Charities seeks foster families for refugee children

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Can you imagine meeting your future foster son or daughter at a soccer match?
That’s what happened to Joey Luse of Brandon and his family, as the young Afghanistan native who joined them and one of Luse’s biological sons were on the same travel soccer team. After inviting the teen to their home a couple of times and getting to know him, the family held a surprise birthday party for him and popped the question on their minds.

“We said we wanted him to be part of our family as long as he wanted,” Luse said. “It was a little awkward at first, but as we were getting to know him, he said, ‘I am really glad to be here. I miss being part of a family.’”

Luse is one of many Jackson-area parents who’ve had teens from The Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program (URM) placed in their homes. URM, through funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, places minors in therapeutic foster homes, group homes, or independent living arrangements appropriate to developmental needs. All URM youth must enter the legal custody of the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services prior to their eighteenth birthday.

“The URM program has been active for more than thirty years in Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties,” said program director Ebonye Debose-Moore. “The goal is to assist unaccompanied refugee minors in developing skills to enter adulthood and achieve economic self-sufficiency. Our services include youth therapy, cultural orientation, translation services, assistance with obtaining U.S. residency and more.
“We place teens from age fifteen until their seventeenth birthday. They can remain in our program until age twenty-one. The minors come from many countries, including Haiti, the Sudan, Guatemala and Honduras. Some are victims of human trafficking. Some are victims of political persecution. There has been no information released at this time regarding Ukraine, but it’s a possibility we may receive referrals from there.”

The foster parents, who go through a URM training program, have varying backgrounds. Carol O’Connor of Jackson is a first-time foster parent. A former educator with the Jackson Public School District who once lived in Ethiopia, O’Connor has had a foster son from Eritrea (a country north of Ethiopia) with her since Thanksgiving 2020.

“During the pandemic I felt I wanted to do something of value,” O’Connor said. “An Ethiopian friend suggested I contact Catholic Charities, and I went through the training and got certified.”
Her foster son, though argumentative at first, became comfortable with O’Connor’s parenting style over time.

“He had a rough upbringing, spending time in a refugee camp. There’s no biological family he’s in touch with,” O’Connor said. “But he’s a cheerful person – I can tell when he’s up first thing in the morning because he is singing – and he has calmed down over time. He is now in twelfth grade. It has been really a worthwhile experience for me.”

While it’s only O’Connor and her foster son at her home, Sandra Pugh of Hinds County has a biological daughter as well as the African foster daughter she has taken in.

“She has been with me two years,” said Pugh, who has served as a foster parent for over a decade. “There were cultural changes for her, but we have a similar faith. Language was not a problem. Once she got going in school, it wasn’t a large challenge – she’s a smart girl. She will be graduating high school and going on to college.”

“Because we’re Christians, we enjoy offering a better life and opportunity. It would be good if we had more parents volunteering, because we can make a difference in their lives. There are many of the same challenges you face in raising your own. Once the foster understands your culture, they blend in with your family.

“We’ve found that the biggest challenge is the language barrier,” Debose-Moore said. “The youth that come over speak several different languages, English often being their second or third choice. Once they get into the home, they start working on improving English skills. Most would love to be in foster homes where they are culturally matched. That’s not always possible, but we do our very best.”

Luse’s foster son works part-time in the restaurant business and will join his foster brother closest to his age at college this fall. While very close to his Jackson-area family, there is healthy, ongoing communication between the foster son and his biological family in Afghanistan.

“It takes commitment, and not just in terms of time,” Luse said. “There were adjustments we had to make – we didn’t have a fire evacuation plan – but if that’s the price to pay to help a young child get through high school, get a car, get a job, and plan a path to adulthood, it’s a small one. We’ve gotten as much or more from the relationship than he has.”

(If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent with Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program, please contact program director, Ebonye’ Debose-Moore at (601) 981-0725 or visit

Charities Migration Corner: Form I-751

By Matthew Young
Many people do not know of an immigration application known as Form I-751. This form is required for a certain category of permanent residents known, somewhat paradoxically, as “conditional permanent residents” to remove conditions on their status and receive a normal green card that is valid for ten years.

The conditional green card is given to people who have received their permanent resident status on the basis of a marriage that is less than two years old. The card is valid for two years. The purpose of Form I-751 is to further confirm that the marriage is legitimate.

It is not an absolute requirement that the immigrant remain married to their spouse in order to file Form I-751; there is a provision for applicants who have divorced their spouses since becoming permanent residents, as well as a provision for spouses who have been the victim of domestic abuse. There is also a provision for applicants whose spouse has died. However, in all cases evidence must be provided that the marriage was entered into in good faith.

