November 28, 2022
Listen now: SOCF's Angela D'Orazio on living God's plan in faith-based work
For our November episode, we are joined by Angela D’Orazio, Senior Program Officer for Housing at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. Through grants, technical assistance, convening, advocacy, and policy initiatives, Angela's work in striving to end chronic homelessness and youth homelessness has resulted in state and local collaboration to meet the needs of the unhoused community.
Angela and SOCF are partners in the Cuyahoga County effort to end chronic homelessness, Housing First, which has developed more than 13 permanent supportive housing properties across Greater Cleveland. In recent years, Angela has chaired the steering committee of A Place 4 Me, a county-wide initiative that brings together diverse community partners to collectively prevent and end youth homelessness, especially among youth who have aged out of the foster care system. Working closely with the program director of A Place 4 Me, Angela co-facilitated a community planning process to develop the Cuyahoga County Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness. She also works on behalf of the foundation to garner private and public investment to support implementation of the plan.
Angela has a Bachelor of Science in psychology and sociology from Kent State University and a Master of Science in social administration (MSSA) from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH.
TRANSCRIPT: Conversation with Angela D’Orazio
Listen at the link below, or scroll down for an abbreviated transcript of the conversation.
(Season 3, Episode 9)
Rachel Drotar, Generative Spirit program coordinator for the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, hosts this month’s Generative Spirits: Conversations with Catholic Sisters podcast.
Following is an edited transcript of her conversation with Angela D’Orazio, Senior Program Officer for housing at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland.
For our November episode, we are joined by Angela D’Orazio, Senior Program Officer for housing at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. Through grants, technical assistance, convening, advocacy and policy initiatives, Angela's work in striving to end chronic homelessness and youth homelessness has resulted in state and local collaboration to meet the needs of the unhoused community. Angela has worked closely on an initiative called A Place for Me, which brings together diverse community partners to collectively prevent and end youth homelessness, especially among youth who have aged out of the foster care system. Working closely with the program director of A Place for Me, Angela co-facilitated a community planning process to develop the Cuyahoga County strategic plan to prevent and end youth homelessness. She also works on behalf of the foundation to garner public and private investment to support implementation of the plan. Angela has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Sociology from Kent State University and a Master of Science in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Hey Angela, how are you?
Good. How are you?
I'm good. I'm really enjoying the super sunny weather. I was just outside. It's really good to see you. I haven't seen you in a while.
It's good to see you too. I know. I've been outside as much as I possibly can. We have been just so spoiled with this really nice weather. I always am surprised by how much I needed the sun and the blue skies and how much my mood is affected by the weather until there is a beautiful day like this and I just feel like so much lighter.
November being unseasonably warm is such a gift. When October started, I was like, “Okay, we're going to get darker earlier and all of these things.” But now, I'm just really grateful for it.
Welcome, Angela. I know that we worked for a couple of years together before I left the foundation to do other work. I'm really glad to be talking to you today on the podcast.
Thank you for asking me. This is fun.
The first thing that I did want to ask you is for you to tell the audience is who you are and what your role is at the Sisters of Charity Foundation.
Sure. My name is Angela D'Orazio and I'm the Senior Program Officer for housing at the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. I've been working in the space of housing and homeless services really since 2011 or so. But, I've been with the foundation and the parent organization, the Sisters of Charity Health System, since 2007. So I've been with the organization in some capacity for the last 15 and a half years.
In my work now, it's a privilege for me to be able to sort of oversee the foundation's investments in ending homelessness in Cuyahoga County. I am always so grateful that the foundation's board has decided to be so bold in its vision around making investments that are truly focused on solutions, and really pushing the envelope in what's possible in securing the dignity of housing for every person. That alone is rooted in our Catholic faith—that every person deserves the dignity of a home from which to grow and dream and thrive. I think home is so foundational to all of us and it is the place where we are able to do all of those things. It is truly a privilege to represent and work on those investments.
The foundation also takes a really collaborative approach to its work, recognizing that no one organization, no one foundation is capable of something as aspirational as ending homelessness
. It's always focused its work on building strong collaborations and helping to sustain and nurture those partnerships to work toward a shared goal. In our youth work more recently, there's been a lot of focus on how we work with and partner authentically with young people who have the lived experience of homelessness and housing instability. How we honor their stories. How we partner and quiet our own voices to defer to their voice as an expert in what it means to experience homelessness in our community. And, to work with them to develop solutions. It's really meaningful, impactful, hard, but very rewarding work that I get to be a part of at the Sisters of Charity Foundation.
