Catholic Charities aims to combat drug addiction in Leflore County

By Joanna Puddister King
GREENWOOD – On Friday, Sept. 22, a ribbon-cutting ceremony marked a significant milestone for Healing Hearts Family Counseling, a drug prevention program aimed at adolescents in Leflore County. The event was celebrated with enthusiasm as the program opened its doors in the former St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School.

When Wanda Thomas arrived as executive director of Catholic Charities of Jackson in 2019, she recalled receiving numerous calls from communities across the state, seeking assistance in filing gaps in services. To address those short-falls, Catholic Charities conducted a comprehensive assessment, looking at areas that needed support, while considering available resources, said Thomas.

The Delta region emerged as an area in critical need of assistance, backed by years of data and statistics. In 2022, an opportunity presented itself to Catholic Charities in the form of a grant designed to prevent substance abuse within the adolescent population. Recognizing the connection between substance abuse drug addiction, mental illness and an elevated risk of suicide, Catholic Charities seized the opportunity to provide these essential services.

GREENWOOD – Participants get ready for the official ribbon-cutting for Catholic Charities of Jackson’s Healing Hearts Family Counseling on Friday, Sept. 22. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities of Jackson)

The establishment of Healing Hearts Family Counseling and the unwavering support for Catholic Charities of Jackson highlight the community’s collective efforts to combat substance abuse and make a lasting, positive impact on the lives of adolescents and their families in Leflore County.

Jackie Lewis, program director of Healing Hearts shared a unique feature of the program with The Greenwood Commonwealth, stating that interactions through the program can occur at the program’s office, the family’s home, or in any other suitable location.

The program is also actively reaching out to adolescents and their families to provide crucial support and education on the dangers of drug abuse through engagement with local schools. The Greenwood Commonwealth reported that Healing Hearts completed a 12-week program at Delta Streets Academy and has plans to initiate similar programs at other schools within the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District.

Expressing gratitude for the support they receive, Thomas praised Catholic Charities supporters and volunteers. She remarked, “We are thankful for our supporters and volunteers who do not hesitate to reach out and roll up their sleeves to walk this journey alongside us and serve God’s people.”
Lewis says of the program, “at the end of the day, it’s not about what you have accomplished personally.”
“It’s about whose life you have made better.”

For those interested in reaching out to Healing Hearts Family Counseling, the program is located at 2615 US 82 East in Greenwood and can be reached at (601) 355-8634 for more information. With its commitment to the well-being of adolescents and families in Leflore County, Healing Hearts represents a vital addition to the region’s efforts to combat drug abuse and promote healthier communities.

Featured photo … Journey of Hope with Robin Givens…

JACKSON – Keynote speaker, actress Robin Givens takes time to speak with Thania Cepeda at Catholic Charities Journey of Hope meet and greet event at the Hilton Jackson on Thursday, Aug. 10. Givens spoke to attendees at the annual luncheon on her experience surviving domestic abuse on Friday, Aug. 11. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities of Jackson)

Annual Journey of Hope welcomes actress to speak on domestic violence

By Joe Lee
JACKSON – Raised Catholic just minutes from The Bronx borough of New York City, actress Robin Givens can look back with pride on a television and film career which began with a successful audition for a guest role on “The Cosby Show.” A year later she landed the role of Darlene Merriman on the ABC smash “Head of the Class” and was a cast member for the show’s 1986-1991 duration.
Unfortunately, Givens might be just as well known for her brief and turbulent marriage to then-world heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson. In an explosive 1988 interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters shortly before she and Tyson separated, Givens leveled charges of domestic abuse against her husband.

Today, Givens speaks out about the abuse she suffered, urging men, women and the African American community to educate themselves about domestic violence. She’s the keynote speaker at this year’s Journey of Hope luncheon, the largest annual fundraiser put on by Catholic Charities and an event that will take place earlier this fall than usual.

“The luncheon was moved to Aug. 11 because we want to have the event on a Friday,” said Marsha Burton, Senior Engagement and Major Gifts Officer for Catholic Charities. “We Mississippians love football, and Fridays in September are prime football days. The Hilton Jackson was available for the date and offers us a larger space with amenities conducive for celebrity speakers.

“We feel that having the entire event at one location will reduce travel for our speaker, attract a large audience through being centrally located and parking should not be an issue.”

In addition to the luncheon, Givens will appear at a reception the evening before from 6-8 p.m., which will allow attendees to meet her in a relaxed environment. The reception will also take place at the Hilton, located at 1001 E. County Line Road in Jackson.

“Robin Givens is a women’s advocate and outspoken crusader against domestic violence,” said Wanda Thomas, executive director of Catholic Charities. “She also speaks on the reality of domestic violence occurring to men as well as women, and how socioeconomic status doesn’t play a role. She’s a woman that can move and inspire all walks of life.”

To order tickets for the Journey of Hope luncheon, the reception, or to inquire about sponsoring tables, call (601) 326-3714 or visit to register for the luncheon.

