Bishop reads to support Literacy Campaign

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic


To the delight of young boys and girls, Bishop Frank J. Dewane read a book to children at Casa San Juan Bosco farmworker housing community of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. in Arcadia.

The 39 children, from kindergarten through 4th grade, were participating in a summer afternoon reading program that was part of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and made possible through the support of The Patterson Foundation with partnerships with The Community Foundation of Sarasota and the United Way Suncoast.

Bishop Dewane read “The Giving Tree,” a children’s picture book by Shel Silverstein. The book follows the lives of a female apple tree and a boy, who develop a relationship with one another. The tree is very “giving” and the boy evolves into a “taking” teenager, man, then elderly man. While the boy ages in the story, the tree addresses the boy as “Boy” his entire life.

While reading the book, the Bishop made sure each of the children, who were seated attentively on the floor, could see the illustrations and pointing out some of the important details. Afterwards, the Bishop queried the inquisitive children about what lessons they learned.

Based on the questions posed by Bishop Dewane and the responses he received, the children understood the positive messages from the book about giving and having a caring relationship with nature and those around them.

The summer reading program at Casa San Juan Bosco is three afternoons a week in June and July, and is part of a larger program which includes the arts and other educational activities. Throughout the summer the children were encouraged to read as many books as they could. The older children and volunteers would also read to the others in smaller groups. Throughout the summer, the children keep track of all the books they read and then write a short synopsis on each book to get credit.

By late June, Janet Seguera had read 10 books, which were marked in shiny stars on the Summer Reading Challenge board. “I love to read and sometimes read to my younger sisters. By reading, I learn so much about wonderful places and people. It’s fun.”

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is part of a national campaign which unites community partners across the nation to make reading proficiently by the end of third grade a priority. This is to address the fact that two-thirds of children in 4th grade cannot read at grade-level. While it is understood that parents and good preschool teachers teach reading from birth through 3rd Grade, in fourth grade students must use their reading skills to learn, and teachers no longer teach students how to read.

Locally, the communitywide effort includes Manatee and Sarasota counties as well as the Catholic Charities program in Arcadia. The effort focuses on helping all children, especially those from low-income families, succeed in school and life by ensuring they read on grade level by the end of third grade.

Bishop Dewane said he was delighted to be a part of this outreach and thanked representatives of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-level Reading for recognizing the Catholic Charities program as worthy of their outreach as well as the Patterson Foundation which also supported helped with the program.

“It was an honor to read for the children and a privilege to be here to support this reading program for these young boys and girls in Arcadia,” Bishop Dewane said. “Reading is an important foundation of learning that can be carried forward throughout one’s life. Catholic Charities and the Diocese both look forward to working with these partners in the future to help promote literacy which is so important in the life of all students.”

Summertime and the Giving is Easy 2018

Annual Campaign to support Catholic Charities

Staff Report


Every day vulnerable people living throughout Southwest Florida go to their local Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. office seeking relief. This assistance can come in the form of nourishment, education, shelter, or in the support of at-risk children, isolated elderly, struggling families and homeless individuals.

For this reason, Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. offers the opportunity for supporters to give directly to the causes which empower those in need through the “Summertime and the Giving is Easy” Campaign. The theme for the 2018 Campaign is “EmPOWer your neighbors in need with strength. Be a SuperHero and Give!”

A file photo of a familily at Casa San Juan Bosco farm worker housing of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. in Arcadia.

Giving to the “Summertime and the Giving is Easy” Campaign builds up the people of Southwest Florida with the courage and hope to move beyond poverty and achieve self-sufficiency. By supporting this Campaign generously, for example, you can help lift a child out of poverty, give nourishment to a senior, put a roof overhead for a homeless family, supply a home for a veteran, or offer stability to a victim of human trafficking.

Each year, Catholic Charities serves more than 40,000 families and individuals regardless of race, nationality or creed with more than 30 specialized programs that are focused on improving lives. A total of 92 cents of each dollar donated to Catholic Charities goes directly to programs and services. Charity Navigator, a leading evaluator of non-profits, consistently rates Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. among its top-rated organizations, giving its highest rating for sound fiscal management a total of 15 times over the past 17 years. The “Summertime and the Giving is Easy” is a chance to brighten the future for your neighbors who come to Catholic Charities for help. Any gift amount is greatly appreciated!

