Volunteers play a vital role at Casa San Jose, working alongside staff members, other volunteers and the Latino community to jointly achieve our goals. Through our Volunteer Recognition Program, we highlight the contributions of our volunteer workforce. Each month, we select a Volunteer of the Month from those volunteers currently performing above and beyond the baseline of excellence. At the end of the month, we recognize and highlight the hard work and dedication of one specific volunteer making an impact.
Mary Catherine Fleck
Mary Catherine Fleck began volunteering with Casa San Jose in January, 2020. She shared that, “For many years I worked in the Hispanic community in my hometown in Michigan, so when I moved to Pittsburgh for graduate school I knew I wanted to dedicate my Spanish and technical skills to a Latinx outreach organization in my spare time. It wasn’t until the #NoTechForIce rally on Carnegie Mellon’s campus in November that I was introduced to Laura Perkins and Casa San Jose. Beyond this series of events, I had prayed that God would use me in Pittsburgh and I believe that my involvement with Casa San Jose has been an answer to that prayer.“
When asked how she has grown from her experiences at Casa San Jose, Mary shared, “My involvement with Casa San Jose has helped me to expand my data management and Spanish-speaking horizons and to feel like a part of the Pittsburgh community. As a Master’s student in public policy and data analysis, my involvement with Casa San Jose has grown my understanding of how public policy affects marginalized communities and how community-based organizations mobilize to simultaneously meet immediate needs and push for systemic change. Once I graduate from CMU, I aim to work for an organization that comes alongside organizations like Casa San Jose and enables the continuation of on-the-ground work, while collaborating to challenge the institutions of racial and ethnic disparity and manifest the change we long to see.“
Mary shares these words of wisdom, “Life is particularly overwhelming right now, but it’s been helping me to focus on doing the next right thing. I don’t need to worry about what’s down the road as long as I can start by making one more step.”
Sister Karen Stoila said that “Mary Fleck is our Salesforce Angel. Fluent in Spanish and English, Mary came to us at a time of Covid-19 crisis and has done a fantastic job working with staff and volunteers to enter a huge amount of data. She has created reports which track our work with clients in various areas. She has been diligent, available, knowledgeable and creative. Mary is thorough and follows through on everything asked of her. Mary is a beautiful person inside and out. She is calm, thoughtful, respectful and very collaborative. She understands where a person is coming from and how to move them to a new level. Mary is a joy to work with.”
During these challenging times, so many of our volunteers have given of themselves over and beyond our wildest hopes. We could never express how grateful we are to each of them—delivering food to families; helping tutor youth, many of whom were unable to access the stay at home school resources; helping with housing issues; and in so many other ways. In essence, our volunteers helped to take care of our families at a time that was far more difficult for them than for many others.
Our staff says: THANK YOU, we could never have done this without you.
We want to recognize, especially, the following volunteers who have worked countless hours with deep compassion and dedication to our families.
Ruth has been exceptional at starting and managing the East Liberty office, not only did she knock on doors and put up flyers all over the neighborhood. She was able to make connections and collaborate with local restaurants so that employees could attend ESL classes. Ruth took the East Liberty from a small operation in a church to an actual outreach program, meeting people where they are and offering services to them, sometimes in their own homes. During Covid-19, she took the same desire and determination to help the most vulnerable and delivered meals, information, emotional support, and most importantly financial assistance when people needed it most. Ruth does all of this with so much love and respect for the community it is truly a blessing to have Ruth as a part of our Casa family!
Roye Werner is an incredible woman. She volunteers at Casa San Jose in any capacity that is needed: whether it’s doing an interpretation or translation, accompanying a family to an appointment, helping at the front desk etc, etc. Whenever a need arises, Roye is one of the first to offer her services. All of this is in addition to her formal role as Assistant Volunteer Coordinator who produces our amazing Amigos Newsletter. As if this wasn’t more than enough, she is a remarkable baker and supplies the staff with delicious baked goods. Much, much thanks, Roye!
