Presenting: WSCC's Heroes for Hope

This article was originally published in WSCC’s print newsletter, Miracles on 32nd Street, in February 2019. To subscribe to our newsletter, please click here. For subsequent editions of Heroes for Hope, please stay tuned to our social media channels.

It is often said, only half-jokingly, that West Side Catholic Center is “Cleveland’s Best Kept Secret.” To those familiar with WSCC and its mission, however, there are special things happening at the corner of W. 32nd and Lorain.

What is not a secret to anyone, is the fact that all causes need champions. Without the people who lend their constant and unwavering support, it would be difficult, if not all but impossible, for difference-makers to enact positive change in the world.

That’s why we’ve decided to highlight the people who, through their work and service, truly make our Center tick. More than just passersby on our journey, these people have been the heartbeat of WSCC for 41 years. Some of the faces are newer; some are mainstays from WSCC’s earliest days. But as the awareness and energy of our organization continue to grow, there has been no better time to honor its history and at the same time look ahead to its bright future.

We cannot adequately express our gratitude to those who have been a part of our journey, but we hope that you will accept our best effort. With this newsletter’s kickoff edition, WSCC is proud to present: a campaign recognizing the champions of our cause, our Heroes for Hope. We had the privilege of sitting down and chatting with some important members of our community. Keep reading to see what they had to say, and to learn what WSCC means to them.

Tom & Pat O’Malley, Volunteers

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West Side Catholic Center: How long have you been part of WSCC?

Pat: I’ve been here for nine years, and, Tom, you’ve been here, probably -

Tom: Six or seven years. I came a little bit after you.

Why is giving your time important to you?

Pat: I think, basically, everybody in the world has a responsibility to one another, and if we could recognize that, we’d have far fewer problems.

Tom: Well, I think we’ve always talked about the corporal works of mercy, and that’s what we’re trying to do. So, at a basic level ... feed the hungry, do what we can. Now that we’ve gotten into this program here, we understand a little bit more about how the clients have to get through it.

So, it seems like you both mention a kind of responsibility or duty, but we know that you very willingly and generously give your time here for us. Why did you feel so drawn here, of all places? What sets us apart from other organizations?

Pat: I knew one of the founders, Aggie Hoskin. I’ve known her for many, many years - she’s a very loving, caring person. She had talked about this place a lot, and we brought donations down here for years before beginning to volunteer. Previously, I had volunteered elsewhere, and it didn’t have the personal intimacy. The West Side Catholic Center seems to take a more personal, one-on-one type of interest in every one of the clients. It’s our job to lift them up.

What is your greatest memory or story that you’ve experienced or gained from WSCC?

Tom: The clients come in and you get to know them, like, “you’re the lady who always gets hot water for tea,” for example.

Pat: Over in the [Moriah House Family] Shelter, every summer, a whole bunch of kids go to camp, and it was just so rewarding to me - something as simple as that, which all my kids would take for granted. They’re some of the nicest, nicest little kids, and so resilient - that’s so admirable.

What do you hope to see for the future of WSCC?

Pat: I just hope it can continue. I think it would be wonderful if we could solve all the world’s problems [laughs], but you know, we are, one step at a time.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?

Tom: There you go, yeah. We are attempting to solve problems. We’re doing it one step at a time, and that’s about it, yeah. As far as what I’d like to see in the future here, I think there has to be more emphasis on getting more volunteers to come in here. It’s important to train them so that they want to stay, because in our observation, people come in and they think everything is roses, that you’ll be doing all this great work, and everyone will say “thank you” [laughs].

Pat: Well, exactly. You’ve got to train volunteers to understand that it’s the real world, not to expect.... You have to be thick-skinned. They need to get more people, more volunteers, in here. I think Veronica [Favela, Advancement Manager] is doing a great job. Veronica, I think, is outstanding. One of the things I like about her is that she’s here, she’s with us all the time.

Tom: She comes and says hello, and that’s important to volunteers. Volunteers have to be rewarded in some way, and a thank you is the best reward you can get.

Dean Lisowski, Former Associate Board President

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When did your involvement with WSCC begin?

I started my involvement with WSCC back in July 2015. Over my three and a half years of involvement, my role with the center and the clients has grown immensely through volunteering and participation on the Associate Board.

You’re obviously a believer in giving your time to others. Why do you believe service is important?

Simply enough - people need to help people. We’re fortunate to have not-for-profits such as WSCC to help our community by providing important services, but even more importantly, hope. Organizations like this one need volunteers, financial assistance, and a dedicated staff in order to fulfill their missions. It’s essential that we interact with our community and I’m lucky to have this amazing outlet through which to volunteer.

What’s your greatest memory or story from your time with WSCC?

I came to know one of the volunteer/ clients. Over time, we’d have conversations about his aspirations in the restaurant industry. He went to a restaurant training program and I had the pleasure of taking my family to the restaurant and introducing them to him. This past fall, I was ecstatic to hear he completed the program and will be starting his career as a sous chef here in Cleveland.

What do you hope to see for the future of WSCC?

WSCC has grown immensely in the past three years since I’ve been active. In that time, they have transitioned executive directors, expanded their footprint, started new programs, and renovated several facilities. WSCC has adapted to these changes, and I hope to see them continue this trend - continually reinventing themselves to best fit the needs of their clients.

Any parting words?

Every person I’ve met here - volunteer, Board member, client, or employee - has had a profound understanding of the mission of WSCC. They are some of the best people I’ve met and I’m so grateful for everything they do. It’s a truly humbling experience to be around so many caring, dedicated people.

Janice Lopez, Intake Coordinator, Zacchaeus Housing Solutions

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How long have you been at WSCC?

I’ve been at WSCC since July 2010.

How do you advocate for the people you serve?

When Zacchaeus [Housing Solutions] families come in for intake, they may have questions about their current living situation. For example, I’ve spoken with clients who had utility bills which were extremely high because the landlord had their electricity services rigged with the lights in the hallway. What I do as the intake coordinator is try to assure them that I will let their new ZHS case manager know of these concerns so that they can follow up. I’ve seen that just listening to them during this time of transition seems to relieve stress and anxiety that they may be feeling.

What’s your greatest memory from your 8 years of working here?

In 2017, I noticed a family (grandmother, adult daughter, and 11-year-old grandson) in my parking lot where I live. Every morning, their car would be parked not far from mine, and the windows would be a little foggy. After seeing the car for a couple of weeks, I thought they might be homeless, and it really bothered me, as the woman looked to be around my age and the adult child looked to be around my son’s. I wanted to approach her but wasn’t sure how, as I didn’t want her to feel a sense of shame. I thought about the fact that this was the time of year that we gave out backpacks with school supplies. I figured this would be a good way to make contact. I spoke with Jeanette [Mazzola, Family Services Manager] so that I could get one, and the next morning, I approached the car and gave it to the young boy and told him that where I work, we give school supplies to people in the community. I also gave her my business card. She was so appreciative and she called me the next day to tell me that she was homeless. I told her I understood and that everything would work out and that we would help her. She shared her story and I just listened. I was so moved by this woman’s experience. Whenever I would see her in the morning when I left for work, I would smile and wave. Getting to know this family reaffirmed to me that being here at WSCC is truly my mission. Someday, I hope we can acquire an apartment building where we provide safe, affordable housing that’s well-maintained. We need to continue approaching the people that come to us with respect and dignity - they deserve to know that they matter.