BY ANGELA BARBUTI
When Emmie Glynn Ryan was in college in Ireland, she aspired to become a social worker. Her professor steered her away from that career path. “He told me I was too soft and would be bringing home everybody and wouldn’t be able to draw the line,” she explained. She would go on to study law, and as fate would have it, now uses that expertise to help people in need.
Her introduction to Catholic Charities Brooklyn Queens came after her husband — broadcaster Jim Ryan of Fox 5 Good Day NY — was being honored as Brehon of the Year at the Great Irish Fair in Coney Island. When the position of general counsel became available, she applied. She’s been with the nonprofit for nearly 20 years. “I was so drawn to Catholic Charities and have grown into it and feel like it’s part of my family, not just a job to go to every day.”
The organization administers and offers more than 160 programs, from Head Start centers for young children and food delivery to the elderly to mental health services and affordable housing placement.
On June 29, Catholic Charities will hold its annual Bishop's Humanitarian Award Dinner. The proceeds will benefit services they provide on a daily basis. Because of an overwhelming response, the event had to be moved to the Grand Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria to accommodate their guests. Throughout the evening, clients give their touching accounts of how the organization has helped them in their time of need. “It’s what brings me to work every day, just remembering their stories,” Ryan said.
How can you explain the mission of the organization? What are some of the things it does that you’re most proud of?I love Catholic Charities for the variety of services they provide to everybody regardless of where they come from and what their qualifications are. No matter who comes in the door, they can always be assisted or directed in some way. We have a fabulous integration of services here. They start off with daycare and Head Start programs. The Head Start programs, to me, are so important because they teach children from such an early age and it gives them a great start. And we help people with mental and behavioral health issues. It’s such an area that’s so misunderstood. A lot of people are afraid of mentally ill people. And we help them so much. And then we have, of course, our seniors. They are the salt of the earth. We look after them. Some of them have no families. For some of them, the only communication they have is with Catholic Charities and the various centers that we have where we deliver meals to them. I’m really so proud of the dedication of our staff. Through thick and thin and through (Hurricane) Sandy and all the snowstorms and bad winters we’ve had, their first priority is always to make sure our clients are served. And, of course, that comes from the top down.
What is your business background?I was a lawyer in Ireland. I worked in London for three years as an attorney and requalified there. We all have to pay rent, so I went into the corporate world for a while. And then when (Communist head of state Nicolae) Ceausescu was in Romania and was brought down, they needed some volunteer workers. I stayed in Romania for six months. I was a nurse, painter, teacher, anything they needed as a volunteer I did. And I absolutely loved it.
When did you come to the U.S.? How did your job at Catholic Charities come about?
While I was in Romania, my Donnelly Visa came through that I had applied for. So I had to get together all my paperwork and tests and arrived in the United States with one day to spare on that visa. And like all immigrants, I had a few jobs. I worked in law firms summarizing depositions, I worked in a bookstore, did a bit of waitressing. And then I got a job in a law firm and stayed with them for about three years. And I went to Coney Island one year with my husband, he was being made Brehon of the Year for the Irish Fair they have out there. And that was when I was introduced to Catholic Charities and all the great work that they do. And I said to myself, ‘I’m going to try and work for a not-for-profit.’ So I kept my eyes and ears to the ground and when a vacancy came up here — my predecessor had adopted two children and then adopted a third so decided she wanted to stay at home. So I applied for the job and after several months of interviewing, I got it and have been here since.
How did you meet your husband?My brother Michael Glynn, who has since died, had an establishment on 57th Street called Kennedy’s. It was an Irish bar. So my brother was very good friends with my husband. Michael told him, “I want to introduce you to my family.” We were introduced and Jim took a big shine to me and the rest is history, really.
What does your job entail? What is a typical day like for you?There is no typical day. I’m the legal advisor to our CEO and the corporation. Of course we have several affiliates, so I’m also general counsel to all of them. Our housing portfolio is one of the largest faith-based developers of affordable housing, including senior housing, in the country. I never know what’s going to be on my desk. I deal with so many issues from the Behavioral Health Clinic, Daycare Center, Head Start Center, and we have a large number of 1,500 to 2,000 employees.
Give us a glimpse into the Bishop’s Humanitarian Dinner.In past years, they explain the history of the charity and how we spend people’s donations. We get little accounts from either the programs directly, or clients themselves telling their stories. That is heartbreaking and so beautiful to listen to. When you as a worker for Catholic Charities listen to them, you can only be moved and feel so glad you are part of an organization that directly helps people. You can see it. When you donate to cancer research, which is fantastic, you don’t always see the results. This is so gratifying, to be able to see the smile that we can put on somebody’s face by giving them a home or helping them out when they were down on their luck with rent. It’s just unbelievable.
To learn more, visit www.ccbq.org