May 2014 Posts

Rachel’s Lens // Sarah’s Graduation Day

I know it probably feels like I’ve written about Graduation Day multiple times in this series, but I just can’t help it…it’s my favorite two days each year! It’s such an amazing celebration of the hard work of life change that our program participants have done over the course of  years.

I went to our graduation celebration this morning to take pictures and cheer on all the accomplishments of our grads, but I’m also going to another special ceremony tonight. Sarah, from Champa House is graduating! When I first interviewed Sarah last fall, I was so moved by her vulnerability and strength. She was telling me some of her most raw moments, but following up with the promises of the Lord that have guided her through them. Her faith is admirable and her determination inspiring.

After multiple photo shoots, texts and phone calls about her story, I realized we had formed a friendship. She already attended my church and began coming to my small group with me every week. I looked forward to picking her and her son up each Wednesday night and chatting in the car. She added such a refreshing perspective to our small group discussions and integrated easily with everyone else in the group. Sarah has become an important part of my community here in Denver and her graduation means so much to me. It marks the end of the most difficult time in her life and the beginning of her future.

Sarah will be celebrated by all the other mothers living at Champa, the staff, her friends, and her family. We all will get to hear her story of transformation and shower her with love and prayer as she starts this new, exciting chapter of her life. I can’t wait to see the look on her face as she realizes that she has truly done it. She made it through. Ah, it makes me cry just thinking about it.

Be sure to check Facebook next week for some photos!


Rachel’s Lens // Harvest Farm 5K

I ran the Harvest Farm 5K last week with my husband. It wasn’t pretty, but we finished.

I just wanted to make sure all of you saw him, proudly donning a Phillie’s cap.

(Also, we had a 50 yard sprint to the finish, and I won.)




Rachel’s Lens // Baby Theo!

The sweetest little baby arrived here on earth this weekend…on Mother’s Day!

My brother and his wife welcomed baby Theo and my heart melted as I became a fourth-time aunt.

Sunday was a little bittersweet for me, as I could only follow the event through text messages and FaceTime. I watched through my screen as Theo was passed around from aunts and uncles to grandparents, parents and his sister. On one hand, it was such a joy to know he was born healthy and on time. But on the other, it was so painful to not be able to celebrate with my family.

I’ve talked to Theo many times throughout the week, as my brother graciously answers his phone as I call him for the fifth time at the end of the day. But the phone just isn’t the same. I have honestly been throwing myself a little pity party every day knowing I’m the only one who hasn’t held him or kissed him yet.

But then yesterday, I was looking through some paperwork and reading old newsletters and archiving files…and I started to read some of the stories I’ve had the privilege to write over the last two years. Here I was, wallowing in the fact that I can’t be with my family, when there are some men and women who don’t even have family to talk to on the phone. Who have no one to share a meal. Who have nowhere to call home.

When I considered this reality, I felt better. For the first time all week, my sour mood lifted. I was encouraged by reading the Mission’s stories of courage and redemption which reminded me of the blessed life that I am so lucky to live.

For those of you who interacted with me this week: I apologize for my mood. I’ve got a new perspective; I’ll be nicer the next time I see you.

(photo via)

(photo via)

Guest Blogger // A Mother’s Journey

Written by Valerie Cabrera, Public Relations Intern

Jen was 40 and living behind a Walmart, when she realized…she was 40 and she was living behind a Walmart. During a chance encounter with a high school friend while she was working at KFC, she spilled her problems to him.

She was an alcoholic. She had lost custody of her two kids. Her then-husband was in jail. She had nowhere to go and no one to help her.

Her friend’s reply was simple: “My wife and I will pick you up at 4 o’clock. You’re living with us.”

Jen stayed with them for her first 90 days of recovery in an outpatient alcohol and substance abuse treatment program. Today, she is over 640 days sober.

“In the past, I’d always told my kids to keep quiet about my drinking. Afterwards, I told them, ‘If anything ever happens, you need to blow the whistle and go tell anybody and everybody if I’m drinking.’ The kids felt very empowered.”

After completing that program, she received notice from the judge that her next step to getting her kids back was to find stable housing and a good school.

It was the first time she’d ever truly felt like a mom.

After a quick Google search, she found Denver Rescue Mission’s transitional facility, The Crossing.  She gathered all her paperwork, marched over to the location and was put on a waiting list of 4-6 weeks.

Four days later, though, she got a call. There was a room ready for her and her family.

“I just sat there and I was so overwhelmed. I just…it was…you know, it was like moving on to the next phase in my sobriety,” Jen says.

One month later, 6-year-old Andrew, and 9-year-old Gaby had moved in with her. “When they said, ‘Your kids are coming home,’ and the judge slid the piece of paper over to me and said, ‘You have all your rights back,’ I felt like 300 tons of bricks had been lifted off my chest.”

She continues: “My children have been bounced from every seedy motel in this town. You name it, they’ve been there. Knowing that we have the same room to go to every night? That’s huge.”

With a shaky voice she explains: “They’re very resilient and they trust me now. I tell them, “You guys are under my wings and everything is going to be fine.”

But the transition was still difficult for the family. “It was just a whole different ball game. We had to get used to each other again,” Jen says.

