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Shirley Jones :: Making Holy Angels Shelter Feel Like Home

Most women facing homelessness, especially those with children, will try “doubling up” with others to avoid going to a shelter, fearing what it will be like. Attempting to balance everyday life as a parent while experiencing the burden of homelessness and trying to get back on your feet is an overwhelming undertaking. Sharing an often small space with another family compounds the stress. Many mothers try to constrain their young children’s behavior and noise level so as not to add to the chaos of the household and inevitably wear out their welcome.

By the time women arrive at our Holy Angels Shelter, most will have bounced around between family and friends until their list of options runs out. “People are scared to come into a shelter,” explained Shirley Jones, shelter monitor at CUP’s Holy Angels Shelter. “Many feel a sense of shame and embarrassment that they let their children and themselves down.”

Working the 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. shift, Shirley is usually one of the first people a family meets upon entry. “I like to remind them that coming into the shelter is not the end,” said Shirley. “It can be the beginning of something better for themselves and their children.”

A shelter monitor since 2019, Shirley has a passion for building positive relationships with the women and children temporarily calling Holy Angels home.

“When people know you care, it is easier to have conversations about things like chores and house rules,” Shirley shared. “I like to listen to the kids and learn things like their favorite snack so I can help make them feel special while they are here.”

Shirley uses her creative skills to dress the shelter up for each holiday and enjoys decorating bedroom doors when someone has a birthday. “Decorating and creating nice spaces is something I have always liked doing,” said Shirley. “I want people to be comfortable, to forget they are in a shelter.”

Practicing mindfulness in her work helps Shirley remember that everything matters. From thoughtfully preparing meals to making a special dessert a few times a week, she is committed to making the shelter feel as much like a home as possible. “After being passed around and put out (of family and friend’s homes), people can come to us like a flower that hasn’t been watered,” Shirley expressed. “By keeping our facility clean, listening to people, and paying attention to what’s going on in their lives, we see a person lifted like a flower when it is watered.”

In addition to decorating, cooking, and doing special things for birthdays, Shirley enjoys sharing her hairstyling talents to help make people feel better about themselves. “I just want to be part of helping someone get to a better place in their life,” said Shirley.

Visiting CUP’s Pantry for Diapers, Young Mother Receives Unexpected Blessing

Baby and Mother

Early in the pandemic, Tiffany and her children’s father lost their jobs. Soon after, they became pregnant with their fourth child. With a loss of income, three children (and another on the way), receiving a letter from her landlord about 100 Neediest Cases came at the right time. Tiffany reached out to Catholic Urban Programs, her local United Way agency assisting with the application process for the 100 Neediest Cases program. “I didn’t really expect to receive anything,” said Tiffany. “I decided to reach out because it was a chance at a blessing for me and my family in the COVID mess.”

The person Tiffany connected with at CUP was Gywanna Montague, CUP’s Housing Security Program Manager. “After my first phone call with Ms. Gywanna we just clicked,” said Tiffany. The financial assistance and gifts Tiffany received from 100 Neediest Cases at Christmas was a blessing for the family, but the struggles continued. Just after the holiday, Tiffany went into premature labor. She and her son both required an extended hospitalization. Tiffany found herself missing her recently deceased mother more than ever.

Down to her last diaper, Tiffany recently returned to CUP for assistance. “Initially I was given a small supply of diapers,” said Tiffany. “I was grateful, but I knew it wasn’t going to get me very far.” Something told her to call back and ask for Ms. Gywanna. “Ms. Gywanna apologized and said, ‘there was a mix-up, I have a case of diapers here for you.’” She returned to The HUB and was greeted by Ms. Gywanna, who also had a check from 100 Neediest Cases for her. “When I opened the envelope, I couldn’t stop thanking God and Ms. Gywanna,” said Tiffany. “I ran straight to her crying. Ms. Gywanna gives hugs that help so much when I am suffering on the inside.”

Tiffany used the much-needed financial support to purchase diapers and wipes for the baby, underwear and socks for her older children, gasoline, and to help pay some bills. Since her mother’s passing, Tiffany (an only child), often feels alone in the world. “I get angry and depressed and feel like giving up,” she said. “This check made me know to keep going and that good people are there to help when times are hard.”

Tiffany was recently hired at a local service station and is waiting for her employment orientation date.

100 Neediest Cases is an initiative of the United Way of Greater St. Louis in partnership with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Catholic Urban Programs is a proud United Way of Greater St. Louis Safety-Net partner agency.

Note: stock photo used to protect client privacy. 