As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, Noah was up to the challenge. He is a proactive, compassionate and energetic volunteer. Without hesitation and despite the risks, Noah joined our emergency food response group. Noah was always ready to take on any task to meet the mission for supporting our clients. I really appreciate being able to rely on Noah through those difficult times. I am grateful for Noah’s patience and dedicated volunteerism for our Latinx families. Noah is our everyday hero that I can count on getting the job done. Thank you Noah!
Casa San José has asked for help and regardless of the risks of the task, Eileen responded to our needs and joined our emergency food response. Eileen is the consistency that I relied on every day. Our emergency food deliveries would not have been possible without Eileen’s perseverance in connecting with hundreds of families. Eileen thought of our Latino community first and gave all her energy in supporting them. Thank you very much Eileen for all your dedication, thank you for being here every day, thank you for caring and giving love for our community!
Lee has served as a volunteer in different facilities at Casa San Jose. She loves children and when we opened our after school program she was one of the first volunteers to join the team. In the time I shared with Lee, I could see how loving and caring she is. She is very committed and has been of great help to our community. During the COVID-19 pandemic she has volunteered to deliver food to families in need and she tutors some of the kids from our after school program remotely. We really appreciate all you do for our community Lee. ¡Muchas gracias!
Susan Smith comes to us with a wealth of experience in many areas. She knows the public school system and has worked with survivors of domestic violence, and we continue to learn from her. She is excellent at on-the-spot problem-solving and advocating for our brothers and sisters in difficult situations. She is reliable and practical, and we are ever grateful for her time.
Marisa Tobias has been a volunteer with Casa San Jose since the beginning of 2018. In that time she has been ever more committed to our work and our mission. When she learned of the needs of an immigrant family who had crossed our Southern border seeking asylum who settled here she became their go to person for navigating the systems and processes of this country. Now, with the onset of Coronavirus, Marisa has coordinated assistance for dozens of families in Beaver and Butler Counties, bringing them much needed food and resources. She has been the face of Casa San Jose to all these families. Immigrants who felt desperate with the closure of their places of work and the subsequent loss of any income have felt dignity and hope when Marisa comes to their door weekly with a box of food and a boost of encouragement.
ELIA MARIA PARIS
Elia began volunteering at Casa San Jose in November, 2019. Elia has shared the following:
I was first told about Casa San Jose by Jorge Vela. I then contacted Sister Janice and was then explained about the process of becoming a volunteer. I was attracted to CSJ by its mission and the services provided to the Hispanic Community. As someone who was raised in a Latin American country (Dominican Republic), supporting the Latin community in my place of residency became my goal. The success of Casa San Jose, driven by its committed staff immediately caught my attention and interest. It has been my goal since then to support and contribute to the implementation of the organization’s critical mission.
My limited involvement with Casa San Jose has already yielded countless positive experiences for me. The highlight has been getting to know a large number of very dedicated and passionate individuals working together to improve the lives of vulnerable families and children in the area. I feel blessed beyond words to have the opportunity to support this critical and valuable work together with genuinely good human beings.
Rooted in my multicultural background, I want to continue to meet people from all over the world and learn from their rich culture and traditions. My most immediate dream is to extend my support to those who have been and continue to be less fortunate. My overall dream is to experience a more just society where harmony and prosperity for all drive people’s actions.
Sister Janice writes: Casa San Jose is so fortunate to have been “found” by Elia Paris. When she came to Pittsburgh she wanted to get involved with the Latino community in some way and to our great benefit she found her way to us. Elia is a multi lingual multi cultural woman who has a profound depth of compassion. She not only assists with accompaniments and support for immigrants in need she also is a delight as a companion in our office. Thank you from our hearts, Elia, may all the love that you give away come back to you abundantly.
Allan H Willinger
Allan H Willinger began volunteering at Casa San Jose in January, 2019. Allan has shared the following:
I was drawn to Casa San Jose through their online newsletter which included the call for volunteers at Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. There have been several meaningful experiences. First was my experiencing some of what is happening at the border by volunteering, through CSJ, at Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas in January 2019. This was my first experience meeting friends just released from ICE custody. We gave them healthy food, a warm place to stay & medical care while we helped them obtain transportation to their friends or family in the United States.
