Dr. Anne Charbonneau Cardile, a former Christ House year-long volunteer, was the Alumni Recipient of the Catholic Volunteer Network’s Bishop Francis Award. The award honors individuals or groups that have demonstrated exemplary service to their local communities.
Dr. Charbonneau Cardile reflected on her year at Christ House in her acceptance speech:
Thank you, Jim. I am deeply grateful and view this award as recognition and encouragement not only for myself, but for Christ House and Unity’s entire team at CCNV, which for the past 30 years has strived to provide low barrier access to compassionate, informed care to our neighbors in need.
(Since I have the mic…) I’d like to take this unique opportunity for two public “thank yous.”
First, I’d like to recognize and thank my parents, Jim and Mary Charbonneau, who celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary this summer. From the first, for my SIX brothers and sisters and me, my parents worked to ensure that our foundations were faith and family. They taught us by their day-in and day-out example that care for the poor, advocacy for the vulnerable were part of the natural extension and expression of faith in a merciful God. And, although I didn’t always want to hear it as a junior high kid trying to “keep up with Jones” of my peer group, Mom and Dad would remind me that my inheritance and truest treasure would not be material wealth (shucks), but rather my faith, my family and my education.
The second “thank you” is to the Christ House Community and to those, including Catholic Volunteer Network and the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters, who made my volunteer year possible. I think for many young people, a year of volunteer service has become a kind of lay year of formation, a year of apprenticeship in Faith and Service. During our volunteer year, we encounter issues of poverty, suffering, and injustice. Encountered in isolation, these dark realities could be overwhelming and lead us either to despair or to ignore stark needs. But we do NOT encounter them in isolation. Rather, during our volunteer year, wve are invited to journey with individuals, communities and organizations which ENGAGE and CHALLENGE issues which threaten human dignity: poverty, inequitable access to health care and education, the criminalization of mental illness and homelessness, inadequate access to fair employment, immigration struggles, and more. With these companions and mentors, we are invited not to despair or ignore, but to RESPOND.
I don’t know many communities or organizations who have responded to the suffering of their neighbors better than Christ House. With vision, expertise, passion and extraordinary commitment, the physicians, nursing staff, social services, pastoral staff, administration, kitchen and cleaning staffs – daily for the past thirty years – create an environment of healing for body, mind and spirit. The Christ House experience is simply transformational. And not just for patients. By the end of my year at Christ House, I had been accepted to medical school and was beginning to think more concretely about my future. I remember Mary Jordan -Christ House’s extraordinary Nursing Director- asked me one day about that time as we sat in the small nurses’ work area, what kind of medicine I might want to practice. So inspiring, so transformational had been my own experience at Christ House, I remember saying without any hesitation, “This. I want to do this.”
By the time I had finished medical school and residency, Dr. Goetcheus, Vince Keane and others had taken the charism of Health Care for the Homeless and expanded it to what would become Unity Health Care, today DC’s largest nonprofit health and social service agency, which last year served over 100,000 individuals and families through out the city.
I think the best way to give a bit of insight into my experience at Unity’s CCNV over the past eleven years is to share a story which has been particularly meaningful to me over the past year. It’s a patient’s Lazarus story.
About a year ago, I was in the midst of a bustling clinic morning at CCNV when I received a call from Sharon Watkins, a wonderful nurse at N Street Village which supports homeless women in Northwest.
“Hi, Dr. Cardile. I have Camilla White (by the way, not her real name) with me. She’d like to see you.”
Camilla White….? My mind began to scan ten years of patients. “Oh, Camilla!” I had known Camilla about five years before, and even at that point, in her mid thirties, her HIV disease was advanced. We -myself, social services, nursing, psychiatry- had tried to engage her in care, to help her start and take life-saving HIV medications; but her struggles with mental illness and addiction were too strong and she drifted away. Honestly, I was surprised to hear she was still living. “Oh, Camilla! Send her right over.”
In my exam room that afternoon, Camilla’s small frame was wasted: she weighed barely 90 pounds. Her face was disfigured by large growths related to her severe immunosuppression. Her throat was thick with thrush. Her eyes and her manner hinted at her inner torment.
“I need this stuff off my face,” was all she managed to say at first.
“You know, we can help with that.”
And the stone began to roll away….
I saw Camilla this past month as part of what is now a routine HIV follow up appointment for her. She has gained 30 pounds and her manner and body are brimming with strength and self-confidence. She is in a supportive housing community. Her mental illness is being treated and she is receiving ongoing support from social services and nursing. She is in Recovery from substance abuse. She is taking her HIV medication regularly and her disease is controlled. And of the disfiguring growths, all that remains are a few, small dark spots on her lovely face. As she reflected on her own transformation over the last year, Camilla says matter-of-factly, “You now, I never knew I could be happy.”
Cardinal John Henry Newman reflected: “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.” For myself and my colleagues at CCNV, it is our goal and our privilege to be that link, to be that bond, to be that access to healthcare for some our suffering neighbors.
Thank you again.