Teresa Cavendish is a woman making a difference in Tucson! Her contribution to our community is an inspiration to us all.
Teresa is a native Tucsonan and a graduate of the University of Arizona with a degree in Management Information Systems. She is the Director of Operations for Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, where she has worked since she was only 19 years old. She has worked in various clerical, administrative and IT positions within the organization, but her most recent service has included being the director of the Casa Alitas program since she helped establish it in 2014.
Casa Alitas (Spanish for “little angel wings”) provides hospitality and humanitarian aid for mostly Central American migrant families seeking asylum in the United States. Each day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) brings families to Casa Alitas and releases them into the care of the program’s volunteers. These desperate, yet courageous, families have fled their home countries due to extreme crime, violence, and poverty and have traveled almost 2,000 miles in the hopes of finding safety and security within the US. They arrive to Casa Alitas exhausted, frightened, dirty, hungry, often injured or ill, and with only their faith and hope keeping them going. The families are warmly greeted as guests, and are reassured that they are safe and welcome with Casa Alitas. Casa Alitas offers warm meals, a place to rest, showers and a change of clothing, as well as medical care if needed. Casa Alitas helps the families call their sponsors here in the US to arrange for travel, and help them get to the bus station or airport when it is time to continue their trips. Before leaving, Casa Alitas makes sure they have a travel bag with food, water, baby supplies and hygiene items, and comfort items like a blanket or toys to make their upcoming cross-country bus trips more comfortable. Though their time with Casa Alitas is brief – typically only 24 to 72 hours – everyone makes sure these families feel the compassion, care and acceptance that we hope will be offered to them in their new homes here in America.
The Casa Alitas program began in the back of the Greyhound bus station, moved into an empty classroom in a nearby agency operated by Catholic Community Services, and then finally into a 5 bedroom house in central Tucson. In the fall of 2018, faced with a steadily increasing number of families who needed our aid, Casa Alitas expanded into a second house, then began partnering with local churches to use their buildings for shelters, and also used local hotels. Then, in late January 2019, the new owner of the former Benedictine Monastery offered Casa Alitas the opportunity to use that building for several months. Use of the Monastery has been a true blessing to the Casa Alitas program, and has allowed them to offer safety, care and hope to almost 2,000 newly arrived families in just a few weeks.
Working with Casa Alitas, its families, and its volunteers has taught me many things about being a woman, a parent, and a person of faith. I have spent many, many hours with hundreds of volunteers who step forward with conviction and refuse to be discouraged, intimidated, overwhelmed, or dissuaded from doing what they know needs to be done to help others; I have learned to be a stronger woman. I have witnessed love and courage which is almost indescribable, shown by parents who refuse to surrender their children to hardships most of us could never conceive of; I have learned to be a stronger parent. I have prayed with people who lost everything and everyone they ever loved, but have found peace within their faith in God’s mercy and goodness; I have learned to be a stronger child of God.
- Teresa Cavendish