Rules and guidelines became a part of their lives and their mom was now, as Gaby describes, “strict in a nice way.” Since her time at the Crossing, Jen has grown in being a better mother and learned more about what exactly that entails. She’s gotten to know her kids and they’ve gotten to know her. She’s learned what works for her family: stability, schedules and a routine.

“When we get home from school every day, we watch TV and eat a snack. And then we come to the Bronco room to do our homework,” Gaby says. “She’s always telling us to pick up our toys.”

Jen recalls: “There was one time when we’d gone to bed and Andrew sat up and said, ‘Mom, do you think you’re ever gonna be less strict on us?’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry, but no and I love you.’ And he lay back down and said: “Okay. Just checking.”

Achieving sobriety, getting her kids back and providing a safe environment for them have only been the beginning of Jen’s journey.

“We just got approved for Section VII [housing], and we’re in the process of looking for an apartment. The goal is to have a stable, loving home for them, and to know that I can provide all for them,” she says.

Her favorite part of being a mom?

“When both lay in your arms and you know that they’re totally content.”

Jen with Andrew and Gaby

Jen with Andrew and Gaby

Jen and Gaby

Jen and Gaby

Gaby and Andrew

Gaby and Andrew



Rachel’s Lens // Learned Service

Words and phrases like sympathetic, bleeding heart, tenderhearted, and warmhearted all imply the innate nature of an individual, as if someone can only be born with these qualities. But I think in most cases, these are learned traits and a set of values that are passed down.

Naturally, I’m not a very compassionate person. I tend to be self-centered and focused on the shallower things in life. I know that sounds harsh and self-deprecating, but hey, I’m honest. My first instinct is not to reach out to someone or serve my neighbor. But I was raised by someone who does have that instinct.

My mom is one of the kindest, most giving people I know. And I think it’s because of people like her that there is a culture of generosity around her. A gift to love like hers is so rare that I think the rest of us are just mimicking it to make the world a better place.

I wish I could say that I was a service-oriented person and I guess working at the Mission puts me in that group, but I would have never sought out this work if it weren’t for my mom. Every time I call her, she immediately puts me on speaker and I can hear her flying around the kitchen/house/store/mall. She is always cooking, cleaning, shopping, decorating or buying something. But the key here: it’s always something for someone else. Literally, I’ve seen her fall asleep standing up while making someone a card. The woman doesn’t stop. My siblings and I always tease her about it, but really, we are just jealous of her zeal for other people.

So this weekend, if you have a mother like mine, thank her for the selfless love she has shown to you and the people around her. Thank her for her example, her commitment and her legacy.

To Patsy: thank you for showing me that life isn’t about me. The five of us who had the privilege of growing up with you as a mother are the luckiest. Thank you for teaching us the richness of a life lived for other people. And know that the life you live is an inspiration to so many and the seeds you’ve sown stretch far and wide…all the way out here to the homeless and hurting in Denver, Colorado. I love you and Happy Mother’s Day!!


St. Rose 7th Graders Get An A+

Walking into the gym at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy, I felt like a celeb.

The 7th graders greeted me with warm smiles and firm handshakes. Within seconds I noticed my name on the wall and my co-worker Aneta’s too. They had interviewed both of us over the phone months prior and wrote a paragraph about why we work with the homeless. Even my chair had my name on it! I sat next to other people who care for the homeless during a panel discussion for students, parents and teachers.

St. Rose students giving their presentation.

St. Rose Road Home was a year-long project for these students. They contacted numerous agencies working with the homeless, did hours of research and produced a pretty cool video. I commend these students and their teachers for diving into a tough issue. Something that is probably hard for a 12 or 13 year old to understand. But they nailed it! Thank you for including Denver Rescue Mission in your project and truly caring about the homeless men, women and children in our community. 

St. Rose students drawing.

St. Rose students drawing.

They also prayed a rosary over the homeless.

They also prayed a rosary over the homeless.

Rachel’s Lens // First Friday

Can’t believe a month has flown by and it’s already time for another First Friday! Here are some links I have enjoyed the last month:

1. We had a remarkable answer to prayer this week. City Council approved our Community Center! We are honored to serve our city’s most vulnerable in this way, providing safety, dignity and resources throughout the day.

2. There has been a hilarious NPR memo from 1994 circulating the Internet this week…about the Internet. Can you believe we only started using the Internet in businesses and organizations 20 years ago?!

3. Five years ago, I interned in Africa for an organization called CURE International. It’s where I learned how to take my education out into the field, where I met my husband and where I saw global poverty for the first time. It’s also where I got to know many men and women who gave up their lives and jobs in America to come to Africa. Surgeons, nurses, therapists, businessmen…they were all there, living, teaching and serving. I was so grieved to read about Dr. Jerry Umanos, one of three people killed while serving at CURE’s hospital in Kabul. Here is an article about the power of forgiveness and the strength of Jerry’s wife. She is such a good example of the work of service not being about us, but truly about the people we reach.

4. You must watch this video of my friend Sarah. She is one of the strongest, bravest and most determined people I know. And she does it all with grace. Her story motivates me and makes me better. I hope it does the same for you.