The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia

St. Margaret of Cortona Transitional Residences

As written by Katie Bahr | Catholic Herald 3/11/09 "New doors open for area homeless New transitional residences in Woodbridge will serve as a shelter for families trying to regain financial independence. Frigid temperatures and snow on the ground didn't stop volunteers, donors and construction workers from attending the dedication ceremony of a new transitional housing residence in Woodbridge last week. St. Margaret of Cortona Transitional Residences is the first Catholic Charities program in Prince William County. Funded by the diocesan Rooted in Faith — Forward in Hope capital campaign and private donors, the shelter will provide homeless families moving out of emergency shelters with a safe and affordable place to live. Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde blessed the shelter and said a prayer for the building's future residents, saying that the building will be a place for families to find peace and to realize their own inner worth. "We have provided residences so that with God's help, they can learn not only to cope with life, but to succeed," Bishop Loverde said. Families will be allowed to stay for a period of six months to two years in one-, two- or three-bedroom units. During that time, the families will be given an opportunity to work and save money to become financially independent. While staying at the shelter, residents also will receive life skills, vocational and parenting training and other support. Children will have access to counseling, tutoring services, mentoring and recreational activities, as well as a private playground. The shelter is named for St. Margaret of Cortona, a single mother who lived in the 13th century and turned to the Church for help after finding herself homeless and alone. Because she later dedicated her life to helping others in need, she is the patron saint of single laywomen and the homeless. The project marks the second time Catholic Charities has worked with HomeAid of Northern Virginia, a nonprofit charitable arm of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association that uses well-known construction companies to build and renovate temporary shelters for the homeless. The first joint project was Christ House in Alexandria. This time, HomeAid worked with Beazer Homes Virginia to complete the building's renovations. "They looked at our project and they were really excited about it," said Catholic Charities board president Linda McMahon. "It's the biggest project they've taken on. Normally they'll do one house, but to have 14 units was a big project for them." Although it took a few years to plan and find a suitable building - a closed apartment building in the Occoquan area of Woodbridge - the actual renovations took only four months. HomeAid commissioned contractors to do the smaller jobs - everything from plumbing and installing kitchen appliances to removing mold and repaving the parking lot. Much of the work was done at cost or at greatly discounted rates. Some things - like the General Electric kitchen appliances and the Timberlake cabinets - were donated. "We didn't think we'd get all new appliances," said McMahon. "We thought we'd have to make do, but the company got all that stuff for them." In total, there were about $250,000 worth of donated goods, according to David Cogley, HomeAid past president. During the dedication ceremony, Mike Catlett, a member of the Catholic Charities board, talked about the difficulties the construction industry is facing in a tough economy and how they were still willing to help. "Many of the things and services they provided were discounted, but what they gave never was," Catlett said. To furnish the interiors, Catholic Charities held a furniture drive. They put up fliers in Woodbridge and worked with people from Goodwin House, an assisted living community in Alexandria. On the drop-off day, Catholic Charities collected 40 truckloads of donations. A few weeks later, the shelter held a housewarming event to get furniture set up for the rooms that would be shown at the dedication. Sixty people came from parishes all over the diocese. Some of the volunteers had backgrounds in interior decorating. "They went around and sorted out all those things and mixed and matched and they were so good at it that everything looked like it belonged and looked like a home," McMahon said. Jenine Purdy, who works with the diocesan Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, was impressed with the apartments while she helped out at the dedication ceremony. "I think it's amazing how they pulled together all the donations," she said. "It's very inviting and colorful. I can just imagine how wonderful and inviting this will be for someone without a home." At the dedication ceremony, Catholic Charities Executive Director Steve Lutheran thanked the community, the construction crews, the donors and all the volunteers who helped with the project. "One thing that struck me the most was all the people this project brought together," he said. McMahon agreed, saying one of the most powerful things about the renovation project was the number of people who came out of the woodwork to make it happen. "There was an element of coming together that couldn't have been planned," McMahon said. "It all just came out of the goodness of people's hearts." Families should be able to move into the residence within the next two to three weeks, according to McMahon. "This is when the work really begins - helping people with the scourge of homelessness," said Lutheran. "We hope that God will walk with the people living here so that one day they'll be able to find a place to call home."