Category Archives: Blog

Priscilla Catingub

As a licensed Vocational Nurse for almost a decade and a soon-to-be recipient of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Chamberlain University, Priscilla Catingub has been appointed as the Administrator for Joshua’s House.

“Throughout my life, I have pushed my abilities to be able to grow as an individual and as a nurse,” Catingub said. “Although the bulk of my healthcare experience has stemmed from working for UC Davis Health at varying capacities, my passion for the community has never escaped me and I have worked part time for various residential care facilities for the elderly during my full-time employment with the health system.”

While preparing for her degree’s community health rotation, Catingub met Joshua’s House’s founder and Executive Director, Dr. Marlene M. von Friederichs-Fitzwater. Catingub immediately read up on every aspect of Joshua’s House from its story of origin to its blueprints and researched data and information about homelessness in Sacramento.

“I was blind to this disparity and wanted to know more,” Catingub said. “My involvement with Joshua’s House was organic in that I was constantly thinking of ways to help and be more involved.”

Her research and motivation led her to help promote Joshua’s House events and serve on its Policy & Procedures Committee before accepting a much larger role as Joshua’s House’s Administrator. In this role, Catingub will maintain operations, ensure that laws and regulations are followed, and promote an environment of harmony and serenity in the home.

“Our residents will have been homeless for more than six months and then enter our home knowing this will be the last home they will know,” Catingub said. “That is a very powerful thought and I am extremely humbled and blessed to be someone that can show these individuals the kind of compassion, respect, and love that anyone at the end of their life should be afforded.”

Catingub has completed all the necessary training required to be an Administrator of a residential care facility and passed the California State Administrator Exam.

“I am truly honored to be a part of this mission,” Catingub said. “I will continue to expand my knowledge to ensure that our residents are cared for and respected to the upmost integrity.”

Richard Hernandez is the Director of Outreach at St. Francis Catholic Church. Part of his responsibilities include working with volunteers in the Steps and Breakfast Ministry which is a parish supported program that shelters 16 homeless men and women nightly 365 days of the year. Richard also works with many other non-profit organizations that assist the poor and needy and act as their advocates to insure their rights are protected.

“There is no justification for homelessness.” Pope Francis

Richard is a Mercy Pedaler and president of the Mercy Pedaler board. Mercy Pedalers are bicyclists and tricyclists reaching out to men and women experiencing homelessness on Sacramento streets. For Richard it is an honor to meet so many homeless men and women who want to feel valued and appreciated. “By peddling around, stopping, introducing myself, I have the opportunity of making an invisible person visible. It is an incredible feeling of personal satisfaction and worth.”

As for the importance of Joshua’s House, Richard notes, “Human life is sacred and dignity of the human person will be ever present at Joshua’s House for all to cherish.”

For nearly 30 years, Sister of Mercy Libby Fernandez has served Sacramento’s homeless, volunteering at homeless shelters, ministering six years at Mercy Housing, and 18 years at Loaves & Fishes, and as the executive director of that homeless shelter for 11 of those years. In 2017 Sister Libby founded Mercy Pedalers to relieve the misery of the poor and homeless by offering care, dignity and respect.

“The poor need help today, not next week.” Catherine McCauley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy

For Sister Libby, Mercy Pedalers is a ministry of presence: “I found being present in the moment, sharing a cup of coffee together, and calling the person by name are the most important gifts one can offer.” It is a simple concept. Build trust and relationships in the homeless community. Once trust is established and the individual has a sense of his or her own dignity and worth, then the next step is to build on the relationship and offer resources that may help the individual get off the street. In less than a year, the number of Mercy Pedalers has grown to approximately 50 volunteer cyclists.

Sister Libby says, “I have seen too many men and women suffering and dying alone on the streets. Joshua’s House will bring comfort, love and companionship along their journey of life to death.”

Not many people would leave their executive job to ride a trike and serve coffee to the homeless. But that’s exactly what Sister Libby Fernandez said God called her to do after leading Loaves & Fishes for more than a decade. Last year, she started Mercy Pedalers, a bike ministry based on the Works of Mercy. More than 40 volunteers pedal through the streets of Sacramento connecting with homeless men and women.

You may have read about Sister Libby and Mercy Pedalers in the Sacramento Bee. But what is not so well known is that Sister Libby was instrumental in garnering early support for Joshua’s House from city leaders. She introduced Marlene to incoming Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Councilman Jeff Harris, and County Supervisor Phil Serna. These key relationships culminated in last week’s vote by the Sacramento City Council to approve the conditional use permit for Joshua’s House, clearing the last hurdle before construction could begin.

As the long-time executive director of Loaves & Fishes, Sister Libby embraced Joshua’s House from the start. Its mission was similar to that of Loaves & Fishes and to the vows she took when she entered her ministry. Sister Libby often quotes the Gospel of Matthew, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”

Last Tuesday, May 15, 2018, we went on a ride along with with video camera in hand, biking from Midtown K street to the lower end of the K Street Mall. We saw first hand this former administrator’s skills as a biker, barista, and spiritual worker. Her grace and compassion radiated everywhere we went. We met Rhonda, Benny, Randy, Alfredo, and Greta. They all lit up upon seeing the person in the Mercy Pedalers blue vest approaching from a distance.

