When Essilevy Colón and Carlos Gandia moved to Orlando from Puerto Rico with their two children they were hopeful. They made their move in an effort to place their 6-year-old autistic daughter in the educational setting she needed to thrive. But what was ahead was quite the bumpy road. Since their move, Essilevy’s mother passed away and her own health has been up and down. With tears in her eyes, she spoke about her mother. “I miss her so much. Every time I had a problem; she is the one I called.” At this time, the couple find themselves unemployed and searching for work.
With little to no financial means at all and interview after interview; the family had no choice but to leave their apartment and go live with a family member. “We have bunk beds for the kids in the living room and we sleep on the floor on a mattress,” said Carlos. The couple made their way to Catholic Charities late last year and say it’s a blessing to have been chosen as a receiving family for the Christmas “Sponsor a Family” program that has been in place for the past 15 years. “If not for this, we wouldn’t be able to give the kids gifts,” explained Essilevy.
The family belongs to Sts. Peter & Paul Parish in Winter Park and Essilevy says their faith helps them believe that there are better days to come. “At least I have a roof over my kids’ heads. We have secured the schools. The teachers are amazing; they help us. Both of them participate in the free meals; there is help with materials for school. I’m really blessed for everything little.”
Catholic Charities Central Region Director, Julie Yetter, says that the best part of the Christmas program is seeing all of the smiling faces. “Knowing that the families have undergone such struggles throughout the year, it’s nice to see them truly happy and appreciative of what they’ve received. The worst part about the program is that we always wish we could do more.”
Editor’s Note: We extend a special thank you to all who participated in the Catholic Charities of Central Florida “Sponsor a Family” program. More than 400 families were assisted!