When Patricia White's two nephews came to visit last October, all three thought it was going to be an overnight stay.
As it turned out, Mrs. White's sister, who has a substance-abuse problem, never returned to pick up her sons.
Five months later, the boys are still with their aunt, and she has been designated a "kin foster parent" -- one caring for relatives -- by the Erie County Department of Social Services so she can be legally responsible for them.
But creating the new family also has taken outside help, including that of Catholic Charities, the human-services arm of the Buffalo Catholic Diocese.
Mrs. White is one of more than 170,000 people who turned to Catholic Charities for some kind of help last year.
This year the agency, which operates throughout the eight counties of Western New York, expects to receive even more requests for assistance. To do so, it will conduct its annual fund-raising appeal from Sunday through April 5 with a goal of $8.9 million.
Mrs. White, a fiercely independent woman, said she was "upset with myself" and somewhat ashamed that she had to turn to Catholic Charities for food and clothing for her nephews, Charles, 11, and Cordarrell, 8, Anderson.
However, the social worker who initially interviewed her was understanding and respectful.
"I didn't feel ashamed after the interview," she said.
Sister Ann Marie Striegl, the veteran social worker she was sent to see, also proved to be sympathetic and helpful.
"My experience working in the inner city is that it is not unusual for a grandmother or aunt to be raising the children of a daughter or sister," said Sister Ann.
A member of the Grey Nuns of the
Sacred Heart, Sister Ann operates the Catholic Charities' Metropolitan Services office in the St. Vincent de Paul Resource Center at Main and Bryant streets, just a few blocks from Mrs. White's home.
Before opening her current office, Sister Ann ran a Catholic Charities office for many years in the now-closed Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
"The church has a witness here. We have not abandoned this part of the city," said Sister Ann. "Catholic Charities has put their money where their mouth is by putting this office here and letting me work here."
Formerly a teacher's aide at Breath of Life Day Care Center, Mrs. White had to give up her job after the boys moved in so she would have time to give them the attention they need.
She also has been in ministry training for four years at Young's Tabernacle Holiness Church and devotes much of her time to church work, preparing to be licensed and ordained.
Her friends at church also have provided some help, she said.
Although she and Sister Ann sometimes compare their beliefs, Mrs. White said she appreciates how Sister Ann respects her faith and has not attempted to push her towards Catholicism.
Sister Ann has helped Mrs. White and the boys with food, clothing and Christmas gifts. She also is trying to make arrangements to send the boys to St. Vincent de Paul summer camp at Angola on the Lake at no charge.
"The most important thing has been providing supportive counseling to help her in her relationship with the boys and with her sister," said Sister Ann.
"So many of the people who come here are in a crisis kind of situation," she noted, referring to the typical visitor to her office. "They have no food. Their utilities have been turned off. They may be homeless."
The first priority always is "to try to get them beyond that."
Later, when they have survived the crisis, is the time to offer counseling and look for long-term solutions, she said.
In Mrs. White's case, she and Sister Ann agree that the long-term solution is "to reunite the boys with their mother."