It is very important that Form I-751 be distinguished from Form I-90. Form I-90 is the form used by non-conditional permanent residents to renew their green cards every ten years. A conditional green card cannot be renewed with Form I-90, and such an application will be denied.

Form I-751 can only be filed during a specific window of time: the 90-day period prior to the expiration of the conditional green card. Applications filed more than 90 days prior to the expiration will be rejected and returned to the applicant. Applications filed after the conditional green card has expired are likely to be denied, unless the applicant can show that the failure to file during the 90-day window was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control.

For information about legal services relating to immigration, call the Migrant Support Center at Catholic Charities of Jackson at 601-948-2635.

(Matthew Young is an attorney for the Migrant Support Center of Catholic Charities, Inc. Diocese of Jackson)

Que es un residente permanente condicional

By Matthew Young
Muchas personas no conocen una solicitud de inmigración conocida como Formulario I-751. Este formulario se requiere para una cierta categoría de residentes permanentes conocidos, un tanto paradójicamente, como “residentes permanentes condicionales.”

La tarjeta verde condicional se otorga a las personas que han recibido su estatus de residente permanente sobre la base de un matrimonio que tiene menos de dos años. La tarjeta tiene una validez de dos años. El propósito del Formulario I-751 es confirmar aún más que el matrimonio es legítimo, se necesita para eliminar las condiciones de su estatus y recibir una tarjeta verde normal de residencia, que es válida por diez años.

No es un requisito absoluto que el inmigrante permanezca casado con su cónyuge para poder presentar el Formulario I-751; existe una disposición para los solicitantes que se han divorciado de sus cónyuges desde que se convirtieron en residentes permanentes, así como una disposición para los cónyuges que han sido víctimas de abuso doméstico.
También existe una disposición para los solicitantes cuyo cónyuge haya fallecido. Sin embargo, en todos los casos se debe proporcionar evidencia de que el matrimonio se celebró de buena fe.

Es muy importante que el Formulario I-751 se distinga del Formulario I-90. El formulario I-90 es el formulario utilizado por los residentes permanentes no condicionales para renovar sus tarjetas de residencia cada diez años. Una tarjeta de residencia condicional no se puede renovar con el Formulario I-90 y dicha solicitud será denegada.

El Formulario I-751 solo se puede presentar durante un período de tiempo específico: el período de 90 días antes del vencimiento de la tarjeta verde condicional. Las solicitudes presentadas más de 90 días antes del vencimiento serán rechazadas y devueltas al solicitante. Es probable que se denieguen las solicitudes presentadas después de que haya vencido la tarjeta de residencia condicional, a menos que el solicitante pueda demostrar que la falta de presentación durante el período de 90 días se debió a circunstancias extraordinarias fuera de su control.

Para obtener información sobre los servicios legales relacionados con la inmigración, no dude en llamar al Centro de Apoyo al Migrante de Caridades Católicas de Jackson al 601-948-2635.

(Matthew F. Young, Abogado. del Centro de Apoyo al Migrante de Caridades Católicas de Jackson )

Charities Purple Dress Run raises awareness

JACKSON – About 200 runners and walkers grabbed their running shoes and purple dresses for Catholic Charities 10th annual Purple Dress Run at the District at Eastover in Northeast Jackson on Thursday, Oct. 21 in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness month. Racers ran and walked through the Eastover neighborhood to raise awarness about domestic violence and to raise money for Catholic Charities domestic violence shelter.

If you need assistance escaping abuse, please call Catholic Charities Jackson at (601) 366-0222 or 1-800-273-9012 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or chat online at

Photo finish! At the last second, Steven Hernandez edged out the overall win with a pace time of 6:44 in the 5k run over Daniel Burnett with a 6:45 pace.
Patrick Weldon took home the best dressed win and first place in his age category at the Purple Dress Run.
At age 83, Richard Edmonson won the 70+ age category in the 5k run with a pace time of 11:50. Way to go!
Jessica Diamond and Rowdy (with a little help) cross the finish line with the overall win in the female 5k run category.

Domestic violence awareness month highlights statistics and hope

By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. And on a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide. These and many more heartbreaking statistics are shared during the month of October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but Catholic Charities program director of the Jackson Shelter for Battered Families, Sarah Bradley wants everyone to be aware of these statistics every month.

She says that in Mississippi 39.7% of women and 31.7% of men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes. “In one day Mississippi domestic violence programs served 354 adult and child survivors. Mississippi dropped from fifth highest in the nation to number 22 in the number of females murdered by men,” said Bradley.