The second was spending time and playing with the children at one of Casa San Jose’s summer camps where I helped provide transportation at a few outings.
The third was a meaningful, but disturbing experience, as I could only watch as ICE forcibly removed a person I was accompanying to court, out of the Pittsburgh Municipal Courtroom. The experience brought me closer to the experience of friends from Latin America. Thankfully that friend is now back with his family in Pittsburgh.
The final experience was an opportunity to prepare a draft document for CSJ to use to work with police departments in Allegheny County to change their behaviors toward immigrants, authorized and unauthorized.
I enjoy my wife and retirement, staying healthy including walking and swimming, playing Cajun and Creole music, social dancing, remaining politically active especially regarding immigrant rights and gun violence reform, and continuing to learn Spanish to the point of conversing easily.
Laura Perkins, Emergency Response Organizer who has worked with Allan shares:
Allan Willinger became a volunteer in January, 2019. I met Allan in June of this year, when our I trained a group of Quaker allies at the Religious Society of Friends of Pittsburgh. On September 5th, Allan and his wife Jo Schlesinger accompanied a client to municipal court. Before the client could see the judge, ICE agents detained the client while sheriff’s deputies restrained our volunteers. Despite this traumatic experience, Allan and the rest of the volunteers followed the client to ICE headquarters to continue giving support to the client. That day was Allan and Jo’s wedding anniversary.
Most recently, Allan responded to a very last-minute request to accompany a client to court in Ohio. Although he doesn’t speak Spanish very well, he knows how to advocate for our clients. For example, when the judge didn’t see that our client was present, he spoke up for him. When our client pled incorrectly because of the language barrier, he explained to the clerk what happened, waited hours to see the judge again, and made sure that the client communicated his case effectively. None of this would have been possible without Allan’s kindness and patience. On the drive back to Pittsburgh, he explained, in broken Spanglish, the potential legal implications of what happened.
Lastly, Allan has spent the last month spearheading Casa San Jose’s project that seeks to document local police boroughs’ collaboration with ICE, with the goal of collaborating with them to make those policies better/nonexistent.
When our community is constantly being bombarded by attacks on our livelihood, safety, and identities, it can be difficult to see the good in life. That is why we want to celebrate the kind efforts of Allan Willinger.
Phyl Schapiro has been a remarkable volunteer. She brings to Casa San Jose a boundless passion for our mission matched by a very generous offering of her time, talent, and expertise. She also graciously solicited the participation of her family in our mission. Phyl has worn a number of “hats”, willing to pitch in wherever and whenever the need arises. She donated countless hours at a time of critical need at Casa San Jose and developed a plan that would facilitate support of and communication among other volunteers working on a similar job. Casa San Jose is deeply grateful for all that Phyl has contributed.- Sr. Valerie
When did you begin volunteering at Casa San Jose? I began volunteering for CSJ in spring of 2017.
What drew you to Casa San Jose? I had read an article in the paper about Casa’s work on behalf of Latino immigrants. It was shortly after the new administration’s attack on that population, and I felt the need to get involved to counter the ugly rhetoric.
What are some meaningful experiences you have had at CSJ? In addition to getting to know the amazing people who work everyday to support our Latino population, the opportunity to help a Latino family settle into their new home in Pittsburgh has been an eye-opening and extremely rewarding experience.
When did you begin volunteering at Casa San Jose? Sept. 2017
What drew you to Casa San Jose? A Pittsburgh Post Gazette article about Casa San Jose and the work they are doing for Pittsburgh’s immigrant community. Also, as a retired high school Spanish teacher, I welcomed a chance to keep up my Spanish-speaking skills.
What are some meaningful experiences you have had at CSJ? Many! The Team Smiles dental care for children event at PNC Park was terrific. I like driving people to appointments (medical, dental, drivers tests etc.) and helping them while there, especially when children are involved. The fundraiser in May was wonderful It’s great working with the women on staff at Casa San Jose as well—they are an inspiration to me.
