Tuesday, July 30, 2013

TRY - Helping the Next Generation of Young Women in Buffalo

As a social worker, I have a special interest in programs that help teenage girls. In Buffalo, I found one that runs in a very similar fashion to the one I ran in St. Louis and with similar astounding results. TRY stands for Teaching and Restoring Youth. It offers transitional housing for 16 to 21 year olds, in a loving ,supportive and structured home environment. It is for young women who are homeless, suffer from abuse, violence, or have been caught in the web of human trafficking. It offers hope and healing.  I could say a lot more but I think I will let the young women's poetry aznd words tell their story.

Broken by Jennifer
Feeling broken lost and alone,
Used and abused and not very strong.
Living in fear that I will never find my home.
Afraid of loving for fear people will go,
Never letting my true colors show.
Giving in trade never in kindness,
Living my life in total blindness.
Familiar stuff is the thing of the past,
Who knows how long anything will last.

I had the opportunity to talk at a deep level with two of the residents, Deedee and Josephine, (not their real names). Deedee shared"I feel like we don't have nobody to help us. If it wasn't for Sr. Janet and Vanessa, I don' t think I could make it." Deedee has now graduated from high school and is in college pursueing a nursing degree. Josephine, also in college, is the first member of her family to graduate from high school. Josephine noted,"it's kind of hard with the rules here but a lot of my friend with their own place are doing pretty bad." Deedee shared, "It's easier to take a different road but I know what I want to have happen in my life." Their dialogue reminds me of the resolve that Crystal shared in her poem, Although.

Although you hurt me...
I will survive,
Although you took advantage of me...
I won't let you ruin me,
Although you misused my body...
I won't let you take my dignity,
Although I am filled with pain...
I'm not at all the one to be blamed,
Although you abused me...
I will not let you accuse me,
Although I was in pain and strife...
You will be the one to suffer in agony
For the rest of your life,
Although you hurt me...
I will survive.

Josephine  said, "I struggle for my younger siblings. I want to be a role model. But you have to have someone be there and support you." Deedee and Josephine both rely on each other during the hard times.  The program really tries to develop a community of support and it appears to me that they have succeeded.

Special Person by Jennifer

A person to talk to when I'm scared or afraid,
A person to tell me "It'll be okay",
A person that laughs when I tell stupid jokes,
A person who calms me down when I just want to choke,

I've searched a long time to find that person,
And I've found that person, "It's you!"

Shuffle Off to Buffalo

From my meeting in Rochester, I moved on to Buffalo where I had the opportunity to meet with the Sisters on the Leadership Team and stay at their Motherhouse.  While there, I learned that Buffalo is the third poorest city in the nation.  In order to respond to the needs of the city, the LCWR members of Buffalo (12 religious communities) have collaborated on several significant programs.  Two that I visited are Vive La Casa and Gerard Place.  I visited two other programs which you will hear about through other means.  The Buffalo Peace Camp will be featured in an article in late August that speaks about the Peace Camps that are occurring throughout the Federation.  I will also speak about the TRY program in my next blog.

Sr. Judy Justinger shared with me that collaborating has always been a tradition in Buffalo through schools, colleges, resources for retired sisters and board leadership.  This is very evident at Vive La Casa which was founded in the late 1970s to help refugees from El Salvadore seeking asylum in Canada.  This program is able to provide up to 118 asylum seekers with a dormatory bed, 3 meals and services in an old school building. This program really manages on a shoe string, with four full time staff and a 24 hour security team. The refugees speak 40 different languages with French and Spanish being the most frequently used, even though for many it is not their first language.  They receive most of their food from the food bank.  As most of us are aware, services to immigrant and refugees is not a high priority for funding in this country at this time.  Much of the funding comes from the sisters.

Audrey and Jim Mang, Buffalo Associates
It was our pleasure to share their humble lunch in the large former school cafeteria.  A donation from the food bank arrived while we were eating and all the able-bodied men dropped what they were doing to assist with bringing the food in.  It used to be that this program offered refuge for 2 to 3 weeks.  Now asylum seekers may spent months waiting for a determination about their asylum status.  It is a hard and uncomfortable wait in the un-air-conditioned school for these refugees.  The sisters do their best to provide these people with basic services and a sense of hope during a challenging time in their life.  What one sees is the importance of treating each person with dignity and respect during their time of need.

Gerard Place, also founded and funded by the 12 religious communities, serves the poorest zipcode in Buffalo.  Gerard Place strengthens the community as it empowers individuals and families towards self-sufficiency by providing housing , supportive services, community education and outreach.  Much better funded than Vive, Gerard Place has  great facilities and wonderful outcomes.  95% of their families in transitional housing graduate to permanent housing.  96% do not become homeless again. Part of the success of these programs is that they effectively motivate the clients with incentives that really work.  While I was visiting, they held a community outreach educational session on caring for your infant to avoid sudden infant death syndrome.  They had a good turn out for the program because they offered a pack and play portable crib- brand new for all participants.  Participants complete a before and after test that shows how much they have learned form the class.  Another interesting example is their cooking class. They teach nutrition to the neighborhood by gathering neighbors to prepare a healthy meal together. They leave the class with a bag of groceries that allows them to prepare this meal for their family.  This program aggressively seeks grants and foundation funding to meet the needs of the neighborhood- and the neighborhood is very involved in helping Gerard Place understand their needs.

