Rhonda King came to Catholic Charities seven years ago with nothing but the baby in her arms.
In September, the 37-year-old single mother got her first full-time job. Over the weekend, a state licensing board notified her she had passed the exam to become a licensed radiology technician - a professional.
In gratitude, King recently wrote a note to the 100 employees and 1,800 volunteers at the agency she credits with her success.
“There’s not enough thank-yous I can tell you or write that would be sufficient for all that you have done for me,” began her neat handwritten letter on a floral note card. By the end, she had shrunk her writing down to tiny script in order to include all her thoughts.
“I learned so much … about compassion, listening, walking together, setting boundaries. I appreciate it beyond what I can ever say.”
King is one of the more than 100,000 people assisted by Catholic Charities each year.
The agency kicked off its annual Christmas Appeal on Monday. In a month, Catholic Charities hopes to raise $575,000. But even if it reaches that goal, the charity will have a shortfall in 1998.
In addition to single mothers and children, Catholic Charities assists the elderly, homeless men and the disabled. It is the largest private charity in Eastern Washington, covering 13 counties.
Most of the donations come from Catholics during Christmas Day and Christmas Eve Mass. About 10 percent of the $552,000 raised last year came from non-Catholics.
King, who is not a Catholic, said she hopes to donate to the fund once she pays off her debts. Even now, she is trying to get her new employer to sponsor a family for Christmas.
“I can’t possibly describe how hard it was for me,” she said Monday during a break from her job at Associated Orthopedics. “If I didn’t have support, there would be just no way, no way I could have done it.”
When her son’s father abandoned her, King had little promise of getting a job that would pay enough to cover her living expenses. She went on welfare and began seeking support from the Childbirth and Parenting Alone Program at Catholic Charities.
Eventually she moved into the Guse Summit View Apartments, a Catholic Charities complex designed for low-income families trying to get on their feet. Each Christmas, she was showered with gifts from anonymous donors who had “adopted” her and her son.
The staff at the Childbirth and Parenting Alone Program, along with her family, encouraged King to attend a career counseling class and eventually enroll in a radiology training program at Holy Family Hospital.
When King couldn’t pay her tuition, Catholic Charities found a benefactor to pick up the tab.
It took five years to complete the schooling. Now, King lives on her own. Even if money had not been an issue, King said, she could not have found the confidence to pursue her dreams alone.
“All the help and all the encouragement is the reason why I am here now,” she said. “I could not have done it by myself.”
Even now, it’s still not easy. King starts work at 8 a.m. and often doesn’t get home until after 6 p.m. Her son, Andrew, 8, goes to a day-care center before and after school.
“I can pay my own bills,” she said. “I can pay my rent; I have insurance. And I love my job.”
On top of helping people like King get from welfare to work, Catholic Charities is committed to helping people who can’t work and those who fall through the cracks, said Donna Hanson, diocesan director of the charity.
The agency provides beds for more than 600 people every night. On top of that, it hands out thousands of meals and clothing articles every week, does chores for the elderly and provides counseling for children and adults.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TO HELP Donations to Catholic Charities can be mailed to P.O. Box 1453, Spokane 99210.
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