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Catholic Charities USA Names 83-Year Old Helen Brown of New Orleans its 2005 National Volunteer of t

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April 18, 2005 - 12:00 PDT


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Alexandria, VA--Catholic Charities USA has named 83-year-old Helen Brown of New Orleans its 2005 National Volunteer of the Year in recognition of her 54 years of service to her community and Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities USA's National Volunteer of the Year Award annually recognizes the important contributions of 196,000 volunteers who provide millions of hours of service to Catholic Charities agencies each year and who are the backbone of the Catholic Charities movement.

"What a pleasure it is to recognize someone as deserving as Helen Brown." said Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. "When I look at the life of service she has led and the countless lives she has touched, I thank God for her and people like her. The world is a better place because Miss Helen has been in it."

In 1935, when Helen Brown was 11 years old, her father left her in the care of St. Elizabeth's, a New Orleans residence for girls administered then by the Daughters of Charity and subsequently by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Grateful for the help and support she received at the girls' home, she wanted to do something to help girls in the same circumstances.

When she left St. Elizabeth's to pursue a 35-year career with the Illinois Central Railroad, Miss Helen, as she is affectionately known, deliberately chose to live across the street from her beloved "St. E's" so she could volunteer there. For decades, she served as a mentor, tutor, and companion to the girls and took them to dances, doctors' appointments, movies, picnics, and Mardi Gras parades. When she retired from her professional career with the railroad because of a disability, Miss Helen turned to volunteering at St. Elizabeth's eight hours a day, five days a week.

"She connected with 'her girls' and they with her. Miss Helen had 'been there' and had come through, and was a symbol of hope to those who came after her. She acted as parent, friend, and mentor to many who passed through St. Elizabeth's doors," said Jim Kelly, CEO of Catholic Charities of New Orleans. "She remains in contact with many of her girls to this day. Pictures of them and of their children fill her office at Catholic Charities."

Miss Helen indeed left an indelible impression on the girls of St. Elizabeth's. "I remember that Miss Helen was always there. She lived in an apartment across the street and had a full-time job outside of St. E's, but her first priority always seemed to be her girls," recalls St. Elizabeth resident Barbara G. Seals, who is now a budget accountant with Shell Exploration and Production.

"Each morning she would arrive bright and early, and then she would return after work. During the evening hours you may have found her helping with homework, making sure everyone had dinner, or just relaxing with us in front of the television. I don't ever remember her not being there. She was never sick, never on vacation, never had something else to do. She was always there. I don't know what we would have done without Miss Helen," said Seals.

In 1989, when St. Elizabeth's merged with Hope Haven, another Catholic Charities program for abused and neglected boys, Miss Helen moved to the central office of Catholic Charities, offering support to any and all programs that called upon her.

When health problems slowed Miss Helen in 2001, she curtailed her volunteer hours to three eight-hour days a week, although she is still renowned for putting out a call for take-home weekend work. Now in her 80s, and no longer up to working directly with the girls, Miss Helen takes on any and all projects for the Catholic Charities administration. Although crippled with arthritis, Miss Helen has classically perfect penmanship and hand addresses over 50,000 invitations, greeting cards, and thank you cards to Catholic Charities benefactors.

In addition to her office work, Miss Helen kids, scolds, advises, and embraces all of the Catholic Charities staff who pass her way. No one ever leaves Miss Helen's office without candy, encouragement, or an opinion on how Catholic Charities can improve its service to those in need.

"Despite--or perhaps because of--her difficult family circumstances, Miss Helen and her legendary commitment are synonymous with volunteerism at Catholic Charities," said Gordon Wadge, president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. "It was while she was at St. Elizabeth's that Miss Helen experienced first hand what volunteerism could mean to those in need and she has been making a difference in people's lives ever since."

"I owe a lot to St. Elizabeth's and Catholic Charities. I'm thankful to God to be able to give something back," said Miss Helen.

When asked why she keeps coming back to volunteer at Catholic Charities after all these years, Miss Helen said, "If you worked here you would understand. It is a pleasant place to be. People greet you like you are a member of their family. It is my second home."

Miss Helen will be honored at Catholic Charities USA's Annual Gathering on Sept. 17 in Phoenix.


Catholic Charities USA
Shelley Borysiewicz - Manager of Media Relations, 703 549-1390




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