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Catholic Charities refuses to let Fresno rampage shooter stand in its way

Catholic Charities is the site of mourners honoring the victims shot and killed last week outside their building. Despite the tragedy, the staff was open the next day, ready to serve the needy.
Catholic Charities is the site of mourners honoring the victims shot and killed last week outside their building. Despite the tragedy, the staff was open the next day, ready to serve the needy. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Last week, tragedy struck a normally quiet neighborhood in downtown Fresno near Catholic Charities, for which I serve as board chair.

As some may know, two of the innocent victims who had their lives taken from them that day were Catholic Charities clients. They were simply visiting the organization for services when the shooting occurred.

They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but Catholic Charities should never be the wrong place for anyone. It is a place of hope – not just for a small handful of people, but for 140,000 people every year.

During a time when anyone else probably would have let that hope be taken from them, our team at Catholic Charities has refused to let the actions of an individual affect the good work we’re doing. As we chose to open our doors to serve the community the very next day, there was a line out the door.

Clients knew we would not let this deter us – and that the victims and their families would not want us to stop working to serve those in most need.

Aside from offering our assistance to the victims’ families, we decided there was nothing better we could do than to honor their memories. That is why we created two scholarship funds in the names of the fallen Catholic Charities clients, Mark Gassett and David Jackson.

John Ferdinandi, Catholic Charities board chair

This organization always has been, and always will be, a safe harbor for those most vulnerable. We serve, advocate for and empower those in need regardless of that person’s race, age or religious beliefs each and every day.

We have been inspired and incredibly thankful to the community for their support and their prayers during this time.

Last week, Ashley Swearengin, on behalf of the Central Valley Community Foundation, made a generous donation of $15,000 to help rally community support for our programs and services, as well as help the victims’ families with whatever they might need during this incredibly difficult time.

After a tragedy occurs, you often try to make sense of it, try to understand and look for something you can do – some way to help.

Aside from offering our assistance to the victims’ families, we decided there was nothing better we could do than to honor their memories. That is why we created two scholarship funds in the names of the fallen Catholic Charities clients, Mark Gassett and David Jackson.

These $2,000 scholarships will be awarded annually to someone in need so they may have the opportunity to further their education. Anyone living in the Fresno, Merced or Bakersfield areas is invited to apply.

Applicants must complete a 500-word essay on what the scholarship would mean to them and send it to Catholic Charities, Attention: Scholarship Committee, 149 N. Fulton St., Fresno, CA 93701. Scholarship recipients will be announced in the fall.

The work done at Catholic Charities is ongoing and never-ending. We are the first responders. We feed more than 100 families in Fresno per day. We clothe the homeless. We provide education and life-skills training at our Career and Education Center, which allows clients to build confidence, become self-sufficient and get back to work.

Catholic Charities is the light in the darkness in this world to many families and individuals who have nowhere else to turn. I urge others to learn more about this incredible organization and visit our website at www.ccdof.org, continue to pray for the victims and their families, and to get involved with Catholic Charities as we move forward with service to this community.

John Ferdinandi of Fresno is president and CEO of Milano Restaurants International, which develops, franchises and operates Me-n-Ed’s Pizzerias, Me-n-Ed’s Slices, Me-n-Ed’s Coney Island Grill, Revolución Tequila Bar and Cocina, Angelo & Vito’s Pizzerias, and Piazza del Pane restaurants. He also serves as board chairman at Catholic Charities. Connect with him at http://www.milano-ri.com.

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