CUP Celebrates Two Years of Allsup Charitable Services

Catholic Urban Programs Allsup Charitable Services

“Our Time. Your Mission.” That motto of Allsup Charitable Services has carried Catholic Urban Programs so far in the last two years. We are blessed to be among five organizations serving East St. Louis receiving complimentary business consultative services from the team at Allsup Charitable Services. Last month we had the opportunity to gather in celebration with the ACS team and representatives from Sister Thea Bowman Catholic School, St. Vincent DePaul, the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center, and Christian Activity Center. While the pandemic took us from in-person to “Zoom” meetings, the work we do in partnership with ACS did not slow down. We are fortunate to have made great strides in strategic planning, data analysis, human resource management, communications planning, volunteer management and more. Learn more about the impact of the ACS team on CUP and other East St. Louis organizations by watching this celebration video.


Advancing Human Dignity Through Client Choice

Catholic Urban Programs Food Pantry
The idea of transitioning to a client choice food pantry model had been circulating at CUP for several years. With the issue of food insecurity greatly magnified by the pandemic, our plans for this transition were accelerated.

Planning began the midst of many pandemic-related pivots and changes within all existing CUP programs. Aided by a team of experts from University of Illinois Extension, implementation of the client choice model in our setting is being led by a dynamic team of three Americorps VISTA Summer Associates – Bridget Beck, Kate Schechter, and Sarah Sheahan. The VISTAs spent the first three weeks of their summer service completely redoing the pantry set-up while continuing to operate the original food box model.

Unsure of what to expect when they began serving at CUP, our VISTAs found themselves surprised by the scope of the client-choice transition. Learning about behavior economics, healthy nudges, and other elements of client choice; the VISTAs rearranged the set-up at least three times to maximize its effectiveness for those shopping at CUP’s new “HUB Foods.”

For our VISTA members, the experience of creating the new “HUB Foods” has been transformational. Executive Director, Toni Muhammad is amazed by the dedication and leadership of the VISTA team in making the vision of client choice a reality at CUP. “It is amazing how much is possible with a small group when an organization trusts your capabilities to get things done,” said Kate Schechter.

Our Americorps VISTA members end their summer service on August 6th. We are looking to fill 24 pantry volunteer positions. Can you make a weekly commitment Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to noon or 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.? Do you know someone who can? Please spread the word! Contact Jenn Lyke at 618.398.5616 or for more information.

Get a first-hand look at what it is like to serve in the pantry from Bridget, Kate, and Sarah

Catholic Innovation :: for the Future of the Church and its Social Ministries

Earlier this year, 650 Catholics with innovative ideas applied to the nationwide OSV (Our Sunday Visitor) Innovation Challenge. Louis Jones, CUP’s Program and Mission Alignment Coordinator, applied and was selected as one of 25 semi-finalists in the contest for his idea of The De Porres Project at Catholic Urban Programs. As a semi-finalist, Louis is now participating in the OSV Challenge Accelerator, a 6-week program aimed at further developing the idea of The De Porres Project through professional development, entrepreneurial education, and spiritual formation.

The vision of the OSV Institute for Catholic Innovation is: “To create an ecosystem for Catholic innovation by forging new paths for people to encounter the truth and beauty of the Catholic Church.” The OSV Institute recognizes the value of pairing ministry and entrepreneurship, and that innovation has the power to bring us together as a Church.

The De Porres Project will be a professional and theological development program aimed at cultivating young adult leadership in Catholic social services. The Project will provide full-time service learning within CUP’s programs, a Catholic social doctrine curriculum, a program development curriculum, and spiritual support for a cohort of young adults every year. The project’s goal is to inspire the next generation of Catholic non-profit leaders in service to the dignity of the human person.

Louis Jones is a Catholic young adult with a passion for the Church’s social doctrine. He will graduate in December with his Master of Social Work degree from Washington University. For Louis, Catholic social doctrine offers a concrete way in which to operationalize his faith in the world. “The principles and themes of the doctrine give me ‘Gospel-colored glasses,’ that help me see social and economic concerns through the lens of Jesus.”

Stay up to date on the De Porres Project and the OSV Innovation Challenge by visiting the program section of

An Everyday Miracle at Holy Angels Shelter

Holy Angels Shelter Catholic Urban Programs

Where were you when the country shutdown due to the pandemic? How did it change your life? The answers to these questions will undoubtedly be etched in our minds forever.

While this year has been difficult, most could not imagine handling a burden like the one faced by former Holy Angels Shelter client, Kam. In addition to experiencing homelessness during a pandemic, Kam was pregnant and a frontline healthcare worker. A proud graduate of Southwestern Illinois College’s certified nursing assistant program, Kam fell in love with the residents of a nursing home 30 minutes away from East St. Louis during her clinicals. Determined to stay with them, even through the pandemic, Kam committed herself to a long commute using public transportation. During routine COVID testing, Kam learned she was positive for the virus just before she was due to deliver her baby.

