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The Ministry of Caring Builds New Beginnings

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A HELPING HAND

The Ministry of Caring offers aid to Delaware’s poor.

The Ministry of Caring is a non-profit organization that provides a community-based network of social, health and support services for people in greater Wilmington who are marginalized, including the working poor and people who are homeless. The ministry was founded in 1977 by Brother Ronald Giannone, a Capuchin Franciscan friar who was sent by his order to help people living in poverty in Wilmington. He says, “The poor should never be treated poorly.” Today, the organization has an annual budget of more than $10 million and operates more than 20 programs that provide food, shelter, health care, job training and placement, day care and emergency services for people in need. In addition to its dedicated staff, the Ministry of Caring (506 N. Church St., Wilmington, 652-5523, www.ministryofcaring.org) relies on volunteers and contributions from supporters. Despite decades spent helping the poor, there is much work to be done. Still, there are many successes to celebrate, one person at a time. Here are some of their stories.

Robert Shelton, picking out clothing at Samaritan Outreach, credits the Ministry of Caring with helping him find a home and employment. Samaritan Outreach is a ministry program that assists the homeless with basic needs.

A TURN AROUND

A homeless woman finds a reason to smile.

Years ago, Kimberlee Miller owned her own greeting-card company. She had a home and a family. In recent years, she didn’t have much reason to smile. She lost her business. She got divorced. Her parents died after long illnesses. She had been their devoted caregiver. She also had lots of dental problems, but no insurance. She went to live with her sister, but that didn’t work out. “After my sister kicked me out, I cried all the time,” she recalls. Diagnosed with major depression, she went to live at Mary Mother of Hope House I, a shelter for homeless women at the Ministry of Caring. Miller then moved to a new home, Bethany House II, which offers programs for women with special needs, including mental-health problems, the effects of substance abuse, learning disabilities and long-term health problems, such as HIV and hepatitis C. “Bethany is a steppingstone, a place to call home, while case managers work with individuals to get them on the road to recovery,” says Annie Mountain, program director of Bethany House I & II and several other Ministry of Caring housing facilities. Miller, 55, was soon connected with a job she enjoys, working as a pricer at a Salvation Army Thrift Store in Wilmington five days a week, four hours a day. The Ministry of Caring also linked her with much-needed dental work at the Pierre Toussaint Dental Office. “I had what my dentist called milk teeth, very soft,” she says. “No matter how many times they put in fillings, they fell out.” Miller had a plate, but it was badly cracked. Dr. Gary Isaacs, the dentist at Pierre Toussaint, provided her with full dentures on her upper teeth and a partial plate on her lowers.“ Dr. Isaacs is gentle, soft-spoken and always has a smile for you,” she says. “Restoring my smile gives me the confidence I need to work on me.” Mountain says Miller has blossomed into an accomplished person who is an inspiration to others. “Kim is a lovely woman and a great model for other women,” she says. These days, Miller is saving for a car, which will enable her to take on a second job. She looks forward to the future. “I’ve come a long way in only a year, thanks to the support I’ve received at the Ministry of Caring,” she says. “I love my smile.”

The free dental work that Kimberlee Miller received was just one of the ways the Ministry of Caring helped her rebuild her life. 

BACK TO SCHOOL

Vernell Brown was a bright young man with a bright future. He attended a prestigious private school and had won a scholarship to Brown University. His prospects for an Ivy League education were derailed when he was busted for marijuana. He was only in his teens, but his problems with drugs and alcohol were already established and would torment him for decades to come. Brown went through lots of jobs, mostly in customer service, where his natural charm and concern for others might have served him well. “I could get jobs, but I couldn’t keep them because of my problems with addiction,” he says. By 2012, he was homeless. Brown entered the House of Joseph I, a residential program established by the Ministry of Caring for men who are homeless. He attended daily meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. And more than 30 years after being expelled from school, he enrolled in a program at Delaware Technical Community College focused on electronic health records. “That got me thinking,” Brown says. “Wow, maybe I could pursue a degree in health administration management or clinical documentation.” After six months at House of Joseph, he transitioned to Padre Pio House, where six men, ages 47-60, live in a communal setting. “When they see how well-groomed the apartment is, it inspires them to live a clean life,” says Willie Newson, who manages the house. The men work together, functioning as a community. They hold budget meetings, spiritual meetings, group counseling, nutrition meetings and AA meetings. “It’s quieter here,” says Brown. “I have my own room, and I can study.” It’s proved to be a great fit. Brown is doing well in school. His relationship with his mother and his disabled brother is the best it has been in years. At DelTech, he is executive vice president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. He graduates in May. He and the other men can stay at Padre Pio as long as they like. But the goal is for individuals to want to get their own apartment and gain independence. Brown is looking forward to the day when he will be working and on his own. “At 50, my future looks great,” he says.