“The statistics on domestic violence are distressful and concerning. The COVID pandemic has heightened stress among households which results in stress being taken out on their loved ones,” said Bradley.

Domestic violence is also a leading cause of homelessness for women and children. This is one reason the Jackson Shelter for Battered Families is designed to help victims or survivors of abuse and their children during this critical time by utilizing a trauma informed approach to shelter care, says Bradley. The shelter provides emergency temporary safe housing for up to 30 days, emotional support, counseling, referral assistance, court advocacy and other supportive services as needed.

This year, funds raised from Catholic Charities annual Purple Dress Run will help support the shelter by bringing about awareness of domestic violence and human trafficking. This year, the event will be held at the District at Eastover in Jackson and includes a costume contest and prizes awarded to the best dressed.

To support the Jackson Shelter for Battered Families, you can register for the Purple Dress Run or donate to the cause at

If you need assistance escaping abuse, please call Catholic Charities Jackson at (601) 366-0222 or 1-800-273-9012; or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE(7233) or chat online at

Featured photo…Elizabeth Smart shares powerful story…

JACKSON – On Sept. 14, Elizabeth Smart shared her powerful story with the audience gathered at the Jackson Convention Center for Catholic Charities Journey of Hope. Even after nine horrifying months in captivity, Smart was able to rise above the horrible things that happened to her and now advocates for the need to recognize and end human trafficking around the globe. (Photo by Tereza Ma)
JACKSON – Catholic Charities executive director, Wanda Thomas, Elizabeth Smart and Bishop Joseph Kopacz stop for a photo op. (Photos by Karen Brown)
Bishop Kopacz walks through the Catholic Charities Journey of Hope event greeting guests on Sept. 14. (Photos by Tereza Ma)

Elizabeth Smart to speak at annual Charities Journey of Hope

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Abducted at age 14 from her Utah family home in 2002 in a kidnapping that drew national media coverage, Elizabeth Smart spent nine months in captivity and had no idea if she would ever see her parents, siblings and friends again.

Very close to parents who brought her up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Smart leaned hard on her faith during her ordeal.

“I was raised believing the family unit was forever,” she said. “Even if I had died while in captivity, there would still be a brother or grandparent – my family would still be a family. Conversely, if I got home and learned one of my parents had died, I knew I would see them again one day, and we would still be a family. That was a very large source of comfort to me.”

Now 34 and married with three small children, the national bestselling author will sign copies of My Story and Where There’s Hope at Bravo Restaurant of Jackson at a meet-and-greet from 6-8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 13. She’s the keynote speaker the following day at the annual Journey of Hope luncheon, presented by Catholic Charities, Inc. at the Jackson Convention Complex.

In addition to being a devoted wife and mother, Smart is president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which focuses on fighting sexual exploitation, advocacy, and prevention education. Not surprisingly, she is quite passionate about using her platform to help young girls and women who may not realize they are at risk.

Smart, however, was hardly ready to discuss what had happened to her in the immediate aftermath. And while it took the case against captor Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, a whopping eight years to go to trial, a silver lining of having to testify in open court about what she endured was Smart deciding she was ready to go public with her story and begin her advocacy.

“I initially swore I would never do a book, a movie,” Smart said. “When I first got home (in 2003), I didn’t really understand what therapy was. In the first 48-72 hours I was taken to a children’s advocacy center where I was extensively interviewed by two middle-aged male psychiatrists.”

“They were very religious and good at their jobs, but I’d been abused – a lot – for nine months in just about every way you can imagine by middle-aged men who used religion to manipulate. Speaking to men so graphically about being raped was horrific, devastating. When I got out of that room, I thought, ‘If this is what therapy is, I don’t ever want to do it again.’

“Looking back, those men were investigators gathering evidence, and they were doing their jobs. They weren’t therapists, and I believe in therapy 100 percent,” Smart said. “After the trial, I realized my story deserved more than a list of ‘bullet points.’ I knew there was value in it because what I went through could help people understand and change, provide some amount of hope in their lives. That’s what pushed me to tell my story, to become involved in pieces of legislation.”

Smart will bring a message of situational awareness to her audiences in Jackson, as well as one of deep, abiding faith for young girls and women who’ve suffered.

“My favorite campaign that we do for the Elizabeth Smart Foundation is ‘We Believe You,” which is in support of victims knowing we believe them,” she said. “If you doubt their story, that can set the trajectory for whether they pursue healing in a positive or negative way: ‘If Mom didn’t believe me, no one will.’ It’s a poison that can kill you from the inside out.

