Hopeful Happenings; Fall Edition – Check out our agency newsletter!
October 14th, 2021

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Honoring “The Face Of Charity” In The Diocese
August 30th, 2021

TRUMBULL— “It’s because of people like Denis and Britta Nayden, and Gina, and Al Barber that we’re able to do the work we do. So in the name of all of us, all four of you, thank you. And God bless you,” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano at the reception to honor the Barbers and Naydens for outstanding service to the Diocese of Bridgeport.

More than 100 invited guests gathered under a large outdoor tent on the grounds of the Bishop’s residence in Trumbull for the event, which was jointly sponsored by Foundations in Charity and Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, the two organizations led by Barber.

They came together to recognize the extraordinary generosity and commitment of Denis and Barba Nayden and the charitable work of the evening’s guests of honor, AL and Gina Barber of New Canaan on the occasion of Al’s retirement after seventeen years of leadership of Catholic Charities and more recently for his service as founding president of the newly formed Catholic Charities Foundation.

Denis Nayden (picture with the Bishop) and his wife Britta, who was unable to attend, were honored during the evening for their support of many diocesan ministries that create opportunities and transform lives.

“You have been the face of the charity, which is at the heart of the mission of the Church, that base of Catholic charities. And you have not only done a remarkable job out all the years leading Catholic Charities, you were gracious enough when I asked you to step into the venture of creating Foundation in Charity. You were willing to make the transition and helped give birth to a foundation, which will continue to serve the needs of the poor and the most vulnerable in our midst.”

“I just want to say to you, thank you for your tremendous, tremendous vision, commitment, energy, passion, and love for those who are in need, following in the footsteps of Jesus as you retire,” the bishop said.

The bishop also offered praise to Gina Barber for her own remarkable journey in life as inspiration for Al’s work, an artist, and an active volunteer in her own right.

“Gina, we are also honoring you, not simply because you have helped out all these years, but all you’ve done in your own, right, because of your great love for the church and your love for those in need. You live the mission in your heart in so many quiet ways.”

In honoring Denis and Britta Nayden, Bishop Caggiano said their “extraordinary generosity and personal commitment to many diocesan ministries including education, special needs and social service have created untold opportunity and transformed lives and made a difference in our diocese.”

The bishop said that Denis and Britta are always there when he asks for support, and as a couple they bring great vision and faith to the diocesan mission of serving the most vulnerable who would often have nowhere else to turn.

Anne McCrory, chair of the Foundations in Charity Board and Chief Legal and Real Estate Officer of the Diocese of Bridgeport, organized the evening.

“With a focus on education, special needs and social services, your tremendous generosity has helped families throughout Fairfield County for nearly 20 years,” she said, “Whether through scholarships to the Bridgeport Catholic elementary school students, investing in parish religious education, supporting St Catherine Center for Special Needs, or donating to the many social services provided by Catholic Charities, the Diocese can count on the Naydens to lead by example.”

McCrory said that Denis Nayden’s notable business accomplishments are well documented, “But despite your tremendous successes, from GE to Oak Hill to Alpha and many others, what sets you apart is your desire to give back. With the many philanthropic opportunities knocking at your door, we are so grateful to have you and Britta as a part of our diocesan family.”

Mike Donoghue, who succeeded Al Barber as President of Catholic Charities in 2019, also offered praise to the honorees and spoke about the future of Catholic Charities and all of its service programs including its efforts to find a new home in Bridgeport for the Merton Center and the goal of building family centers around the County that will empower clients and families to move forward in their lives.

Donoghue praised Al Barber for his leadership of Catholic Charities and launching Foundations in Charity, and he encouraged guests to support the fund in honor of Al and Gina Barber.

McCrory thanked all those who attended including members of the boards of Catholic Charities and of Foundation in Charity.

“It was a beautiful and memorable evening, and we’re grateful for all those who came out to celebrate two remarkable couples who have given so much to the diocese and served as models for all those who wish to transform lives through their leadership, volunteering and generosity,” she said.

Conceived by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano and the Board of Trustees of Foundations in Charity, the fund will offer donors the opportunity to support the mission and specific programs of Catholic Charities now and into the future. Foundations in Charity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, was created in 2018 to support the catholic works of charity throughout Fairfield County.

To support the mission of charitable works of Foundations in Charity, visit the website at

*This article was originally published in Fairfield County Catholic.

Catholic Charities, Goodwin U, UB Commit to Refugees
August 27th, 2021

Catholic Charities of Fairfield County has responded to request of Goodwin University and the University of Bridgeport (UB) to join in the effort to assist recent Afghan refugees coming to Connecticut.

