Samaritan House, Denver Rescue Mission team up to shelter homeless during blizzard

Moira Cullings

When a massive snowstorm ripped through Denver on March 13, residents took shelter in their homes, keeping warm and avoiding the dangerous conditions outside.

Those who didn’t have that luxury — particularly the city’s homeless — were left to face the elements. Although many sought shelter at the Denver Rescue Mission, the building lost power and left hundreds of women without electricity or heat.

The team at Samaritan House knew they needed to act.

“It’s just something you do as a service community,” said Mike Sinnett, Vice President of Shelter Services at Samaritan House. “You come together to take care of the less fortunate and those that are in need.”

Samaritan House opened its doors four hours earlier than normal to accommodate the women and shield them from the blizzard.

“We had women that came in, and they were just soaking wet,” said Lisa Cooper, Director of Operations at Samaritan House. “We had to replace all their clothing and get them warm.”

Sinnett explained how gracious the women were for the extra help.

“They’re dealing with a lot of challenges just being homeless,” he said, “and then you throw a storm like that on top of it — it’s very stressful.

“We just brought them in, loved on them a little bit, made sure they had hot chocolate and coffee and food to eat,” he said. “We got them out of the elements and got them in a nice, safe place.

“We do that every night,” he added. “But what made it more different was the fact that we had the elements fighting against us.”

When a blizzard hit Denver on March 13, Samaritan House went above and beyond to make sure local homeless people in need were safe and warm. Photo by Brandon Ortega, 2017

Just a few hours later, the Denver Rescue Mission was still out of power and short on meals for that night’s dinner for the men it serves. The Samaritan House staff stepped up yet again and was able to provide the Mission with 450 meals.

“The Rescue Mission would’ve done the same thing for us,” said Sinnett. “That’s just the cooperation and partnership we have with them.”

On top of everything, Samaritan House, with help from the St. Francis Center and the city of Denver, was able to transport the women it serves to its Smith Road shelter, where space was made, and beds, cots and mats were utilized for everyone who needed a place to sleep.

Cooper explained that despite the treacherous weather conditions, staff members came up big — and did so with a positive attitude.

“Our maintenance guy shoveled snow for five hours straight and didn’t complain,” she said. “It was just amazing. There was nobody arguing — there was just people being present.”

 

Sinnett, who spent the day welcoming women at the Smith Road center, saw the same positivity both in the employees and the homeless.

Denver’s winter conditions can add even more stress to those experiencing homelessness. Shelters like Samaritan House and Denver Rescue Mission provide warm food and a place to avoid the harsh elements. Photo by Brandon Ortega, 2017

“Everybody was smiling,” he said. “Nobody was stressed out. We knew we had a task ahead of us, but everybody had a ‘can do’ spirit, and we did it.”

Cooper was inspired by the work two different shelters with the same mission were able to accomplish together.

“It’s refreshing to know that we are now sincerely working as a team, and it really is a team effort to serve the homeless population of Denver,” she said.

For the Samaritan House team, it simply confirms why they do what they do.

“I’m really proud of my staff,” said Sinnett. “It just refreshes the reason we’re here, and that is to serve the poor and those in need.”

COMING UP: New Catholic school leaders rise to the challenge

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There’s never been a more exciting time than now to be a student at one of Denver’s Catholic schools.

With robust curriculums that form the whole person and a variety of educational models to choose from, Catholic schools are a great option for parents seeking more for their children’s education.

Even more exciting are the various education professionals who are stepping into leadership roles beginning this new school year. These are individuals are who are passionate about Catholic education and even more passionate about partnering with parents, the primary educators of their children, to help lead their kids to an encounter with Jesus Christ.

The nine new leaders featured below bring a wealth of experience to their new roles, and they are each excited to rise to the challenge of making Denver’s Catholic schools the absolute best they can be at helping to form students into authentic disciples of Jesus Christ.

Andrew Beach
Our Lady of Lourdes (South Campus)

Andrew Beach credits much of his call to the teaching vocation to his parents, who are both teachers themselves. Beach studied economics and philosophy at University of Colorado Boulder and then went on to pursue a master’s degree in theology from the Augustine Institute. “From the second I heard about Lourdes and all that us going on here in terms of its classical education and strong Catholic identity and culture, I knew it was the school where I wanted to teach,” Beach said. As a result of the school’s expansion, Beach is now the Head of School for Lourdes’ South Campus. In his new role, he hopes to assist in guiding Lourdes toward academic excellence, but more importantly, he hopes to foster an authentic and strong Catholic identity within the schools.

Robert Bernardin
St. Bernadette

When St. Bernadette announced they were pausing their operations last year, Robert Bernardin saw it as an opportunity. Having previously worked at Annunciation Catholic School, an Expeditionary Learning (EL) school, Bernardin became very excited when St. Bernadette decided to re-launch as an EL school, joining Annunciation and St. Rose of Lima as the only Catholic EL schools in the nation. “I was immediately drawn to St. Bernadette because I believe deeply in the power of EL to elevate Catholic schools,” Bernardin said. Bernardin believes that Catholic education is transformative, and as principal of the re-launched St. Bernadette, he is “keen to expand our view of what is possible in Catholic schools, to serve as a model of what Catholic schools can be and inspire others to follow our lead.”