“I want females to know they’re daughters of God, and that He loves them more than they can ever imagine. I want them to recognize that everything taken away from them and everything that caused them distress can be healed,” said Smart.

Journey of Hope luncheon: Tuesday, Sept. 14 from 12-1 p.m. at the Jackson Convention Complex. Elizabeth will speak for 30 minutes and will be followed by Johanna Beeland of the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, who will speak on human trafficking in our state.

Human trafficking prevention and victim services to be featured at
Journey of Hope

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Human trafficking, including the kind of torture and suffering Elizabeth Smart went through for almost a year, is real, and happens right here in Mississippi. It takes great courage and trust to speak up after being traumatized, but valuable and completely confidential resources are always available.

“In order to prevent human trafficking, communities must rally together and be made aware that it exists,” said Wanda Thomas, executive director of Catholic Charities, Inc. (CCI).

“We want to make certain that children, youth, parents and at-risk adults in our cities are educated. It is important to bring awareness through factual details of what trafficking looks like. Furthermore, we want to provide education as it relates to recovery after rescue.”

CCI’s victim services program furnishes trafficking victims with shelter, food, medical attention, clothing, counseling, legal information and assistance with crime victim compensation. The Healing Hearts program, also a service of CCI, offers specific trauma counseling for both young girls and adult women.

“For our youth, we have Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavior Therapy (TF-CBT),” said Lakeisha Davis, CCI community service program director. “TF-CBT is especially sensitive to the unique problems of youth with post-traumatic stress and mood disorders resulting from sexual abuse, violence or grief. We move at the pace of our client, and no process is rushed or has a time limit. We are here as long as it takes.

“Our women also receive intense trauma therapy. Again, we know and understand that trauma is real and healing hurts. Our last phase is reprogramming, where we rewrite the story with our client, teaching our client to reconnect with others, to develop social skills, and we allow her to mourn the losses from those years spent in survival mode. We believe in validation, acceptance and, most of all, healing.”

Johanna Beeland, deputy director of engagement and human trafficking manager for the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, will speak at the Journey of Hope luncheon about helping trafficking victims recover with hope and dignity.

“We have an interactive services map and potential access to the crime victims’ compensation fund,” Beeland said. “We encourage all victims, or anyone who may know of someone being trafficked, to report that information to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

“Tips can be reported anonymously, 24/7, and are directed to local authorities on the ground, like our office, in real time, to ensure quick and timely responses to possible victims. I’ll also be sharing information on the signs that you or someone you know is being trafficked, and how to report trafficking.”

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text the word INFO to 233733. For more information on victim assistance at the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, visit Visit Catholic Charities Inc. at

Race participants run for Charities foster care program

RIDGELAND – Catholic Charities held their fourth annual “Run Foster Run” fundraiser event on Thursday, May 6, at The Township at Colony Park. All proceeds from the event, which honors National Foster Care Month in May, went to benefit Catholic Charities’ foster care programs such as adoption, therapeutic foster care for children with emotional disorders and the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program. To learn more visit

Featured photos

Preparing Chrism oils …

JACKSON – On March 30, volunteers prepared Holy Oils for priests to take back to their home parishes, in the Community Center at the Cathedral of St. Peter. The oils were blessed by Bishop Joseph Kopacz the day before. This year, no Chrism Mass was held due to holding a Funeral Mass for Father Brian Kaskie. Pictured in front are chancery employees, Vickie Carollo and Fabvienen Taylor. (Photo by Tereza Ma)

Catholic Charities

JACKSON – (Left to right) Pam Hart, Community Relations Manager; Melanie Morgan, Marketing Director; Wanda Thomas, Executive Director; and Michael Crandall, Bank President Canton branch. Thank you to Trustmark National Bank for their generous donation through the Business Children’s Promise Tax Credit. For more information on the Individual Children’s Promise Tax Credit, call 601-326-3714. (Photo by Michael Thomas)

Stations of Cross

PEARL – St. Jude parish meet April 2 for walking the Stations of the Cross. (Photo by Tereza Ma)
JACKSON – St. Richard second graders reenact the Stations of the Cross. (Photo by Chelsea Hamilton)
CLARKSDALE – St. Elizabeth students perform the Stations of the Cross. Pictured left to right: Isabel Walker (Veronica), William Walker (Jesus), Luke Agostinelli (Simon of Cyrene) and Sam Stonestreet (Roman soldier). (Photo by Derrick Faucheux)

St. Joseph Altar

NATCHEZ – At Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary parish displayed their St. Joseph Altar for his feast day on March 19. (Photo by Maureen Irby)