After years lost to addiction, Vernell Brown is reclaiming the bright future he envisioned as a child.

MORE THAN A HOME

The mother of two boys lands a job and shelter.

For four long years, Maggie Kellagher and her two young sons slipped in and out of homelessness. That downward spiral began when the boys’ father, her partner of more than 10 years, went to prison. “Then we lost the car, the house,” she recalls. “Then his mother died, and we lost that emotional support.” Kellagher had timed out of transitional housing at the Y WCA and had just completed certification in early-childhood education at Delaware Technical Community College when she applied for a job at Guardian Angel Child Care in Wilmington, operated by the Ministry of Caring. “At the time, we were living in motels,” she recalls. “Our savings were dwindling rapidly.” Guardian Angel serves 60 children, ages 1 through 5, mostly the kids of low-wage working parents who are in need of affordable child care. Many receive help from the state. “There was a position open last summer, and Maggie applied,” says Janet Chandler, who manages the child care center. “She interviewed, and we thought she was lovely.” Kellagher found more than a job through the Ministry of Caring. She was connected with Mary Mother of Hope House II, which provides emergency shelter for women and children. She and her sons, ages 8 and 10, now live in the St. Francis Transitional Residence, where she pays reduced rent and utilities. “I love my own little apartment, really cute,” she says. “There is an upstairs for the boys and a pullout couch downstairs that I sleep on.” With two growing children, she struggles to pay for food. Still, life is getting better. “I have a job that I love and a roof over my head,” she says. At the day care, Kellagher has become a valued member of the team. “She is very interactive, great with the kids and helps them with language skills. She could truly become a teacher,” Chandler says. “She is dependable, flexible and has a wonderful demeanor, very patient and kind.” Next year, the boys’ father will be released from prison. Kellagher is hoping the family will be reunited, and he will find a job. With both parents working, she is confident they will get back on their feet.“ There are a lot of resources through the Ministry of Caring that might be able to help him,” she says. “They truly care about helping others.

For Maggie Kellagher, working for the Ministry of Caring led to more than a paycheck.

BACK ON THEIR FEET

After losing their jobs, a couple moves forward with help.

Mary and Ronald Ruggiero didn’t make much money, but it was enough to pay the rent. Then, the heating-and-air-conditioning company where Ronald worked closed during the recession, and Mary got laid off from her job stocking shelves at a discount store. At the same time, the couple’s teenage daughter, Danielle, had a baby. “We all fell in love with Christian, but babies come with a lot of expenses,” Mary says. Lacking enough funds to pay for housing, the family was evicted from their Wilmington home. For a while, they camped out in their son’s garage. They also obtained vouchers to stay in a hotel through Samaritan Outreach, operated by the Ministry of Caring. Samaritan Outreach offers services to people who are homeless, including food, clothes and referrals for health care. It was not the lifestyle the Ruggieros envisioned when they were growing up in middle-class families. Mary’s father served in the Air Force; Ronald’s dad was a police officer. Now in their 40s, the couple was intent on making a better life. “We wanted to work,” Mary says. “If we could get jobs, we could support ourselves.” Again, the Ministry of Caring was able to assist through its relationships with area employers who share the ministry’s vision of helping others to realize their full potential. Mary was hired first, working part time in the deli department at a ShopRite on the Wilmington Riverfront. She has been there for nearly three years, putting in at least 25 hours a week. Ronald got a job two years ago at the La-Z-Boy furniture warehouse in New Castle. His full-time position also enabled the family to obtain health benefits for the first time in years. “They are wonderful, wonderful people and willing to do whatever we asked of them to help them get back on their feet,” says Louisa Teoli, who directs the Ministry of Caring’s Job Placement Center. “They kept a positive attitude. They never gave up.” That first Christmas, the Ministry of Caring arranged for the Ruggieros to be “adopted” by a group who wanted to create a happy holiday for a family in need. Gifts for the baby topped their wish list. Their daughter asked for shoes. Ronald wanted jeans for work. “I asked for cleaning supplies,” Mary says. With steady jobs, the Ruggieros are able to make ends meet. It isn’t always easy. But they know they are on the right track. “Life isn’t so much of a struggle,” Mary says. “Instead of stress, we feel peace.”

When the economy tanked, Mary Ruggiero and her husband, Ronald, lost their jobs and their home. The Ministry of Caring’s Job Placement Center helped them find work.

To learn more about the Ministry of Caring, visit www.ministryofcaring.org or call 428-3702.

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