To be able to have done that for so long, to see the evolutions of this work, not just at the foundation, but in Cleveland in general, sounds like such a gift. You've had your hand in a lot of collaborations with organizations around town. Cleveland is one of these centers in the country where the need is present. There are so many opportunities and organizations, faith-based and otherwise, that are really collaborating on the state level and on the national level. To have those long-term partnerships, as a person that's been doing this for so long, has to be such a gift to the people that you collaborate with. I'm really grateful that you are specifically in the position you are because you do have this sense of patience, understanding, seeing things from all sides and really needing to have that skill.
I'm glad you mentioned patience, because sometimes, I don't feel very patient. I feel like so much of this work is like finding the right balance between recognizing that we're in this for the long haul. We're not going to end homelessness in five years or 10 years. Again, that's really the leadership of the board and saying, “We're going to stick with this. We know that these massive social transformations take a lot of time. We're going to stick with it. We need to be patient.”
It's also not wanting to become complacent either. It's that mix of being patient with the journey that we're on, but never settling for what's currently in place. It's always about thinking how we can do better and how we can strive for more, but doing that in a really hopeful way and not sort of a pessimistic, “We're failing kind of way.” It's always that balance between wanting to be patient, recognizing we're on a journey and always striving to keep moving forward and to keep striving for what's best and what's better.
I don't always feel very patient, but I think that's how faith shows up in the workplace and in this work in general. We have to trust that this will all work out the way that it's meant to be. We don't always see what's around the corner and how things will change. In my personal life, I'm such a believer that God's hand is in everything and oftentimes we can't see the bigger picture. So, we have to just kind of go along for the ride and trust that we are vessels in God's wider plan and really just trust in that and do the best that we can and show it the best way that we can.
That reminds me of that prayer that's a tribute to Oscar Romero, being prophets of the future not our own. There's a reference in that prayer about laying foundations that still need further development. We know things are not going to really end or have a sense of immediate satisfaction within our immediate lifetimes and seeing that we are still part of the process of reaching the kingdom of God, whatever that may look like to our own physical bodies. It feels both present centered and future centered. Knowing that we are building what has been built before us feels like a really beautiful comparison to the Kingdom of God and the understanding that God is with us now and God will continue to be with us in the next iteration. It is based on where we are right now with the best research that we have at this moment—working together and doing our best. The trust looks like ongoing community support rather than seeing the result at every turn.
When we first officially met, when I first started at the foundation, being people of faith was one of the things that connected us. I did want to ask how does being a person of faith really influence how you show up to your work in housing and how you show up to your work at the foundation in general?
I think I can bring my whole self to the work, especially working with a faith-based organization, because faith is a really important part of my life. Work for any one of us is an important part of our lives. We dedicate, what, half of our waking hours to our work? To be able to live out my faith at work feels really authentic to me as a person of faith. I feel like I've often reflected… I feel like my inner monologue is sort of an ongoing dialogue with God even at work. When things go particularly well or when I recognize in a moment like, “That could have gone really badly.” But, something happened where it didn't and I think, “Oh, God, that was you.” And just constantly looking for those moments where I can see God's hand in the process and the work. And likewise, in those places where I've sort of failed to kind of live up to my responsibilities as a person of faith or when I've made a mistake or having an issue in a relationship with a person. Just recognizing again that I'm a vessel in a much larger plan and I need to take a step back and say, “God, what would you have me do here?” Because in this work, which is really all about relationships, all about working with people, there are inevitably conflicts. There are inevitably challenges. I think to look at those as opportunities for growth for myself individually, but also opportunity for relationship to build trust and move forward. I think that's how I try to approach those instances. It's really feeling like there's a constant companion on this work and its’ God and really knowing that he is there and he has it all mapped out. That's not always easy to accept, because I'm very much a person that wants to know all the unknowns and know exactly how to move forward and know exactly what the right answer is. I've had to learn over the last several years and just accept that I can't, both in my professional life as well as my personal life, and just take every day as it comes. It's taken a long time to learn that. It's that trust and it's the faith that it will work out according to God's will and plan, whatever that may be, however it may look. All I'm called to do is the best that I can in that moment, really in partnership and seeing my role as a vessel of God.
I think that's a really good thing to hear you say in reference to what you said in the beginning about housing provides dignity to someone. We have this space for each other to feel grounded, to feel safe, to feel like we can have a space that is ours to have safety that housing can provide and really can communicate to someone that you are worth this time in this life and this energy that we all deserve. I think that your work specifically lives up to that call in the way that you collaborate and center youth in their decision making. Not just, “Here are some resources.” But, “How are you co-creators of your future?” And how that's really essential to providing space of dignity, to provide space of a feeling like I can be invested in. I am worthy of this. That feels like very Spirit-driven work when we're talking about specifically justice work. Am I doing something right? Am I doing something for the greater good of God? Or, am I doing something that is the best thing to do?