Helping homeless families get a new start at Bethlehem House
August 26th, 2021

STRATFORD – Bethlehem House has once again opened its doors and welcomed new families, after recently renovating one of its houses that help homeless families get a new start.
A community ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to mark the new beginning not only for the refurbished house at 389 Jackson Avenue but for the many families who will be given an opportunity to begin a better life.

“As soon as we opened it up, we were able to find families in need,” said Michael Donoghue, director of Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, the organization that manages the houses.

He said the need is real and believes with the moratorium on evictions, set in place during the pandemic that are now ending, the situation could get worse. “We are seeing more people who are housing insecure and for those that suffer from housing insecurity, this huge spike in housing costs is a terrible thing,” Donoghue said.
Bethlehem House is a grassroots transitional and supportive housing program.

In the 1990s, Deacon Paul Kurmay, inspired by the Holy Spirit, decided to study the issue of homelessness in the Stratford area and The Stratford Coalition for the Homeless, a private non-profit group, was born. He said they found that the biggest population of homeless people were families.

“We explored the idea of trying to open a shelter for homeless families and that got nowhere,” he said, partly because of zoning requirements and partly due to the stigma of the homeless and communities objecting to having a shelter in their neighborhood.

At that point the group decided to shift their focus away from homeless shelters to transitional homes for homeless families.

They found a home on Jackson Avenue with four apartments. It was in bad shape and in need of repair. They purchased it with donated funds and grants and decided to refurbish it. This time, no zoning was required and the neighborhood welcomed the idea of having the home in good condition and occupied.

“The houses were a blight on the neighborhood before,” said Deacon Kurmay, adding that it’s remarkable how the community came together and renovated the house with volunteer labor.

“The community wrapped itself around us. Professional qualified people donated services including rewiring the houses. There were thousands of hours of volunteer work and materials,” Deacon Kurmay said.

The name Bethlehem house is an homage to the most famous place that housed the homeless Christ child and family and befittingly, the first house opened its doors in the year 2000 for Christmas, when the first families moved in.

The following year, the house next door, 389 Jackson Avenue, came up for sale and after some renovations, welcomed new families in 2001.

In 2005, Jenny Tetaj and her three children were one of the families to move into Bethlehem House at 379 Jackson Avenue.

“I felt safe when I stepped into that (Bethlehem) house that night,” Tetaj said. “I felt this is where I belong.”

Tetaj, who is originally from Europe and didn’t speak much English at the time, said she left an abusive husband with her three young children in tow. After staying at several shelters over the course of several months she found her way to the Bethlehem House.

“If it wasn’t for Bethlehem House, I would never be where I am today,” said Tetaj, whose children are now adults. “I thank God and all the people who were there to walk me through everything.”

“Bethlehem House helped me achieve the goals in my life,” she said, from getting a job, to driving a car and now owning a home of her own through working with Habitat for Humanity.
“I felt like I’m around people who didn’t let me down,” she said. “I like to be independent and that is exactly what they did for me.”

“I will never forget the journey,” she said and although times are a little tough now, she is currently working as an Uber driver after having lost her job in manufacturing due to the pandemic, her spirit to succeed is still strong.

“I didn’t give up back then and I will not give up now,” she said.

It’s that sentiment of perseverance that also keeps the program moving forward.

In 2007-2008, “the coalition very generously gave the two homes to Catholic Charities to run,” Donoghue said. Somewhere along the way the second home fell into disrepair and was not occupied for several years, until now.

Catholic Charities applied for and received a community development block grant from the city of Stratford.

With rejuvenated interest, the community and neighbors rallied behind efforts to once again, address the needs of the second home.

“We want these formerly homeless families to feel the love from the community,” Donoghue said reflecting on how neighbors helped with small projects around the house including landscaping.

The upkeep on the houses can be challenging and there’s still work to be done.

The newly renovated house will need a new roof soon and donations from community members including the Rotary Club and the Mayor’s Charity Golf Tournament, will go toward that effort, Donoghue said.

Nine families currently live in the two houses. The bottom floor of one of the houses is used for offices, meeting space and social services to assist the families with life skills and finding permanent housing. Families pay rent according to their income level and some may be subsidized through Section 8 or other means. Families live in the house for about one year.

Deacon Kurmay said, Tetaj’s Cinderella story demonstrates why Bethlehem House is key to changing people’s lives for the better.

“We are getting people off the street and into a permanent home of their own,” he said.

“The neighbors are happy and friendly and supportive,” Deacon Kurmay said. “It’s a success story that builds community. It’s beautiful. This is all the Lord’s work.”

Statement on Immigration Services Provided by Catholic Charities of Fairfield County
August 10th, 2021
Please read our statement on the immigration services we provide in Fairfield County.
You can read an article written by Sister Donna Markham, CEO of Catholic Charities USA, regarding the humanitarian efforts of Catholic Charities at the border here.


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