leave because his (deceased) wife was back and she would hurt me. I felt destroyed.” Her husband’s psychotic state continued and forced her to leave their home. In their last conversation, he requested a divorce as he couldn’t stay married to two women…a situation that wasn’t real. Cathy couldn’t believe she had been blindsided again. She had no idea the severity of the situation, nor did she have any idea her husband had medication, let alone was refusing to take it.

With nowhere to turn, a friend told Cathy about Catholic Charities’ First Step Victim Services. One of the Advocates met with Cathy. “Years of things that had happened came out when I was talking to the Advocate and she was just so supportive,” states Cathy. “I explained what I was up against: the mortgage and taxes weren’t paid and I was going to lose the car because the car payment wasn’t paid. I got help with my taxes and Catholic Charities helped with my car payment…I couldn’t live out here without a car.”  Cathy’s home is a testament to her need for tranquility and peace. She recently built a fireplace by creating plaster stones by hand and her own beautiful paintings can be seen throughout her home. Staying in her home is imperative to Cathy. When Cathy needed hip replacement surgery recently, her Advocate was there to care for her two dogs and pick her up from the hospital.Cathy built this fireplace herself.

When asked, where would you be without the assistance of Catholic Charities? Cathy replied, “Probably living in my car.” Cathy’s eyes welled with tears, “Emotionally…I think I just would have given up. I’m not there anymore, but I thought about it a lot. I would have gone to sleep and not gotten up. It upsets me to think I’ve been put in that position so many times. And thankful that I didn’t do anything about it and without you guys (Catholic Charities), I probably would have this time. It was something that put me over the top. It was like enough is enough, I’m 62, it’s time to rest.”

We are so thankful that Cathy is here with us and grateful for the amazing work of our Staff. The First Step Victim Services program provides advocacy and referral services to all victims of crime in Chemung & Schuyler Counties, with a strong focus on victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. You must be an innocent victim of a crime (i.e. domestic violence, sexual assault, robbery, assault, etc.). If you are a victim or know someone that may be a victim, don’t wait to get help. Call Catholic Charities today at 607.535.2050; Call or text our 24/7 Hotline: 607.742.9629.

First Step Victim Services exists due to the generous support of local donors as well as federal grants. Please consider a donation to help local victims in need.



Listen to the audio clip below to hear Cathy as she talks about coming to the end of her rope, “I would have gone to sleep and not gotten up. It upsets me to think I’ve been put in that position so many times. And thankful that I didn’t do anything about it and without you guys, I probably would have this time.”

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Cathy’s story was featured in our 2015 Annual Report.


It’s hard to imagine the direction Sheila’s life has taken. If I told you she was a beautiful, introspective woman with a warm, humble personality… would you also believe she spent most of her adult life in prison?  What an amazing contradiction to the belief that people cannot change. Sheila is living proof that change is possible and honestly, quite humbling.

Sheila spent her 20s and 30s in and out of jail, using drugs and alcohol, and stealing to get by. In 2000, Sheila went to prison for the first time. Over the course of the next 12 years, Sheila experienced freedom only twice: once for 7 ½ months and a second time for 11 months. She admits, “I had five children and just lived off welfare. I just kept having babies by men thinking they loved me. I was searching for something.”

But what was she searching for?  Sheila’s answer came to her while serving her last prison sentence –  the reason it all kept happening –  “I was lying on my bunk and it was like a lightbulb went off in my head… the drugs and alcohol are the problem. That’s why you keep coming back.”  Finally acknowledging her substance abuse issue was a huge turning point for Sheila, but there was more. Her need to self-medicate came from a traumatic incident she experienced when she was just 14 years old. Sheila had spent her entire adult life burying this traumatic experience and had been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“That’s the number one key, once you understand what’s going on with you then you’re able to change it around. Because I didn’t understand about PTSD, I didn’t understand why I kept using drugs and drinking. I didn’t know anything about recovery. I just knew that I was very hopeless. I felt like my life wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Armed with her realization, Sheila began digging, asking questions and reaching out for help while serving her final sentence. “I started going to the library there and pulling books out about anxiety and depression. It’s hard when you’re in prison; you have to carry this personality like you’re down with everybody. But I knew in my heart what I was trying to do. I was so relieved the day I got out of there.”

Sheila has spent the last two years since her release rebuilding her life. First, utilizing Catholic Charities’ Second Place East Homeless Shelter and then finding permanent housing through Catholic Charities’ Gateways Community Living Program. “I remember walking down the street and I kept calling Gateways, I kept calling Sharon, to show her I had motivation and that I wanted to change my life. Sharon said, ‘we’re going to have a meeting and there’s no opening yet.’ So, I said a prayer. It was probably two hours later, she called me back and she said ‘you’re accepted.’ And I remember standing there and saying ‘thank you, God.’”

