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 entrée 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
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.

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