Kam delivered a beautiful baby girl just a few days into her COVID isolation. Soon after being released from the hospital, baby Ava had trouble breathing and required emergency medical attention. Holy Angels Shelter staff members Gywanna and Shirley, along with MedStar Ambulance dispatcher, Trecia helped Kam through a very frightening ordeal. We are happy to report both mom and baby are now doing well. Watch Kam tell the story in her own words here.

District 189 Teacher Sees Herself in Students Experiencing Homelessness

Students Experiencing Homelessness

“Virtual learning is tough for our kids,” said Ms. Martisha Smith, District 189 Academic Interventionist. In her field, students are usually characterized in three tiers – tier one represents the whole class environment. Tier two consists of children that benefit from a bit of small group help to be successful in the classroom. Tier three is for students needing more frequent, intensive intervention to be successful in school. “In District 189 the tiers are flipped, we have a lot of students who need tier three support due to traumas and other deficiencies,” said Ms. Smith. Virtual learning and other issues magnified by the pandemic have increased the struggles faced by Smith’s students.

Trained both as a social worker and an educator, Ms. Smith knows that mindsets and behaviors are changed based on environments for children and adults alike. “It was hard for me when I began working virtually,” said Martisha. “I had to set up a home office and keep myself in a similar mindset to what I would have at school.” With parents working during school hours, older siblings are often responsible for their schoolwork and for making sure their younger siblings are logging on and paying attention. Smith believes parents give their best selves but struggle to help their children with everything else going on in their lives right now. “Kids are having to become mini adults,” said Smith. “A lot of our kids don’t have internet connectivity at home and if they do it can be inconsistent.”

Sixth grader, “Devon” (name changed to protect privacy) was logging in for virtual school every day. Ms. Smith got to know him through the small groups sessions she manages. She would also see Devon through the virtual social-emotional support offered through the district. Children needing someone to talk to have the ability to click a link to make a quick connection during their school day.

One day Devon stopped logging in. Ms. Smith was concerned. With the challenges faced by her students she knew there could be many reasons that he disappeared from the virtual environment. Ms. Smith would later find out Devon and his family were experiencing homelessness at Catholic Urban Programs’ Holy Angels Shelter. “He didn’t want to tell me what was going on at first,” said Smith. “Kids will work hard to keep that from people. There is no relaxation in homelessness, no getting comfortable. It is like you are always in public because you are living with others.”

Homelessness is a struggle Smith knows first-hand. As a child she remembers moving from house-to-house doubling-up with family and friends. “I see myself in kids who struggle,” said Smith. “That’s why I chose to be an educator here. I was a District 189 student who needed extra support.”

Smith knew she needed to lay eyes on Devon. She has been to the shelter several times including on the weekends. “If I can connect with my students and help address some of the root causes of their problems, I will do that,” said Smith. Using her own funds to help her students is something she does frequently. She has purchased clothing, shoes, and a suitcase for Devon. “I was able to go to the shelter and teach Devon how to wash his own clothes,” said Smith. “While I was there, I met his little sister. After I left, I kept thinking about what I could do to make her feel special and loved.”

On Smith’s next trip to the shelter, she gave the little girl a new hairstyle. “My daughter is in her 20’s,” said Smith. “It had been a while but the staff and clients at the shelter gave me advice, we had fun and Devon’s little sister definitely felt pampered.”

Smith’s outreach goes beyond this one family. “If I find out my students are hungry, or cold I will do what I can to help.” Ms. Smith has spent this school year working to be the consistency she believes her students need, especially in times like these. “I want my students to know that I don’t have to be their mom to love them, said Smith. “My ultimate goal is to do what I can to help develop good citizens.”

Here at Catholic Urban Programs, we are grateful for Ms. Smith and all who are committed to rekindling hope and remediating the effects of poverty.

Note: client’s name changed to protect privacy.

LaShonda’s Gift of Peace

LaShonda Crawford, a mother of three and grandmother of one considers herself a people person. “I love helping people and bringing light and joy to them,” she said. LaShonda is a certified nursing assistant who has worked in skilled nursing facilities for a total of 22 years with the last five being at Autumn Meadows in Cahokia where she currently serves as transportation coordinator.

Crawford is proud to be the first person to benefit from ANCHORS, Catholic Urban Programs’ new trauma-informed housing security program. ANCHORS was created to address the safety and well-being of people residing in East St. Louis Public Housing developments. Individuals who meet income, employment, and other requirements are eligible to participate. The program focuses on people who are paying market-rate rent in public housing but lack the resources to cover moving expenses such as first month’s rent and security deposit.