Kellie Carroll
Bishop Machebeuf High School

For Kellie Carroll, being at Bishop Machebeuf High School is a bit of a homecoming for her. She’s been in education for 20 years, starting at St. Pius X in Aurora and then moving on to teach for several public schools before finding her way back to the Archdiocese of Denver. However, she was also educated in Catholic schools growing up and graduated from Mullen High School. “This is a system that certainly raised me and had a profoundly positive impact on both my academic and faith formation,” Carroll said. As the interim principal at Bishop Machebeuf High School, Carroll hopes to help prepare students for life outside of the school walls. “I firmly believe a solid formation in the faith and a rigorous academic setting will prepare them for the adventure and challenges life will bring,” she said.

Gretchen DeWolfe
St. Thomas More

Gretchen DeWolfe has taught 5th grade at St. Thomas More Catholic School for the last five years and will now be entering her sixth year as the school’s new principal. “In my new role as principal, it is my duty to support parents, the primary educators, in forming their children through encounters with Christ, which will in turn deepen that beautiful and essential relationship,” DeWolfe said. Being in Catholic education is more than simply a job for DeWolfe — it is a calling. “My heart has always been in Catholic schools … It is an amazing gift to be able to teach and live the Catholic faith on a daily basis,” she said. “[This] is what I have chosen to dedicate my life to — teaching and living the truths that Jesus taught us.”

Dana Ellis
St. Louis (Louisville)

Dana Ellis worked in Jefferson County Public Schools for over 30 years, 18 of which were as a principal, and then went on to work in Boulder Valley Public Schools for several more years until she retired. After “walking around in the desert” for a couple of years, Ellis now finds herself as the new principal of St. Louis Catholic School in Louisville. As she embarks on this new foray into Catholic education, Ellis is confident that God will continue to lead St. Louis down the path it needs to go in order to continue forming authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. “I do know that God will lead the way, but I don’t know what that way is going to be yet,” Ellis said.

Eric Hoffer
Christ the King

Before starting his career in Catholic education, Eric Hoffer had plans to complete a degree in political science and attend law school. “However, God had other plans in place for me,” Hoffer said. He converted to Catholicism while in college, and after graduation, volunteered with the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, where he “fell in love with education and my faith.” He’s had a 16-year career in various roles in education thus far, and recently completed his graduate degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Notre Dame. He feels fortunate to lead Christ the King Catholic School as principal. “If I am able to help each of our students understand that they are beloved children of God and that he has a beautiful plan for their lives, then I will have made a valuable contribution to our archdiocese,” Hoffer said.

Steve Vaughn
St. Therese

Steve Vaughn began his career as a teacher teaching 4th, 5th and 6th grade at a few different Catholic schools in Wisconsin and Nebraska. Over the last 10 years, he’s been a teacher and assistant principal at a Denver charter school, but he’s now answering a call from the Lord to return to Catholic education. “Having worked in both Catholic and public schools, I can say that Catholic schools truly provide an education for the whole child,” Vaughn said. Speaking for his new role as principal at St. Therese, Vaughn shared, “Our goal at St. Therese is to create saints! It’s an honor and blessing to be tasked with fulfilling this mission at my school. This is exciting, challenging work, but there’s no other work I’d rather be doing.”

Tamara Whitehouse
Our Lady of Lourdes (North Campus)

Tamara Whitehouse has worked in both public and Catholic schools for over 20 years. More recently, she has also served as an instructor for the Denver Catholic Biblical School. Her transition from public schools to Catholic schools came after taking time to stay at home with her children when they were young. “We discerned God’s call to send our children to Catholic schools, and then my own deepening faith and desire to instill a love for God in young people led me to follow after them when I returned to work,” Whitehouse said. As she begins her new role as the Head of School for Lourdes’ North Campus, Whitehouse hopes to “support families in the formation of their children to know, love and serve God, and this contribute to the renewal of Catholic culture that is so desperately needed today.

Father Stefan Zarnay
St. Mary’s (Littleton)

Born in the Slovak Republic and ordained a priest just last year, Father Stefan Zarnay is part of the Disciples of Jesus Christ, the religoous order that oversees St. Mary’s Catholic Parish in Littleton. He met them when he was studying for his Masters Degree at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute in Rome, Italy. He has previously served as Chaplain of the Stella Maris — La Gavia Catholic School in Madrid. In addition to being the interim principal of St. Mary’s, he is also the school’s chaplain and the parish’s new parochial vicar.

Ann Zeches
St. Catherine of Siena

For Ann Zeches, education is a second career. Prior to becoming a mom, Zeches was the assistant general manager of a resort. It was when her children were in school that the seed for Zeches’ career in Catholic education was planted. “What I thought teaching entailed, and the reality are two different things,” Zeches said. “Education is the toughest job I have ever experienced, but the one with incredible rewards. Education has become my passion.” In her new role as principal at St. Catherine of Siena, her goal is simple: “I am forming students to know the ‘truth’ of our faith and how to infuse it into their lives. Ultimately, then, they will be well-educated disciples of Christ longing to meet our Lord in heaven while making their community a place filled with the Spirit.”