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Blessed by so much generosity, we are able to help make Christmas merrier for other Catholic Charities programs -- especially those families we have come to know that are living on the edge of financial stability.

Debbie
Rambo

This year Victoria will be celebrating her six week old daughter's first Christmas with us at St. Ambrose Family Shelter.

Victoria arrived at the shelter as so many of our families do -- with the sum total of her personal possessions carried in two large trash bags -- and the last place she'd imagined she would ever be.

Proud to have been gainfully and happily employed for more than 10 years, Victoria maintained her own apartment and independent lifestyle. Shortly after discovering she was pregnant, Victoria lost her job, and when she was unable to pay her rent, was evicted from her apartment. She eventually found her way to our family shelter, where she has lived since the late spring. Inspired to provide a stable and happy home for her daughter, Victoria is working to regain all that she has lost.

Now in its 25th year, St. Ambrose was opened to meet the needs of the then-growing number of homeless families -- a startling though relatively new phenomenon at the time. Located in a former convent, the program now provides temporary shelter for up to 19 families, each meeting the state's definition of homelessness. Families stay in residence an average of nine months while they work to secure long term housing, strengthen their life skills, improve parenting if necessary and work to develop a strong support system. Parents work or attend training programs to be sure that they can become financially self-sufficient. While in house, families receive targeted and individualized case management, supportive counseling, financial management support and education, parenting support and education, and opportunities to strengthen the life skills necessary for success as they move toward permanent housing. Our goal is to ensure that families break the cycle of homelessness and are able to remain in permanent housing once they leave our program.

It is especially at this time of year that the generous support we receive at St. Ambrose from the community is both touching and gratifying. We don't do this alone: individual and group donors assist as do our corporate donors, churches of all faiths and local (and not so local) middle and senior high schools are among those who make this holiday giving program possible. As our program director explains, "We give out 50 gifts, someone delivers 100, happens every year. The more we give the more we get, we are very lucky here."

Throughout the holiday season the staff at St. Ambrose expects to distribute well over 1,000 Christmas gifts -- including not only toys and books but also warm winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves. In addition to food for the holidays, household items for families setting up their new homes are among the many gifts we will distribute.

We will assist not only the St Ambrose Family Shelter current residents, but also reach out to the hundreds of former residents. Blessed by so much generosity, we are able to help make Christmas merrier for other Catholic Charities programs -- especially those families we have come to know that are living on the edge of financial stability.

Program Director Rick Freitas and his talented and committed team expect to make it a very special Christmas for Victoria and her newborn daughter -- and they plan to make it this child's last without a home.

To learn more about our work, go to www.ccab.org.

DEBORAH KINCADE RAMBO IS PRESIDENT OF CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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