The morning was filled with several tender moments as Sister Libby ministered to alcoholics and the mentally ill. The way Sister Libby greeted them, asked questions, offered advice, and served coffee and energy bars was a blessed sight. Our journey lasted an hour and a half until she ran out of coffee. She would go out two more times that day.

 

As a filmmaker and storyteller, I’m always on the lookout for remarkable people. I’ve discovered that they are everywhere if you just take the time to listen. Sacramento is no different.

I had been reading the news online like I always do. It was a typical news day and all the articles seem to imitate each other. Just as I was closing the browser window, a headline caught my eye. It said something about creating a hospice for the homeless.

It sounded interesting, so I clicked the link. The article was short. There was a brief video that talked about the facts of this undertaking. A warning light went on in my mind and my storyteller radar went on full alert. Defcon Level 6. There’s got to be more to this story. Nobody simply wakes up one morning and decides to open a hospice center for terminally ill homeless people. So, I dug around the web and found an email address for the Health Communication Research Institute and crafted an email. I simply had to find out more about this person who is taking on such a noble effort right here in Sacramento!

The first time I met with Marlene Fitzwater, we chatted for nearly an hour. You see, as a storyteller, I rarely take news articles at face value, and I was certain that there was a story behind this remarkable woman. After all, the news isn’t designed to dig deep and find out why people do the things they do. But after our first conversation, I knew the world needed to hear this story. There is so much there that is universally inspiring, more than I could even fit into a five-minute short film. We talked about her journey starting with finding out she had stage IV cancer while she was a single mother of four boys. She was working full time as a journalist at the time and had signed up for a Masters program in journalism.

For most people, receiving a diagnosis like this means putting everything on hold and just focusing on getting better. Not Marlene. She discovered through her own experience as a patient that something was horribly amiss with how doctors and nurses communicate with patients. So, Marlene decided there must be a way to change the industry and switched her Master’s program from Journalism to Health Communications. And that set off a life-long career of teaching medical students how to communicate, creating programs that support patients, advocating for homeless and ultimately creating a safe place for them to live their last days with compassion and dignity.

I don’t want to give away everything in the film, but when Marlene says that she can now look back at her cancer as a gift. It was a fork in the road that took her on a completely different journey than if she stuck with journalism. Marlene’s journey is filled with altruism, compassion and understanding that only comes from experiences like hers.

After making this short film about such a remarkable person undertaking such a noble effort, I find myself changed for the better. Marlene didn’t set out to do this, but she has inspired me to be different than I was when I started this. I have always been sympathetic to homeless people, but definitely cautious and distant. I was one of those people who roll up the window at a stoplight and avoid making eye contact with them. I simply cannot be that person anymore. After learning more about Marlene’s grandson, Joshua, I realized that each and every homeless person belongs to a family and they have immeasurable value to someone.

I became a storyteller and filmmaker because I wanted to learn more about the world, to glean something from everyone I met and to see the world in a slightly (or drastically) different way. As a storyteller, I am always on the lookout for remarkable people because I can’t wait to discover something that ultimately makes me a better person.

As you watch this film about Marlene Fitzwater, I challenge you to not only consider supporting the Joshua’s House effort, but to also see people in need with a new set of eyes, knowing that even though they look disheveled, they have value to someone else in the world and a little compassion goes a long way.

Thank you, Marlene for the opportunity to tell your story and for the ways it has changed me in the process.

William Foster
Creative Director
Recount Films

Last month we met with Kristy Catchings in Pollock Pines, just an hour’s drive from Sacramento towards Lake Tahoe. She lives in a house with large windows, nestled in the hills dense with pine trees. For as long as she can remember, her sister Lynette Godfrey had always seemed troubled. She often acted out and ran away from home.

This was in the 60s. Her family lived in a rural Midwest town where children were taught to be seen and not heard. Parents did not openly discuss their troubles with others much less with school psychologists or mental health professionals. Kristy recalls, “This was a time and place where things like mental illness and sexual abuse were tucked neatly away in the closet. People who suffered mental illness were often put into facilities.”

Lynette was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia but not until she had become an adult. By this time, she had become self-medicating and addicted to drugs. She lost custody of her son and eventually had to live on the streets. This life style was incomprehensible to her family. While they made every effort to help her, the forces of homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness were just too great.

Kristy recalls the last time she saw her sister. In 2009, she found Lynette by combing the streets of San Diego and asking homeless people for her whereabouts. “They were living on the streets in cardboard boxes. I had to step over feces and puddles of urine.” Kristy had one surprising consolation. People would greet her warmly and talked about Lynette with fondness. They were always smiling and very happy despite their circumstances. “I could see the humanity in their eyes. They may have been homeless, but they were real people who have the same emotions and spirit as others.”