What are some other interests—hopes—dreams you have? I dream of the day that our government opens the doors to Latino immigrants and makes it easier, instead of more difficult, for them to pursue their hopes and dreams.
When did you begin volunteering at Casa San Jose? Just about a year ago—summer, 2017
What drew you to Casa San Jose? After observing attacks by my own government on immigrants and refugees, I wanted to do something to help member of those groups and to act on my belief that immigrants and refugees are important members of our community. I heard Sister Janice speak about the work of Casa San Jose and decided that was the place I wanted to volunteer.
What are some meaningful experiences you have had at CSJ? My knowledge of Spanish (sadly) is minimal so my volunteer work usually consists of sitting in the office and bookkeeping. I do this work so others who speak Spanish and are skilled at the many tasks of the mission of CSJ can devote their time to that, what I call “the magic.” But, I do get to watch the magic happen around me. And, I know that the magic is actually achieved through lots of hard work. I watch CSJ staff and volunteers help newcomers and always with respect for and consciousness of the dignity of others. The all-hands-on-board response to the needs of a young woman who had been an unaccompanied minor, who had just turned eighteen, and who was waiting to be sent back to her family in Mexico impressed me. She was staying at a shelter where no one spoke Spanish. Over the course of several weeks, the CSJ community made sure that she was able to leave that shelter every day She came to CSJ during the week. On weekends she was welcomed into their families. These efforts did not change a difficult situation for the young woman but they did make it a little easier for her to endure the situation. And, with so much love and kindness.
Casa San Jose has become my home away from home. There is a completely different feeling when you walk through the front door, that you have walked into another world where people care. They are in the way Monica cares, to fight for justice and what is right. She is the first actual superhero I’ve ever met. The way Sister Valerie cares about making others think. Think about what is happening, and not glossing over the news as just another travesty, but rather to try to understand and help others as well.
In the way, Jeimy pushes her youth in every way to become all they can be. Her program is really a family that helps young Latin@s come into their own and create change. In the way, Pilar respects every client and treats each with the utmost humanity. The way Veronica gets into the gritty elements of service coordination no matter the situation.
And obviously, all this work comes from the environment Sister Janice creates. She ensures that each and every person who walks in or calls is taken care of no matter what.
Those who are drawn to Casa are by definition giving, caring, passionate, and eager to help. The family at Casa is composed of individuals who give their time and hearts to a cause bigger than any one person.
Thank you for all you have taught me about immigration and myself. I will be in Queens, NY if anyone is around, Y’all have my number!
Ruth Farrell came to Casa San Jose offering her time and talents in service of our mission in whatever way we needed. We soon learned of Ruth’s many gifts and experiences, and perhaps, even more, her generosity and compassion in meeting whatever needs arose in our families. Ruth has supported our Finance Office; she has provided 4 weeks of support for a Latina youth who wanted to be reunited with her family in Mexico but had to wait for government processing (with an ankle bracelet); and she has been involved in many advocacy movements. We are so very grateful to Ruth.- Sr. Valerie
What drew you to Casa San Jose? I first met Sister Janice when a number of church folk from different denominations began exploring offering sanctuary to any persons who chose to live in a church under the church’s protection and first met Monica at a “Know your Rights” workshop. When I started volunteering at Casa, I was impressed with its dual mission of providing services and strengthening advocacy in Western Pennsylvania. Whenever anyone walks through the door, the staff at Casa greet the sojourner with an openness to a new problem to solve and a new opportunity to understand how our broken immigration policies is impacting yet another family. I believe that groups like Casa who are empowering leadership within our immigrant community will help our city, state and nation create immigration policies that recognize the humanity and value of all that are contributing to our society.
What are some meaningful experiences you have had at CSJ? I have enjoyed the breadth of experiences that have included completing financial aid applications, meeting a family at the hospital to understand cancer treatments, hosting an “unaccompanied minor” as she awaits deportation, various advocacy marches, etc. I realize that these folks often have nowhere else to turn for assistance and so doing something that is really not that difficult means a lot to them. Contrarily, for me, it may be when there is nothing we can actually do other than affirm their being and story that touches my core most deeply. Every day I go to Casa, I can think of no other place I would rather be.