Support with stability.

Volunteers at the Judy Sullivan Family Resource Center of Catholic Charities assist clients as they go through the “Choice Food Pantry” in Naples in late June.

The Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program guides victims to attain a healthy life.

Catholic Charities administers Professional Counseling Services that keep families together and offer relief. Frail and isolated elders come to the Senior Support Coordination Program to live independently. A victim of labor trafficking recently expressed his gratitude from the work of Catholic Charities to create a stable and safe living environment for his family. “I have not the right words for all who have helped us, but I am so thankful.”

Sheltering the homeless.

The North Port Family Haven provides emergency housing and long-term case management for homeless families. At Our Mother’s House in Venice, desperate mothers and their children have a safe place to live where they can work toward self-sufficiency. One mother recently completed the extensive education program, leaving with a stable job and housing for her and her child and a very bright future. “Our Mother’s House changed my life. I was essentially homeless with a young child and no options. I was desperate. Today, I am a very different person. I never would have thought it was possible.” Additionally, Casa San Jose in Sarasota gives those living with HIV a proper residence to enhance the quality of their life. The Veteran’s House, also in Sarasota, offers a deserving veteran a roof over his/her head.

Feeding the hungry.

Food Pantries located throughout Southwest Florida distribute thousands of pounds of food every week. Homeless school children are sustained over the weekend through the Weekend Power Pack Food Program in Naples. The Casa Maria Soup Kitchen in Immokalee serves around 35,000 hot meals each year. The nutritional center at Bethesda House in Sarasota assists special needs clients with healthy food items.

Catholic Charities educates children and adults.

At St. Martha’s Early Learning Center in Sarasota, low-income preschoolers become kindergarten ready. The AFCAAM Center in Fort Myers provides after-school tutoring and mentoring for disadvantaged youth. Our Summer Camps offer a fun and educational experience. Families living at Casa San Juan Bosco in Arcadia learn beneficial life skills.

These are some of the children who particpate in the Catholic Charities Day Care at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Boca Grande.

In addition to all the work previously mentioned, Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. continues to take a central role in helping many in the Diocese of Venice recover from Hurricane Irma. This initially included the establishment and operation of 12 different Disaster Response Centers which served as central hubs for the distribution of much needed food and water and other necessities. Approximately 82,000 people were helped in just the first three weeks.

In the long-term recovery from Hurricane Irma, Catholic Charities has been at the front lines by providing caseworkers which aid individuals and families in getting back into permanent housing through financial assistance or assisting families who lost work meet the needs of food and other necessities.

“Summertime and the Giving is Easy” is a chance to brighten the future for your neighbors who come to Catholic Charities for help. Any gift amount is greatly appreciated!  You can make your contribution in honor or in memory of a loved one. Donations can be made to a specific program of Catholic Charities or to the general fund where the money will go where it is most urgently needed.

The giving is easy! To donate, please visit, or write to Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc., 5824 Bee Ridge Road, PMB 409, Sarasota, FL 34233-5065. Your gift will make a positive impact!

Catholic Charities welcomes new Chief Executive Officer

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic

Philomena A. Pereira joins Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc. as the Chief Executive Officer in April 2018.

Philomena A. Pereira devoted her career to serving those in need and is a perfect fit as the new Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc.

Selected through a search process that included select members of the Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. Board of Directors as well as Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Pereira was hired in April.

She joins Catholic Charities with more than 25 years of experience working in the social services sector. Pereira has served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer at Tidewell Hospice in Sarasota.  Prior experience includes CEO at Catholic Social Services in Morris County, N.J., and Assistant Vice President, Community and Long-Term Services at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in New Jersey, as well as work with additional not-for-profit organizations.

Born in Goa, India, her family emigrated to the United States when she was a child. While in India, she went to a boarding school run by the Sisters of the Cross from Great Britain, and credits the sisters with giving her the drive for excellence and to always make sure God was first.

A graduate of Ramapo College in New Jersey, and with a Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University School of Social Work, Pereira learned from both personal and professional experience the importance of being both diligent and vigilant.

