In Hartford Connecticut, the Sisters of St. Joseph are tackling the problems facing some of their most vulnerable neighbors. What impressed me the most is their commitment to a wholistic approach to social issues. They sponsor and staff many impressive programs to meet the needs of the poor; they educate a large segment of people about the issues facing the vulnerable; engage neighbors as volunteers and advocates; and they address the systemic causes of injustice.
|Srs. Theresa Fonti and Maureen Faenza are the co-directors at House of Bread|
I went to visit several programs that the sisters own and/or operate. I started at the House of Bread. For over 30 years, the Sisters have operated a soup kitchen, known for its delicious food and warm hospitality. Through their conversations with the neighbors who came to the kitchen, the Sisters and their Board of Directors expanded the program. Today it provides transitional and low income housing, a day shelter, a program to provide children with a warm dinner, and a thrift store. They have education programs to help mothers gain a General Equivalency Diploma and job training in food service. The program could not operate without all the volunteers who do everything from managing the thrift store, to serving the meals and mentoring the clients. Many of their clients volunteer to assist the program even while they are receiving services. Their secret to success is the relationships they form and the encouragement they provide to their clients.
|The Soup Kitchen relies heavily on volunteers|
Next I was off to Jubilee House, a community adult education center and gathering place operated as a ministry of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambery in Hartford. Jubilee House’s mission is to be a place where people of varied background and experience gather to teach, learn, and share in surroundings conducive to human and spiritual growth. My tour sure gave evidence to this in action. The program offers assistance to people from over 24 countries. The success of this program is that it provides one-to-one or one-to-two ratios between the mentors and the adult learners. Most other ESOL classes in Hartford are offered in big classes where people often get frustrated and leave when they cannot master the material. As I wandered through the large building there were students and tutors busily practicing English everywhere. Even during the break-time, students and tutors stay together and chat in English as they enjoy a cup of coffee, tea and snack together. I got a chance to talk with one of the tutors during the break who started out coming one morning a week and now comes four times a week because she feels the program is so effective and necessary.
|A volunteer tutor and her student|
|The individualized attention makes all the difference for these adult learners|
Jubilee House also has a very responsive program for refugees who have completed the post-refugee resettlement program offered by the Government or Catholic Charities. Hartford has a large refugee population from Bosnia, Liberia, Somalia, Burma, Burundi, Iraq, and Buhtan. Essentially, this means they are serving the people once there really is no government funding or other charity programs to assist them. They are the only post-resettlement program in their area. The need for services is great because most of these refugees come from vastly different lifestyles, have experience trauma, and do not speak English. However, I am told that when the clients experience success in jobs, legal status or other major landmarks, the effusiveness of their joy is extreme.
The third major program at Jubilee House is the Esperana Academic Center, which provides writing, math, computer literacy, and world of work instruction to adults who have a high school diploma or GED and who wish to pursue higher education or build life/work skills.
As if these programs weren’t impressive enough, then I was off to visit Tabor House. Founded in 1990 by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Tabor House consists of two Victorian homes in Hartford that provide a safe, loving home for formerly homeless people with AIDS and HIV.