Written by Mary McCusker
Beena O’Neil was one day away from becoming homeless.
She moved to New Jersey from Louisiana to care for her sister, who has health problems and needed the care of family. Once in New Jersey, Beena and her two sons, Sharoon and Simon, moved in with her niece, but that was short-lived.
“I called so many different apartments. I wasn’t working at the time because I was not only taking care of my sister, but also had to take care of Sharoon who has heart problems and Down’s syndrome. I was so worried,” Beena said.
Then Beena heard about Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, from a woman at church. She called and spoke to Michel Acevedo, a senior case manager with Catholic Charities.
“Beena is a hard-working and overwhelmed mom who was about to be homeless. This woman would do absolutely anything to keep a roof over her sons’ heads,” Acevedo explained.
“The first time I called Ms. Michel, I felt so encouraged,” Beena said, “Her words filled me with hope in that moment. I’ve come to the Catholic Charities office a few times, and I told her the whole situation. She really understood and has helped me every step of the way. I can tell she cares deeply about other people. That’s God at work.”
With the assistance of Acevedo and case manager Moustafa Aldoori, Beena was able to secure an apartment in Somerdale, where she now resides with her sons.
“They helped us find an apartment, and helped us with our first month’s rent and our deposit. Before we moved in, they even put furniture and kitchen supplies and beds in there for my boys,” Beena explained.
Acevedo is no stranger to providing assistance to families in urgent and desperate situations. “Our clients come from many different kinds of situations. Some have stage four cancer but have been sent home from hospitals. They’re in dire need of food and medical supplies. Others really help with utilities. But what we see from all kinds is that they just need to be heard and they need encouragement, and they need hope,” she explained. “We may not be able to solve all of their problems, but we show them that, above all, we truly care.”
The money that was used to assist Beena and her family came from the annual Justice for All dinner, the agency’s largest fundraising event of the year. Every penny is used to provide direct assistance to those served and assisted by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden.
Beena and her sons are happily settling in to their new home in Somerdale. “Having a safe place for my children to live and play was really important. Everything is close by, too, like Walmart and the post office. That’s a huge plus.”
With her housing situation stabilized, Beena is now able to turn her attention toward finding a job. “She’s already working on getting her certification to be able to assist as a teacher’s aide for special needs students,” said Acevedo.
Sharoon and Simon are in the 11th and 10th grade, respectively, and are eagerly looking forward to the start of the new school year. “There was a huge flood at my last school in Louisiana,” Simon said. “It had to be closed down for a really long time. I’m excited to be back in school.” Sharoon will be able to attend a special needs school after he completes an evaluation.
“He is loving and tries to be helpful,” Beena said, as she stared lovingly at Sharoon. “But he needs my constant care and attention.”
At a recent visit to Catholic Charities in Camden, Beena left the office with several boxes of clothing, toiletries, and food that the staff personally put together for her. And she left with hope for herself and her family.
“I’m so thankful, not just for the things that everyone has given me, but for how much they care,” Beena said.