“I have worked with Sarah at Casa San Jose for over a year. Sarah is passionate about the mission of Casa San Jose. There didn’t seem to be any task that Sarah was not willing to respond to. Her faithfulness and dedication, coupled with her ‘big heart’ leaves us with an invaluable partner in our mission.” -Sr. Valerie
What drew you to Casa San Jose?
In January 2017, my work schedule shifted, and I finally had the time to volunteer at Casa San Jose! That means that the start to my volunteering at CSJ coincided with the start of the current presidency, so it has been an interesting time. I have always been connected in some capacity with Spanish speakers—as an interpreter, a teacher, an advocate, a co-worker, a friend–so I have been aware of some of the issues that folks face. Still, volunteering at Casa has been a big learning experience for me and, since the work done at Casa so directly impacts people’s lives, it has helped me to gain an even deeper understanding of people’s experiences here in Pittsburgh. My favorite times have been interpreting for a woman during a Mother’s Day celebration at her daughter’s grade school and taking a young man to pick up his green card. It has been a real honor to be a small part of these important moments.
“I remember one of the first volunteer days of Roye. Upon overhearing Sr. Janice and I discuss how Casa San Jose might best respond to the sudden influx of inquiries regarding volunteer opportunities in late Fall of 2017, Roye immediately looked up from her laptop and responded with this terrific idea and incredible blessing for Casa San Jose: why not create another layer of volunteers and call them “Amigo/a’s.” From that day on, Roye has continued to bring creativity, ingenuity, factual accounting of research, flexibility, wisdom and generosity to the mission of Casa San Jose through the regular creation and dissemination of newsletters to almost 400 Amigo/a’s” – Sr. Valerie
What is Roye’s role at Casa San Jose?
Roye Werner is the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator, assisting Sister Valerie in recruiting, training, and processing volunteers and supporters, and is a volunteer herself. She also writes various communications for Casa San José including a bi-weekly email newsletter.
She came from a 40-year career as a public-services librarian, primarily at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, and lived for several years in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Her first professional job was as the Hispanic Services Librarian at Lawrence Public Library in 1977. She has volunteered for numerous political campaigns and service organizations and has a BA in literature from Mt. Holyoke College and a Master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin. She chose to work with Casa San José because of its passion, vitality, and effectiveness, because Latino and other immigrants are being brutally victimized because she loves Latin American culture, and because she came from immigrants herself, as did so many Americans.
“I don’t think Jarrod knows how valuable he is to me and to Casa. His ability to assist me in so many projects has been such a blessing. Jarrod is always ready to help even when it is a strange request and I don’t have a lot of time to explain. Jarrod is quick on his feet and very proactive. I could not do my job without you, Jarrod!!! Thank you”-Monica Ruiz
Jarrod is our first volunteer to receive volunteer of the month. We asked him a couple questions about his experiences in volunteering for us.
What drew you to Casa San Jose?
A lot of reasons. I’ve always tried to volunteer in some capacity, whether teaching ESL or planting trees. But the thing that really drew me to CSJ was anger: anger at our ongoing (and seemingly worsening) treatment of people who only want to provide for themselves and their families. I needed to find a more useful way to push back than just being angry every time I read the news or heard about this happening in my community.
What might be some meaningful experiences you have had while working with Casa San Jose?
Translating documents of all sorts for Monica has given me an incredible sense for how many ways the Pittsburgh community effects, and is affected by, the latinx community. Coordinating our rapid response attorneys has felt like a substantive way to fight back against ICE injustice. But the most meaningful experience has been interpreting for our immigration legal clinics and working with our Pittsburgh Dreamers…it’s only when you hear people’s personal stories and struggles that you gain a sense (however limited from my vantage point) for what they’re going through.
Anything else you would like to share about yourself?
I try to tell anyone that will listen about what I’m doing at CSJ. Not because I want to say to people, “Look at me!” But, rather, because I want to say to people, “If you’re angry about this like I am, you can do something about it (and more).”