CCCTX benefit raises hope, funds for services

By Enedelia J. Obregón
Senior Correspondent

Catholic Charities of Central Texas challenged the community to be people of hope and share that hope with the needy at its 8th annual Creating Hope Benefit.
Jeannette Walls, best known for her 2005 memoir “The Glass Castle,” was the keynote speaker. In the memoir, Walls recounts her transient life as a youngster with her family –– often one step ahead of the law –– interspersed with periods of homelessness and hunger as a constant companion.
In his invocation, Bishop Joe Vásquez said that to “love God and neighbor is not abstract but profoundly concrete.”
“We need to see the face of our Lord in every person and serve them concretely,” he said. “You are the face of Jesus.”
Sara Ramirez, CCCTX executive director, said the organization brings hope to the elderly, families, women in crisis pregnancies and immigrants in the 25 counties that encompass the Diocese of Austin.
“Our biggest achievement is allowing people to look at life differently because we bring them hope,” Ramirez said. 
Every week, staff at CCCTX field about 350 calls, all from people “on the brink of despair.” Some are referred to the proper social agencies that can help them. Others get help directly from CCCTX. The numbers keep growing.
“More than ever we are called to be the light of hope for our brothers and sisters in need,” Ramirez said. “Now is the time to stand apart as people of faith serving people in need.”
It was hope with a healthy of dose of pragmatism that allowed Walls –– born in Phoenix, and raised in West Virginia –– to overcome a life of poverty. She graduated from Barnard College in New York City after moving there with her older sister, Lori. Walls worked as a gossip columnist for MSNBC from 1998 to 2007. 
At the gala, Walls recounted bits of her life with humor and insight. One of her earliest memories was having her dress catch fire while she was trying to cook hot dogs on the stove in the trailer in which the family lived. She was three. She was taken to a hospital, where she was amazed at the great treatment she received.
“They combed my hair and they never ran out of food,” Walls said.
Her mother took her out of the hospital after six weeks and once again the family was on the move  –– or doing the “skedaddle” as her father called it.
Yet, there were good times. Her father, an alcoholic and a dreamer, always talked about building a glass castle. She remembers one bittersweet Christmas while living in a trailer with no utilities.
“He took us into the desert and asked us to choose a star,” Walls said. “He gave me Venus. It is still my most treasured gift.”
Once, while recalling the event, her sister Lori said that it was so like their father to give away something that didn’t belong to him. However, Walls sees it as a priceless treasure.
“It is what you choose to make of it,” she said. “It gave me hope.”
As Walls and her siblings grew older, they recognized how dysfunctional their family was. Her mother is bipolar and struggles with mental illness. The youngsters moved away, leaving their parents behind physically and mentally. But Walls eventually learned one can’t escape the past.
It was while working on MSNBC that she realized –– to her horror –– that the woman scavenging for food in the background of her television shot was her mother. Her parents had moved to New York City and were squatting in an abandoned building.
“The demon I was running away from was my past,” she said. “If you confront your demon, it can’t hurt you. You put a harness on your demon and put it to work for you.”
She is a great believer in the power of storytelling, which allows people to transform. When we share our stories, she said, we realize how much we have in common.
While her father died a few years ago, her mom now lives with Walls and her husband in rural Virginia. Walls said her background not only gave her hope, but also gave her resilience.
“When we take a fall, we see what we’re really made of,” she said. “The trick is knowing how to fall and get up.”
It is also important for others to be there to lend a helping hand.
“You don’t know what that person is going to do to be a productive member of society,” Walls said. “When you see someone falling, pull them up. By doing that you are making society and the whole fabric of society stronger.”
Organizers said the CCCTX Benefit raised about $210,000.
For more information about CCCTX, visit www.ccctx.org.

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