Gregory Dunlap works at Goodwill Industries, but he should be a medical assistant.
The 60-year-old Army veteran has struggled with housing and employment in the past and has been homeless. Two years ago he entered a work program that helped him get his certification as a medical assistant.
He graduated with a 3.5 GPA and praise from his teachers, but when it came time to apply for a job, a mark on his criminal record from 30 years ago prevented him from finding employment in his field.
“I love my job and the people I work with,” said Dunlap, who successfully exited Catholic Charities’ Welfare to Work program in 2012. “But at this point in my life I want something more.”
Thanks to an initiative announced this week in Philadelphia, Catholic Charities may soon be able to start a program for the expungement of criminal records that could help Dunlap find employment in his field.
On Tuesday, the World Meeting of Families’ Hunger and Homelessness Committee announced the Mercy and Justice Initiative, a two-sided campaign that seeks to take up Pope Francis’ call to show compassion to the poor and work for justice.
“People from all walks of life, from all faiths … we’re coming together in honor of the visit of Pope Francis to take concrete action,” said Sister Mary Scullion at a press conference June 22 announcing the initiative. She started the homeless services agency, Project HOME, in Philadelphia in 1989, and is heading up the initiative and the Hunger and Homelessness Committee of the World Meeting of Families.
The initiative includes the Francis Fund, which aims to raise $1.5 million that will be distributed in grants to over 50 multi-denominational charities directly serving the hungry and homeless in Philadelphia and the City of Camden.
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, is one of six Camden charities that will be a beneficiary of the fund. In addition to the records expungement program, Catholic Charities hopes to expand its matched savings program, helping low-income Camden families save towards buying a home.
Other Camden charities selected to receive funding include the Cathedral Kitchen, Joseph’s House of Camden, and New Visions.
The fund has raised nearly $700,000 in donations so far from major donors that include Wells Fargo, Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation, and the Connelly Foundation.
“However, mercy is not enough without justice,” Sister Scullion said.
The second arm of the initiative is a justice campaign, urging lawmakers in Congress to enact policies that take into account the poor and work for justice.
During moving testimonies at Monday’s announcement, three individuals who had received help from some of the Philadelphia charities receiving grants through the Francis Fund shared their experiences.
Ann Marie Jones was a victim of sex trafficking. She found refuge at Dawn’s Place, a shelter for women recovering from sexual exploitation. Maria Guzman, a widowed grandmother raising her grandson alone, talked about going hungry herself in order to feed her grandson.
“My eyes filled with tears when I listened to her speak,” Dunlap said. “I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.”
To contribute to the Francis Fund or contact a politician through the Justice Campaign, visit MercyandJustice.org
Written by Joanna Gardner