Annual Bishop’s Ball celebrates Catholic Charites 60th anniversary

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Let this sink in: the majority of those served by Catholic Charities are not Catholic.
If that comes as a surprise, consider the organization’s mission, which is to be a visible sign of Christ’s love by helping those who are unable to help themselves; the poor and vulnerable, especially children, women and families.

As final preparations are being made for the annual Bishop’s Ball – which will celebrate Catholic Charities’ 60th anniversary – executive director Wanda Thomas and her team are hard at work assisting the many victims of the March 24 tornado, an EF-4 that was on the ground nearly an hour and took the lives of 21 people in Rolling Fork and Silver City. There’s also significant damage in Amory.

“We are responsible for responding to any individuals in need within the 65 counties covered by the Diocese of Jackson,” Thomas said. “We have outlying offices and programs within the metro Jackson area as well as Raymond, Natchez and Vardaman. We are in the process of starting a new program in Greenwood.”

Those services include adoption and therapeutic foster care, domestic violence emergency shelters, the Born Free/New Beginnings residential substance abuse treatment for mothers, unaccompanied refugee minor group homes, and community-oriented, home-based services for youth at risk of needing psychiatric residential treatment.

There’s also Healing Hearts outpatient mental health clinic, disaster services, support services for veterans and families, kinship navigation services to prevent youth from needing foster care placement, rape crisis and sexual assault, emergency assistance, afterschool tutoring and a summer camp program.

“A lot of the work is behind the scenes, done discreetly and confidentially, but with great devotion,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz. “This ministry is a vital part of the work and the mission of the Diocese of Jackson. It really goes to the margins, to the most vulnerable in our communities. It’s what the Gospel is all about, and what Pope Francis speaks about. We reach out to people who will never know us, and never be able to repay us.”

If you’re new to the area and haven’t attended the Bishop’s Ball before, it’s a wonderful opportunity to hear more about an organization that could definitely use your assistance right now. The annual event is also great fun, based on a track record of many generous donors returning again and again.

“When I entered the building (for the first time), I began working on the Bishop’s Ball,” said Marsha Burton, senior engagement and major gifts officer with Catholic Charities and a new addition to the team. “The live music this year will be a jazz band to set the mood of quaint and classy. We hired a decorator who will decorate around a diamond theme; the 60th anniversary is a diamond celebration.

“The teamwork from within the agency here is outstanding. This year’s Bishop’s Ball Samaritan Award is being presented to St. Dominic Comprehensive Cancer Center for the compassionate patient care they provided throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. To my knowledge, this is the first healthcare team to receive the award.”

Johnny Maloney and his wife, Sharon, have chaired the Bishop’s Ball in the past, and the Cowboy Maloney family have been honored with the event’s Samaritan Award.

“Besides the great food and fellowship, the Bishop’s Ball has a silent auction and a live auction,” Maloney said. “In the past, the last live auction item has been a dinner with the Bishop at his home for eight people. Attendees get groups together and bid as a party of eight, and that makes the auction fun.”

“I see Catholic Charities as an extension of our parishes,” said Rusty Haydel, who estimates that he and his wife, Yvonne, have attended fifteen Bishop’s Balls over the years. “They’re doing the work that Jesus would want us to do.”

“All the Bishops hold a special place in our heart,” said Mike Crandall, “but we must say that Bishop Kopacz, through his leadership and involvement with Catholic Charities, has become our favorite. He stepped into the ministry at a crucial time, and the organization has thrived through his leadership and encouragement.

“Catholic Charites has allowed Susan and I to have an avenue to give back to society, a mission that we are passionate about. Our goal is that when our time comes and we are called home, we will leave our community in a better place. We work with a lot of nonprofits, but Catholic Charities is our favorite because it serves so many people.”

For more information on the Bishop’s Ball or to sponsor or purchase tickets, visit:

Magee leads Catholic Charities Journey of Hope event

By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Bestselling author, David Magee imparted valuable life lessons to those in attendance at Catholic Charities Journey of Hope event on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Jackson Convention Complex.
Emceed by news anchor, Maggie Wade of WLBT, event attendees were also in for a treat with a special performance of “One Mississippi” by Steve Azar, backed by the St. Richard sixth grade choir.

JACKSON – Hundreds gathered to hear bestselling author, David Magee speak at Catholic Charities annual Journey of Hope event on Sept. 20 at the Jackson Convention Complex. Pictured at the event with Magee (on right) are Dr. Judy Alsobrooks Meredith and James Meredith. On right, Steve Azar, backed by the St. Richard sixth grade choir, sang “One Mississippi.” (Photos by Joanna Puddister King

Beginning his talk to the over 500 in attendance at the event, Magee spoke about an encounter with a young lady working at the hotel he was staying in while in town for the Journey of Hope event.

After sharing with her that he was in town to speak at a Catholic Charities event, the young lady excitedly shared her life changing experience with the organization back when she was just 16 years old. Magee shared with the crowd that she only had to rely on Catholic Charities resources briefly, and today she and her family had everything they could want, including joy. Magee said that the young lady told him ”’but I’m not sure how it would have worked out without Catholic Charities.’”