When we think about justice and when we think about who are we including and how are we including them, I think that's a really good way of doing so – centering folks in their own lives. When you've talked a little bit about how you specifically have the process centered around youth and how that makes it essential. I think that's a really clear-cut way to get to that goal.
The foundation many, many years ago did a documentary called In Their Words
with the CSAs. It's a documentary where the CSAs reflected on their ministry over the year. There was a sister, I can't remember her name, but she was at St. John Medical Center. She talked about an experience with a patient in the emergency room many, many years ago and how she walked with
this man. She accompanied him. I think about that so much, because, and I was reminded of it when you just said, especially with young people, the work is never about, “Okay, here's a list of resources. Good luck.” It's really about partnership and accompanying young people on their journeys. That's a big piece. It's really about peer-to-peer, walking with, partnering to a better future and seeing that to fruition.
It feels very rooted in faith and spirituality and joining with as your whole person to another person and helping them navigate to something better and allowing yourself to be transformed in the process too. I think that's the other thing I appreciate so much about the foundation. I think we really try to not take this like, “We are the foundation. We know what's best.” It's really about, “You are a person, I am a person. We both bring strengths to this relationship. We both bring weaknesses to this relationship. Coming together, we can complement each other's strengths. We can learn from each other. We can both be changed for the better in relationship with one another.” I just love that spirit of the way that the foundation does its work. The privilege of being able to do my work that way. It is grounded in the CSAs and the way that they've done their work for so long.
Being able to know that we are part of that history of CSAs beginning this work and building on their work. And, knowing full well that not only is it a faith-based institution, it's also an institution that is a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. Just an observation that there are moments where we can recognize God within this work. To be doing that in a similar way or in the spirit of sisters that have been doing this work for so many years is such a—privilege is a good way of putting it. We are this kind of community of folks that take on the mantle and really continue it and meet the issues based on where we are and the resources that we have. I would imagine that it feels different to work at a faith-based institution and to have those consistent reminders. I wonder how you see those? Where you see them in your work?
When I started at the health system in 2007, I was lucky enough to be there at a time where there were several CSAs in active ministry at the health system, many working just down the hall from me. Just the blessing of working alongside women who had given their entire lives to this mission. Sister Mary Pat (Mary Patricia Barrett, CSA) especially always talked about not being able to accomplish the work of the CSAs and their mission without the lay ministers, her co-ministers.
When you look at the history of the CSAs in this country, having come here in the late 1800s, it’s about feeling so connected to those years of ministry in Cleveland and also feeling the responsibility of that, being invited to participate in this mission and wanting to do that well. I feel that legacy. You know that saying, “you stand on the shoulders of giants.” I think with the CSAs, they are giants. The work that they've done in our community is just so powerful. It's not just what they've done, but how they've done it in partnership with courage and compassion and constantly looking for what's the next important need that we can help fill. Not wanting to ever be complacent, not ever wanting to just stand still, but looking for the next thing. I have such respect for what they've done and how they've done it.
I think sometimes the “how” is just as important, if not more important, than the “what.” All of those moments, to get to just take a moment to kind of center yourself as a spiritual being in the workplace. Most of our meetings begin with prayer. Sometimes I find that we start praying and I realize, “Oh my gosh, I didn't know how much I needed a moment of silence and a moment of prayer.” Just moved to tears because you're thinking of all of the things and you might have just continued to subconsciously push all of that below the surface if not for that moment of quiet and reflection. It's all of those things that allow me to bring my whole self to the work and stay rooted and grounded in that connection to a larger mission at the foundation.
I'm glad that you said that about prayer for meetings. It allows us to enter it in gratitude and in connection. I feel connected with people in the room if I've shared prayer with them, especially if we're going to be talking about something that is hard or difficult or heavy. I feel like I am more fortified when that happens.
Thank you so much for talking today.
You're welcome. Thanks for asking me.
I'm really glad that I did. I know that as we were planning the year for podcasts, your name was brought up as someone that's like there's so much that Angela has shared about being a faith-filled person and how that is centered in her life. I'm really glad that we got to talk about that.
Just to be able to reflect on. We're all moving so quickly these days and it's really nice to be able to just take a moment to reflect on that. You're doing it every day and often don't have a chance to stop for a moment and really think about it. So thank you for asking me.
This episode was made possible by generous funding from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. We want to thank our sound editor Angie Hayes and our music composer Matthew Dolan for their work on this episode. We look forward to our next episode. Available on Spotify, Apple podcasts, iTunes and generativespirit.org/podcast.