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Bread for the World Congratulates Ellen Buelow, Catholic Charities National Volunteer of the Year
She earned this award because of her dedication to improve the lives of refugees, a ministry that she began in 2007 as an ESL (English as a Second Language) tutor for Mexican immigrants for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, NM.
She deepened her involvement with refugees through Catholic Charities' Refugee Resettlement and Support program. In 2011, she help found the Conversation Partners program, which provides an additional, informal learning environment for refugees enrolled in ESL classes; participants are able to practice conversational English in small group settings.
"Ellen is an outstanding volunteer and a fine example of the difference that people can make in the lives of their neighbors," said Jim Gannon, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. "Without volunteers like Ellen, we could not meet the needs of the thousands who call on us."
Buelow is extremely proud of how her work has made a profound difference in the lives of many refugees. "Being in direct service to refugees is what keeps me volunteering. I love teaching, and I love being around them. Hands on direct service within Catholic Charities is an act of charity," she said.
But Buelow also believes in the big picture, particularly on the connections between direct service and legislative advocacy. Her work with refugees has put her in close contact with some of the most vulnerable members of society. Many of these refugees have fled violence, conflict and extreme poverty.
This direct contact has given her a unique perspective on the value of the federal foreign-assistance programs, which are facing severe funding cuts in Congress. "Through direct hands-on experience, I can share why we need to stop these cuts," said Buelow, who has been one of the principal organizers of the Offering of Letters at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish. The letter-writing weekends, she said, help parishioners understand how they can make a difference in addressing domestic and global poverty. "Advocacy through Bread for the World reaches out to a broader group of parishioners," she said.
This year, Buelow and the social justice committee at her parish recruited the JustFaith class to help staff the letter-writing tables.
But her passion goes beyond pen and paper. At a local meeting at a grocery store, she has urged Rep. Martin Heinrich to support foreign aid reform, and she has attended local meetings with the staffs of Rep. Heinrich, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, and Sen. Tom Udall.
Additionally, she was part of a group of local Bread members who met with five people who had declared their candidacy for the soon-to-be-open seat in the First Congressional District.
At a meeting with one of the candidates, State Sen. Eric Griego, she stressed the importance of protecting tax credits for the poor. "When we worked for the Earned Income Tax Credit, that really impacted a lot of families at Holy Rosary (Catholic Parish)," she said in a meeting with state Sen. Eric Griego, a candidate for the open seat in the First Congressional District.
Ellen is also very humble about receiving the Catholic Charities award. She was very impressed by the other four finalists, all of which would have been worthy of recognition for their work. "God has his reasons, so I have to believe there's a reason for this award. As we say in Bread for the World, "Be a voice for those who have no voice!"
Photo caption: Ellen Buelow (right) speaks with Adolphe Pierre-Louis (left), a native of Haiti who was a speaker at a New Mexico Offering of Letters workshop in 2011.
Carlos Navarro is an activist with Bread for the World.
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