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Bush visit means opportunity for Catholic Charities, church

Juan Diego Center: The numbers and programs

>> 5,000 served through agency programs.
>> 45,000 have brief contact with the agency or indirectly benefit through programs
>> Programs include legal and immigration assistance, business and citizenship classes, bilingual mental health counseling, food pantry and a Christmas outreach program, plus the services of the Latina Resource Center.

The Catholic Voice

OMAHA, NEB. "“ Scot Adams, executive director of Catholic Charities in Omaha, is a realist.

He knows President Bush's June 7 visit to the Juan Diego Center in South Omaha was grounded in the politics of immigration reform.

But Adams also knows how to take advantage of an opportunity. And he saw the president's time in Omaha as an chance to focus national attention not only on immigration, but also on the work of Catholic Charities and the role of the church in reaching out to those in need.

Adams said he viewed the president's stops in New Mexico and Texas June 6 along the Mexican border as a way to project the 'tough side" of the issue, while the visit in Omaha was to 'emphasize the human side."

While acknowledging that Catholic Charities' Juan Diego Center was used as an example of the types of programs the president supports, Adams told The Catholic Voice that some could say 'we might be using him (the president) to help people better understand the issue" from the church's perspective.

'We want to make the most of the opportunity on behalf of the church, and shine the spotlight on what the bishops are doing," he said, noting Catholic Charities supports the principles in the U.S. bishops' campaign for immigration reform, 'Justice for Immigrants.

'We help people in need within the framework of the law and with respect for the people we serve," Adams said of the programs offered through the Juan Diego Center and affiliated agencies. 'Jesus told us to love one another "¦ not just to love those who have a green card."

Adams said making sure people are legal before offering help is contrary to what the church represents. 'That's not us," he said. 'It's not part of our faith tradition."

Catholic Charities, he said, supports immigration legislation that provides for lawful, permanent residency, supports families, promotes security and protects U.S. workers and their jobs, and promotes the success of newcomers.


Preparations on fast track

As might be expected, notice of a visit from the president produced a flurry of activity, planning and house cleaning at the Juan Diego Center, 5211 South 31st St.

Adams said Catholic Charities was informed the week before Memorial Day that a visit to a Catholic institution in Omaha was likely. After the holiday, the decision was made to come to the Juan Diego Center.

That same day, six-member teams from the White House and Secret Service arrived and the meetings and planning began. 'They were great to work with," he said, 'genuine, straightforward and caring."

Shelly Schrader, senior director for community services, was the point person for Catholic Charities. 'Her cell phone was ringing all the time," Adams said.

Activities included coordinating the president's June 7 visit to a breakfast meeting of micro-business program graduates at the Juan Diego Center, including several seating layouts for the event. The president also visited students in a citizenship class that day.

Juan Diego staff members did some extra cleaning and organizing for the president's visit. Adams said the work included looking at everything from tables and desks to what was hanging on the walls. 'They wanted everything to look normal," Adams said. 'Of course, it's not normal" to have the president visit.

Security also was on the visit checklist, with background checks required on the micro-business graduates and citizenship students and others at the Juan Diego Center that morning.

A limited number of Catholic Charities personnel were at the Juan Diego Center, but others did receive tickets to President Bush's speech later that morning at the south campus of Metro Community College.

Despite the extra work, Adams said the staff was very excited about having President Bush at the center. Regardless of their political beliefs, Adams said the employees saw the visit as an opportunity and an honor.

Honor was among several words Adams also used to describe his own feelings about hosting the president. 'I'm deeply honored, humbled and thrilled," he said. 'And I was a little nervous."

The Catholic Voice

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