Ellen Roy wants Orange County Catholics to do what God asks us: We must welcome the stranger, whether that means a struggling immigrant, homeless family or hungry indigent.
Now in her second year as executive director of Catholic Charities of Orange County, Roy relishes the opportunity to lead a truly Catholic nonprofit organization in its mission to provide help, create hope and serve all.
“What I know now after my first year is just how important our work is and the impact it has,” Roy observed. “We work to build strong collaboration with the Diocese of Orange and with all the churches to serve the community.”
Originally from Ohio, Roy lives in Huntington Beach, has four grown children and six grandchildren. She formerly worked as the executive director of Mary’s Path, a short-term residence program for pregnant and parenting youth from the foster care system.
In the coming weeks, Roy said, Santa Ana-based Catholic Charities will begin working with refugees immigrating from war-torn Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. exit. The work – beginning as refugees are processed through El Paso – mirrors the organization’s efforts in the mid-1970s to assist the influx of immigrants fleeing Vietnam.
Bishop Kevin W. Vann wants Catholic Charities and churches throughout the Diocese to help the new immigrants settle into their new lives in the United States.
“Our resettlement services are all-inclusive,” she explained, “from working on their immigration status to helping them get settled, job training, other resources and counseling.
“All of these refugees are trauma victims in need of special counseling,” she added. “Trauma can include generational poverty, as well as domestic violence stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. We’re seeing a lot of trauma because of many factors. Part of our work is to equip teachers to recognize this and assist them in getting help for their students,” she added.
“We work to provide a continuum of care for these families.”
Yet immigration services are just one of the branches of Catholic Charities, Roy noted.
The organization’s Cantlay Food Pantry, located in Santa Ana, distributes bagged groceries to about 1,800 families three times a week. A new community garden featuring 96 raised planters provides fresh vegetables, and the pantry offers free classes in growing one’s own food.
Santa Ana muralist Brian Peterson is completing two giant murals at the pantry, and has completed an interior mural, “Working on My Wings,” promoting selfies for pantry volunteers. Catholic Charities’ outreach to the working poor and the homeless, Roy noted, is often the community’s first step toward building trust with individuals and families who have lost hope – something she feels confident about.
“We offer one of the few places where people are recognized for their basic human dignity.”
A key effort includes transitioning homeless individuals and families who were served at Orange-based Mary’s Kitchen, recently shuttered by the city of Orange.
“We’re collaborating with a lot of other organizations to partner in providing housing and mental-health services.”
The critical need for services means Roy is under constant stress, as she is pulled in multiple directions – but it’s a lifestyle she embraces.
“Balancing a lot of things has always been my lifestyle,” she acknowledged. “I believe this is my mission. I’m excited to come to work every day. I’ve worked in private equity and on other nonprofit boards, and there is no other organization like Catholic Charities,” she declared. “I love working here – everyone is focused on the mission.”
The most rewarding parts of her job are seeing people inside the organization reach their potential and witnessing the positive change in the lives of those served.
“I see firsthand where we make an impact. We recently helped a widow who was terrified of being evicted.”
Another recent example is the family of client Efren L., who had to stop working to tend to his four-year-old daughter Selene’s July brain surgery. Efren and his family received rental and food assistance through the Cantlay Center, as well as referrals to counseling services and nutrition education. The organization has an annual budget of $4 million, which comes rom private contributions, the annual Diocese of Orange Pastoral Services Appeal, and grants from Catholic Charities of California.
In addition, Catholic Charities is embarking on a new fundraising program, “Waiting for Christ,” that includes a series of four videos highlighting the organization’s scope and services. The videos will be featured on the organization’s website, on YouTube and exhibited in parishes, Roy said.
“I’m hoping people will be moved to give whatever they can,” she said, “be it $5, $10 or to come volunteer at Cantlay.” Its goal is to raise $250,000.
“Catholic Charities is what the Catholic faith is all about – giving back, living the gospel. We are changing the narrative of what it means to be Catholic.”