Now stably housed, Sheila’s made amazing strides from her sobriety to her relationship with her children. She has been off Public Assistance for over a year, she continues to work through her PTSD and has sought and won joint custody of her youngest son, who will be ten years old very soon. “He’s just my little guy,” Sheila says brightly and smiles warmly. “I teach him a lot of things, he teaches me stuff too. I love him, I love him so much.” Sheila hopes to rebuild her relationships with her older children who are now teens and adults. “We’re not as close as I hoped we would be, but I’m hoping over time.” Sheila doesn’t look at the challenges she is facing with self-pity, she understands that it is her responsibility to make it right. “The way I look at it, that’s my consequence for the things that I have done, because I wasn’t a nice person in my addiction. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I took from a child’s mouth because the obsession was so strong. And I just wanted to get high.”

Sheila is truly a changed woman on a whole new path in life; one where she can finally love herself and the people around her. “I think the main thing is to recondition your mind. I guess when you grow up in an environment that’s not healthy and then you go on to start using drugs and alcohol, it’s like ingrained in you. I had to turn things around – my belief system, my morals, and my values.” Change is possible and honestly, quite humbling.

Make a gift today to help others like Sheila make a change.


Listen to the audio clip below to hear Sheila as she shares her story, “when you grow up in an environment that’s not healthy and then you go on to start using drugs and alcohol, it’s like ingrained in you. I had to turn things around – my belief system, my morals, and my values.”

Sheila’s story originally appeared in our 2014 Annual Report.


Larry is living proof that addiction is a powerful thing. For more than fifteen years, his need for heroin plagued his life. His compulsion led to years in prison and tremendous loss…never knowing his children, homelessness, and alienation from his family and friends. “I truly and honestly never thought I’d be homeless…When you’ve lived in a house for 10 years, when you’ve got control of the bills and it’s a smooth ride. I was in complete control until I let the drug come into my life. The manageability of that and the high, I just lost control. I’m not pointing the finger at anybody. I’m at fault, I take full responsibility.”

In the fall of 2015, Larry was released from prison. A 55-year-old recovering addict, Larry had no home, no job, and no earthly possessions. With nowhere else to go, Larry found refuge at Catholic Charities’ Second Place East (SPE) Homeless Shelter. This wasn’t his first stay at the shelter, but this time would be different. After years of struggling with addiction, Larry came to the door with something more – motivation. He wanted to change and he was willing to do what it took to get it. When asked about Catholic Charities, Larry states, “their help is endless. It’s a program where they’ll hold your hand to a certain degree, but you’ve got to help yourself too. They’re not going to enable you all through the transition from homelessness, but they’ll walk you to the door and say ‘hey, you really need to utilize the help.’”

Larry took that help and applied it. He not only attended the necessary meetings for his sobriety and other services, but he spent his remaining time volunteering for Catholic Charities. Giving back to the Agency he refers to as “a spectacular help, more than words can express. I do as much volunteer work as possible. Somebody’s got to do it; I would like to be the one out of everyone to step forward.”

Larry’s kind heart is also visible when he talks about his youngest daughter and their recent reunion. “I was devastated because I was a terrible parent growing up.” Larry was in the transition of going to prison when his wife got pregnant. “I missed out on being there. I was staring at this child…mesmerized. She’s in college, studying to be a computer analyst. She was so morally intelligent, beyond sophisticated for an 18-year-old.” Larry also talks about the humbling experience of another man raising his children…“Humbly, meekly, modestly, I owe him a lot of gratitude and respect, because he raised my kids, probably better than…” There is a brief pause while tears fill Larry’s eyes. He then continues, “Probably better than me.”

The next chapter of Larry’s life looks positive. With the help of Catholic Charities’ Gateways Community Living Program, Larry moved into his own apartment. This new path offers Larry the independence of his own home, with the support of case management. Even if Larry slips along the way, one single mistake won’t undo all of his hard work. “It’s relatively hard picking up the broken pieces of the past. I feel enthusiastic with moving forward and getting my own place, getting familiar with my daughter and maybe being some sort of support in her life.”  photo by Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier

Make a gift today to help others like Larry get the help they need.
client LarryKeyser photo by Mike Crupi Catholic Courier

photo by Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier


Listen to the audio clip below to hear Larry as he shares his story and shares his opinion of Catholic Charities, “their help is endless. It’s a program where they’ll hold your hand to a certain degree, but you’ve got to help yourself too.”

Larry’s story also appeared in the Catholic Courier on April 5, 2016.