“The key to a successful non-profit is to first run it like a business; but with compassion,” she said. “We have to fight and be vigilant for the clients that we are serving. We have to do things the right way all of the time, not just some of the time.”

In the first two months, Pereira has been occupied with learning about the 65 different programs run out of 32 different offices in the 10-county Diocese. By visiting as many of those offices as time allows, she vows to meet each employee by the end of the year. She is doing this while also ensuring that important connections are kept with community partners and grant funders.

“Unfortunately, the need within our community continues to increase, exponentially!” she said. “As the change in funding and external environment is rapidly shifting, Catholic Charities will need to continue to strive for impact and deliver outcomes so important to the health and vibrancy of Southwest Florida.”

Pereira notes that the Board, donors and volunteers who help Catholic Charities, through the execution of the fabulous events, through their personal involvement and engagement with others, “is tangible expression of our responsibility in service to our neighbors in need and our community at large.  Catholic Charities makes a difference!  I am really proud to be associated with Catholic Charities here in the Diocese of Venice.”

Pereira is a parishioner of St. Patrick Catholic Parish in Sarasota and serves on several boards.  She is active in the local community, and a member of the 2009 Class of Leadership Sarasota.

Philomena A. Pereira can be reached at 941-488-5581 or

Retreat opens eyes of students

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic

When a group of 21 St. John Neumann Catholic High School students talk about what they did for their summer vacation, they will each have compelling stories to tell.

For one week they opted to start their summer by being part of the Immokalee Service Week. This is the fourth year that a group from St. John Neumann has journeyed to Immokalee for a service retreat.

The service trip was organized by Sister Katie Flanagan, Salesian Sister of St. John Bosco on the faculty of at St. John Neumann. She prayed each student would gain a renewed sense of Christian Service from their experience.

One student reflected on the week as a revelation for her that even doing the smallest act of kindness can bring joy to others. “I had no idea I would be able to impact people in such a way. The smiles we have been getting have been incredible. Everyone is so grateful for us being here. We are here representing St. John Neumann; but we are also representing Jesus in our presence. That is very powerful.”

Students from St. John Neumann Catholic High School in Naples took part in a retreat in Immokalee the week of May 29-June 1. Here they are seen listening to an inspirational talk.

Immokalee is about a 40-minute drive from St. John Neumann Catholic High School, but the difference between Naples and Immokalee can be shocking for anyone who has never travelled off the main roads. The Collier County city is home to many farms and food processing facilities and is one of the poorest communities in the State of Florida.

During their retreat, the students worked and assisted in a variety of tasks at several locations. Of particular focus was helping at Guadalupe Social Services, a program run by Catholic Charities Diocese of Venice Inc. The men and women helped at the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, serving hot meals. They also assisted in loading bags of food for distribution and organizing the storage rooms. The group brought their own food donations and later assisted in the mobile food program by going out into a nearby neighborhood to knocked on doors with offers of a bag of groceries for each family.

It was in the neighborhood and the soup kitchen that the students saw the true face of Immokalee. They learned that the food provided at lunch is often the only food many of those individuals have all day, and it is certainly the only hot food they will have.

The week for the St. John Neumann students was not limited to the one location. In fact, the students toured Immokalee and learned about the struggle of the families who work and live there and heard a presentation from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers about the plight of farm workers in the region. Other service activities for the students included helping to rehabilitate a house for Habitat for Humanity, assisting at Collier Parks and the Salvation Army.

The activities were a mix of manual labor and interaction with local residents. The thanks received from those they encountered were what filled their hearts with joy. The overall experience was a true encounter of seeing Christ in others, one student explained.

Each day included daily prayer, time for reflection, and Mass celebrated at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish by Fathers Ignatius Reddy Yeruva and Tobias Sabariar, Missionaries of Compassion from India who assist with Catholic Charities.

The students were in awe and wonder at the conditions people live in throughout the area and the poverty the young children are forced to live in, particularly compared to their nearby hometown of Naples. Each student noted how powerful and rewarding the experience was for them, something they will carry forward for the rest of their lives.

For more information about St. John Neumann Catholic High School, please call 239-455-3044 or visit

For more information about Guadalupe Social Services of Catholic Charities please call 239-657-6242, e-mail or visit