At Peace Camp, I learned about the many works of the SSJ Sister Karen Klimczak Center for Nonviolence. They are working with area churches on a gang intervention and outreach program; take a peace curriculum into schools; hold workshops on alternatives to violence in prisons and the community and so much more.  As a recent participant said, "Even the smallest choices and actions can make the world a better place. A simple smile or hug or even just loving one another helps to get rid of violence.  Nonviolence seems to be a chain reaction." The center is named after Sr. Karen, who was killed by one of the clients at a half-way house at which she worked. It continues her vision of a world without violence.  Associates of the Buffalo sisters play a major role at the center as volunteer program leaders and board members.

I really enjoyed my time in Buffalo.  The sisters here make a difference in this border town.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

You Couldn't Tell the Story of Rochester Without Talking About the Sisters of St Joseph

Srs. Ginny, Elaine and Mary Ann White
The title of this article is what Sr. Kit Gray from Orange, California had to say after the group of us in town for the Leadership Assembly Planning Committee toured some of the important works of the Sisters of St Joseph.  I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to a few of those works.

Sr. Eileen, General Council and Srs
.Lorraine and Donna who staff the house
We began our tour at the Sisters of St Joseph Volunteer Corp community house.  For over 17 years, sisters have formed the core of the intentional community, that opens its doors to volunteers who want to help the underserved in Rochester.  Some volunteers live at the community for a year at a time, others volunteer for a weekend or a week, doing the things that need to be done.  Volunteers share in the "State of the Heart and the Order of the House" on a weekly basis.  They practice non-violent communication.  Sr. Donna Del Santo, the Director of the program emphasizes the importance of Catholic Social Teachings, as illustrated in this T-shirt that volunteers receive.  The Rochester sisters are very involved in this work, bringing by a salad or an entrĂ©e for a volunteer group and staying for dinner and enjoying their company.  As Sr. Donna says, "If we want to have a future, we have to have our doors open."

Our next stop on the tour was St Joseph's Neighborhood Center which provides comprehensive health care, counseling, adult education and social work to individuals and families who lack access to health insurance. Established in 1993 as a ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Center is committed to raising the health status and quality of life of individuals and families. To learn more about this center visit their webpage at http://www.sjncenter.org/
I want to share with you what one
Sr. Donna and Alyson
of the St Joseph Volunteer Corp members had to say about her volunteer experience.  Alyson Mullie shared, "I love it, it is so unique.  There is no other place like this in the country.  People congregate and talk.  They care about your life.  It is a place to learn about being the best social worker.  It has helped me in my growth process."

St Joseph's sees over 1,500 patients in a year, many with multiple visits.  They rely on over 250 volunteers to achieve their goal of serving the uninsured.

Jake helps out with the prescription
program and taught a class for 5th graders
Another volunteer at the site is Jake.  Jake will begin medical school in the fall so certainly everything he has absorbed at the center will help him in his future endeavors.  A funny story is that when Jake went for his medical school interview, they asked him what he did for fun.  His response, "I live in a convent." (a reference to the volunteer community house.

Then it was off to the Bethany House Catholic Worker, with whom the Sisters of St Joseph collaborate.  They have four live-in volunteer staff and 10 bedrooms for staff.  Lots of SSJs volunteer at Bethany. 
Sr. Jean with her "Princess"
The following day, I continued the tour alone, as the committee having finished its work returned home.  I went to Morning Star where I met a licensed foster parent, who is also a Rochester sister.  Srs Jean and Liz share their home with 3 children with disabilities and one adult with disabilitites. For over 25 years, Srs. Jean and Liz have cared for over 85 children.  They remain legal guardian for 3.  Through the years they have taken many hard to place children.  Currently, there residents are medically fragile and complex.  I ran the Medically Fragile Medicaid Waiver in Hawaii for many years and have a true understanding of how challenging as well as rewarding this type of work can be.   It takes a special kind of 
Nap time at Morning Star

dedication to provide this type of "24 hour family" to these special children.  It was so obvious that these children are loved, seen as individuals and provided with the types of stimulation and care that allows them to reach their greatest potential.

Daystar's state of the art building
From there we visited Daystar which was started by a Sister of St Joseph at age 73, which just goes to show that you are never too old to contribute to the mission. They have recently moved into a wonderful new building. 
Daystar for Medically Fragile Children, Inc, is New York State’s first-and-only ­provider of medical day respite services for children up to age five braving serious, and often life-threatening medical and developmental complexities. Daystar’s one-of-a-kind model incorporates expert pediatric nursing and respite care, therapeutic and educational support programming, and parent support and family engagement services. Daystar provides seamless coordination of other required therapies such as physical, speech and vision, working cooperatively with Monroe County’s Early Intervention program and area school districts, and offers music therapy and special education for all clients. Daystar strives to effectively influence the long term impact on the health and quality of life of these children.

When speaking about Daystar and St Joseph's Neighborhood Center, Sr. Eileen Daly commented, "We are involved in these organizations but without the financial responsibility.  They are separately incorporated. Yet they offer us a way to leverage our presence and our impact."

The last place on my tour was the "Smart Camp, " a 3 week program occurring at Nazareth Elementary School.  Founded in 1871, this building has served as an Academy for girls and now as an elementary program for youth aged pre-Kindergarten through 6th grade.  It is a strong
commitment for the Rochester sisters to remain as a powerful presence in what has become an underserved, high crime, poverty area.  Many of the sisters still reside in the convents on the school campus.  65% of the children attending the programs receive subsidized tuition assistance and many attend the before and after programs.  One sister uses the building in the evenings and weekends to provide an arts program for neighborhood children.

So, I think you can see that Sr. Kit Gray was right.  You cannot tell the story of the city of Rochester without noting that the Sisters of St Joseph are making a difference.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Springtime in LePuy

Springtime in LePuy

Very soon the new International Centre website will go live.  One of its exciting features is the ability to export this link to update you that a new "News Story" is available.  So enjoy this preview.