Don't Take "No" For an Answer

The needy receive medical attention.

VelasquezIt was not until she was an adult that Carmen Velásquez realized that some of her experiences in church and society as a young woman were the result of sheer prejudice and racism. But it’s these experiences that have made her the feisty, won’t-take-no-for-an-answer advocate for those who are so often placed at the back of the line for access to rights and privileges.

Growing up in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago, Velásquez saw families around her struggling because they didn’t have access to affordable health care. Now she is the executive director of the Alivio Medical Clinics, which provide medical care for thousands of the undocumented, uninsured, and underinsured residents of Chicago’s West Side neighborhoods. Alivio, which means “relief,” serves more than 16,000 patients a year, 90 percent of whom are living below the poverty level.

Velásquez’s philosophy in life is: “If I can’t get through the door, I’ll have to use the window. And if I can’t get through the window, I guess I’ll have to blow the roof off the place.” And besides, she says, “I’ve always had a whole team behind me.”

Velásquez believes it was divine providence that secured the site for the first Alivio Clinic. She organized a committee to address the lack of a community health clinic in her area, and they secured a $1 million operational grant. The only problem was they didn’t have a clinic to operate. Not yet, anyway.

The committee got to work to find a location and the funds needed for such an ambitious project. In a short time Velasquez and friends raised $2.2 million, which paid for the land, construction, and all the furniture and equipment.

At 64, retirement isn’t in the picture for Velásquez. Instead, she speaks of the next project: building an assisted-living senior citizens’ center next to one of the clinics. “I would not work this hard for any hospital or any private company,” she says. “I love my job. It is very challenging, but I love what I do. It’s the right thing to do.”

—Excerpted from U.S. Catholic magazine

Your turn:

  • What have you seen around you that requires you to keep fighting for justice?
  • Who has helped you to pray? Who is your role model?

Wounded healer

As a young man, he was a shepherd and a soldier. Later he sold religious books. When he started preaching, people thought he was crazy and put him in an insane asylum, where he was abused. Upon his release he sold everything and opened a hospital for the poor, whom he healed in body and soul. They called him John of God, and when he died, all the authorities came to his burial.

  • How are you attentive to the needs of others?
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