LaShonda, her mother, and grandmother all raised their families in East St. Louis Public Housing. Crawford knew living in public housing was supposed to be short-term but describes getting out as difficult. “It was a cushion,” said LaShonda. “If I were to lose my job, I knew I had a safety net because my rent would go down. The reality is I was comfortable, but I was tired. It was time to get out. Time to move forward.”

There was no peace in public housing for LaShonda and her children. She describes hearing gun shots at night and during the day. It was difficult to sleep with the constant sounds of police and ambulance sirens. Crawford also found herself staying awake at night to watch her surroundings and to keep her children safe after her unit was broken into for the third time. “It is not the people that live there, it is the visitors,” said LaShonda.

“I was my own worst enemy. I kept myself from moving forward. I knew I had the potential; I just needed a boost,” said LaShonda. ANCHORS was that boost. Crawford heard about the program from her sister who is also enrolled. Upon acceptance into the program, ANCHORS clients are required to complete workshops in landlord-tenant rights, financial fitness, energy bill management, and good neighbor. Clients are assisted by a professional navigator who helps them create stability plans in areas such as housing, education, life skills, mental health and more.

LaShonda completed the initial steps of the program and found suitable housing in five months. CUP provided a grant to cover moving expenses. Once the client moves into housing their navigator remains with them as a resource for up to 12-months to help ensure success. “I love Ms. (Carmelia) Williams, I talk her ear off,” said LaShonda. “She calls to check on me and sends me emails. She is great.”

LaShonda is grateful for her blessings especially the peacefulness she feels in her new home.

Crawford’s three children grew up participating in Catholic Urban Programs’ Griffin Center after school and summer programming. The staff at Griffin are very happy for LaShonda and her children.

Catholic Urban Programs Honors Founder, Joe Hubbard with Newly Renamed Facility

Catholic Urban Programs Founder Joe Hubbard
The forecast of rain had the team at Catholic Urban Programs a bit concerned on Monday morning. “Joe said ‘God won’t let it rain on us’ and he was right,” said Toni Muhammad, Executive Director. “We were blessed with beautiful weather, wonderful attendees, and heart-felt remarks from our speakers. The event was a great celebration of all that Joe has done and continues to do for those in need.”

Mayor Robert Eastern started things off with a message of welcome and congratulations on behalf of the City of East St. Louis. Joe Hubbard later recalled the Mayor being a “kid” at St. Patrick’s School in the early days when CUP operated out of the rectory there.

In late May, Toni Muhammad announced that the facility formerly known as the “Charity Office” would be renamed to honor Hubbard and to better reflect the services offered inside. “The HUB” is short for “Hubbard” and housing, utilities, and basic needs. Toni presented Joe with a plaque that reads: “Catholic Urban Programs proudly dedicates this facility, “The HUB”, to our founder, Mr. Joe Hubbard, for his years of dedication, love, and service to the people of East St. Louis and the Diocese of Belleville. August 3, 2020.”

In his remarks, Bishop Michael McGovern said that if we think of Joe’s role we can also think of “The HUB” using the words holy, ubiquitous, and blessed. “Jesus in the gospel said, ‘blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called the sons of God,’” said Bishop McGovern. “When we think about it, as Pope Paul VI once said, ‘if you want peace, work for justice.’ Joe, you have led so many people, working with them to foster a just society. We will have a peaceful society because of the works of justice, the Corporal Works of Mercy, that you and so many people have performed.”

Mayor Mark Eckert, a good friend to Joe Hubbard, was also on-hand for the celebration. Mayor Eckert shared his congratulations to Catholic Urban Programs on a very appropriate renaming of the facility. “To Joseph, our friend, you’re the best buddy. We talk daily and no matter how bad he is feeling, he is always worried about somebody else,” said Mayor Eckert.

Joe closed out the program with remarks of gratitude recognizing those who have worked alongside him in the community including Gerry Hasenstab, who Joe described as being hired by Bishop Cosgrove to “keep him alive.” Hubbard also recognized Bill Kreeb – former director of the Leslie Bates Neighborhood House, Venessa Marion – longtime Catholic Urban Programs employee, Sister Julia Huiskamp – founder of CUP’s Griffin Center program, and Father Ken York – Pastor of St. Henry, for continuing to feed his soul. “CUP has been a dream to help those in need. It was based on the Gospel of St. Matthew. It has been there to be able to help the broken, the hurting, and those that are suffering,” said Hubbard.

Catholic Urban Programs thanks the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce for co-hosting this special ribbon cutting event.

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P.O. Box 3310
East St. Louis, IL 62203

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