“It changed her life,” stated Magee.

Speaking on his critically acclaimed book, Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery, Love and Loss, Magee chronicled his families struggle with addition and loss. Magee and his wife, Kent, lost their son William to an accidental drug overdose in 2013 and they nearly lost their other son, Hudson, to an overdose as well.

He also spoke about the effects of substance misuse among individuals and family, how illegal substances have increased in strength with the danger of added ingredients, and of relaxed attitudes toward prescription medications. Through out his talk, he gave guidance for staying safe and helping other seek the help they need.

Through the loss, recovery and healing his family encountered, Magee truly believes in the resiliency of souls. “I think faith, God’s grace, God’s strength – helps us in that resilience,” said Magee. “The power to get up in all the adversity – when we don’t have the strength to take one more step.”

Pointing to the hard times the city of Jackson has had recently with flooding and lack of water, Magee noted that from dark times there is “always a path forward.”

“There is hope. There is a path forward,” said Magee. “… This disease effects everybody. It knows no lines of economics, race, gender … every single American family is touched in one way.”

Magee reminded those in attendance that the resources people have affect their ability to receive treatment for addiction. “That’s why … the work of Catholic Charities and the special focus of this event … changes generations of families, just like that lady I met at the hotel – just in different ways.”

Thanking those present at the Journey of Hope luncheon, Magee concluded his talk, saying “this isn’t about me and it’s not about my family. It’s about you and your family and this community and the state of Mississippi.”

“As we come together as ‘One Mississippi’ – as my friend Steve Azar likes to say – we find power together and Catholic Charities is at the lead of that fight.”

Journey of Hope event to highlight addiction,
recovery and healing

By Joe Lee
MADISON – Known nationally for his business books and Ted Talks, Oxford native David Magee seemingly had it all before his beloved son William – who lettered in track at Ole Miss and attended Honors College – died of an accidental drug overdose in 2013, a year after graduation.

But it wasn’t just William who was hurting at the time of his death.

David Magee

“I had to go look at what happened in our family,” Magee said. “How did what looked like a picture-perfect American family chasing the dream get completely shattered?”

Author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Dear William, Magee is the keynote speaker at this year’s Journey of Hope luncheon, set for Tuesday, Sept. 20 at the Jackson Convention Complex. Much more than simply a tribute to his late son, Dear William is a brutally honest look at a family that had been in crisis for many years.

The long, hard gaze into the mirror began with Magee himself, who was adopted and unaware of his birth parents’ identity until well into adulthood.

“I lived a great life in this wonderful university town,” he said of Oxford. “We knew everyone and could walk to the Square. But my house was very dark because there was a lot of depression and emotional pain inside me.”

“I did not know who I was, and the lack of sense of identity was something I didn’t deal with well. I tried to pretend it wasn’t there with alcohol and prescription Adderall.”

In addition to losing William, Magee and his wife, Kent, nearly lost their son Hudson to an overdose. Magee’s infidelity led to divorce before he and Kent remarried. But as facing their fears put them on a successful path to recovery and healing, Magee consulted his family about going public with everything they’d gone through in hopes of benefitting those in crisis.

“It took some years, but I had their blessing to do it – Kent, Hudson and our daughter Mary Halley,” he said. “The strength of Dear William is not that we lost him, but that we found joy and recovery together. The book applies to families who feel like they’ve lost something; they can get joy beyond what they ever imagined. It also applies to communities. We look around and see despair, but it is doable. You must have a plan and work hard to execute it.”

Author, David Magee of Oxford is the featured speaker at Catholic Charities Journey of Hope event on Sept. 19 and 20 in Jackson. Magee is the author of Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery, Love and Loss. (Book cover courtesy of author)

What would Magee, who is helping launch the William Magee Institute for Student Well Being at Ole Miss, tell his twenty-one-year-old self?

“To believe in yourself,” he said. “The self-doubt is so poisonous. When you’re going through a hard time, it’s easy to point fingers at others. The twenty-one-year-old me had all these dreams of the American family I would have, and I coached my three children in most every sport they played. I taught Sunday school. I was on the City Council in Oxford.

“I was checking all the boxes,” he continued, “but rather than having a strong faith foundation and a strong belief in myself, I had a lot of self-doubt. I wish I could tell that version of me to get some counseling. I could have saved myself and my family a lot of pain and grief.”

Magee will have a strong message for parents at the Journey of Hope luncheon.

“Their own fears will often get in the way of raising their kids,” he said. “We want our children to have the best of everything. If warning signs flare up, the parents may fear that if they do ask for help – such as counseling – they may be labeled.

“A lot of kids have lost their joy. A lot of them tell us, ‘I’m making A’s, I’m on the sports teams, I’m on the homecoming court. Why do I feel so bad?’ We should worry about exposing them to what will help them, such as a good education. Faith is a big, positive part of their joy, while misuse of alcohol and substances steals that joy. We must do a better job of educating parents in navigating that path.”

Journey of Hope – Table Captain

Meet and Greet at Sal & Mookies

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 )