Kristy met Lynette in Balboa Park. Lynette’s was gaunt. She lost her front upper and lower teeth. She had dark circles under her eyes, yet she ran towards Kristy as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Beaming from ear to ear, Lynette introduced Kristy to her boyfriend and announced that they were getting married. The two people in front of her were in love and they were planning their future together just as she and her husband were doing. Despite their appearance, she saw in in them a sense of normalcy.

Later that year, however, Lynette died of a brain aneurysm, most likely brought on by her heavy drug use. “The thought of Lynnette lying on the street while taking her last breath and not being surrounded by her family is just heartbreaking to me,” Kristy stated. At her funeral, her boyfriend got up to speak. He was distraught over her passing. He immediately began sobbing. While Kristy empathized with him, others seemed annoyed and embarrassed that he was making a spectacle of himself. “They were probably thinking, who is this crazy guy,” Kristy said.

In hindsight, Kristy wishes that her family had sought help for Lynette when she was a child. She said, “As an adult looking back at events, I can see clear signs where my sister was crying out for help. Her unaddressed issues lead into a downward spiral she never could recover from.”

Kristy and Lynette lived in a blended family. Their parents felt that Lynette’s behavior was a reaction to her biological parent’s divorce and having adjust to her stepfather. As Lynette grew older, she started to hear voices, which her parents thought, were demonic. They did not understand nor seek help for her schizophrenia, which was the root of the problem according to Kristy.

By telling her story, Kristy wants to help other families avoid losing their loved ones to mental illness and homelessness.

Yolo Hospice social worker Nancy Johnston


Twenty years ago, social worker Nancy Johnston found housing for children whose mothers were dying of AIDs in New York City. This prepared her for a career in hospice care. Now she works for Yolo Hospice in Davis, CA. She says that hospice facilities for the homeless are hard to find. Sometimes it’s on the streets, but this is not a practical or humane option.

In caring for terminally ill homeless people, she says, “Everyone has a different story and you must figure out what is meaningful to them as they approach the end of life. It doesn’t take very much.”

James Fitzhugh - Homeless in Sacramento

I met up with James Fitzhugh at Friendship Park on the campus of Loaves & Fishes last month. His story reinforced what I’ve known and seen for a long time: anyone can become homeless. James went from middle class to homeless very quickly.

James held senior management jobs at several high tech companies. Later he even managed a ski school. He was well off and enjoying life. And he had a compassionate side, once helping a friend who had a serious alcohol addiction.

James describes his state of mind being homeless, what it does to his soul, and how today he’s trying to make a comeback.

Recorded at Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento. Produced by Ted Fong.

David Whitworth - Disabled and Homeless

Just before Christmas, I met with several homeless people at Loaves & Fishes who agreed to be interviewed on camera. They told us about the physical and emotional pain of living day to day on the streets of Sacramento.

We begin with David Whitworth who was recently attacked and left paralyzed on one side of his body. Ironically, he can get in-home care, except for the fact that he has no home. As you’ll see in this video, he gets very emotional about issues that affect all human beings. He accepts death and dying as a natural process, but makes a heartfelt plea to viewers to show compassion to people who have no where to go when their time is up.

Please watch this 2-minute video, share it with others, and tell us your thoughts. I would like to thank UC Davis Health for sponsoring this project.

Recorded at Loaves & Fishes, Sacramento. Produced by Ted Fong.

As a minister and hospital chaplain, Julie Interrante cared for terminally-ill patients
for 25 years. She now works as an end-of-life educator in Sacramento. I am
delighted that she’ll be providing spiritual care at Joshua’s House.

In August, I met Julie at the Clunie Community Center in Sacramento for a recorded
conversation. Standing tall, she was casually dressed and very upbeat. Julie also
exuded an inner peace that made me even more eager to discuss her calling to end-
of-life work.

Julie shared her career journey with me, the one that transformed her into a skilled
and compassionate hospice professional. But what really allowed her to help people
was to experience a “broken-open heart” early on as a result of her hospice
encounters. In fact, she wrote a book about it. This awaking allowed her to make a personal decision to grow spiritually. And over time, she found it easier and more satisfying to help others.

Julie made two points that really stuck with me. The first is that end of life is the
great equalizer. People are all the same regardless of net worth, social class, and
housing status. “We all need attention and tenderness during the completion of our
life. It’s all part of being human,” says Julie. Hospice workers and especially spiritual
advisors can provide this.

The second is that word “dying” is not the right term. “We’re living until we are no
longer living.” While someone may be out of medical options, the process of
completing one’s life is just beginning. Julie says no one wants to be alone and no
one wants to be forgotten. They want to create a legacy that says, “I was here.”
There is so much that hospice programs can do to make this wish come true.

Julie is excited about working with Joshua’s House. I am just as excited to have such
a beautiful and compassionate person on board.