During my recent trip to Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to visit two sites where sisters welcome the dear neighbor into their home, truly divide the city and respond to the needs that present themselves. Gray House in Springfield and Casserly House in Boston are homes that were bought specifically for the purpose of living and ministering among neighbors in economically stressed areas where there are great needs.
Gray House was purchased in 1982. This house damaged by fire was restored over two years through the generous donations of labor and supplies. Opening in 1984, the unmet needs have determined the services that are offered. English as a second language is a big need for the local immigrant community. 35 volunteer tutors work with up to 100 students one on one and in small groups where they can get the individual attention and encouragement that is often lacking in larger classroom settings.
|Deirdre in the food pantry|
Gray House also offers a food pantry and small used item shop. Volunteers assist staff in providing these needed services, sorting clothes, greeting clients, bagging food and many other tasks. Agrégée Deirdre Griffin spoke about an annual gift that comes from a local Jewish temple which donates 100 pairs of new shoes every year for children in the neighborhood.
The after school program provides 15 youth in the 2nd to 5th grade with homework assistance, relationship building skills, structure and a family style dinner nightly. The small number of children served allows for individual attention which shows in the progress that the children make.
One staff person shared that the people who come to Gray House are members of our community, not clients. This sense of being of the neighborhood permeates everything they do.
Many of the programs at Casserly House are similar to those at Gray House. In fact, they consulted with the staff at Jubilee House (Hartford- Nov 19, 2011 blog) and Gray House as they set up their home. In January 2006, in response to a challenge the Boston CSJs set for themselves, they purchased this home near the site of their first ministry in Boston. There was no preconceived notion of what Casserly House would do. After living in the neighborhood for six months and talking with the neighbors, they began their first program.
|A class on grocery shopping as a tool to practice English|
The first request came for help learning English. This is now a core part of their program with neighbors coming by from 9 to noon, Monday through Friday to learn English. The children said they needed help with their homework and so the After School Program was developed where children receive help with homework, computer training and art classes.
On the morning I visited, there was an unexpected school bus strike. Anxious parents came to Casserly House to try to understand what was happening and problem solve how to get their children to and from school. When there was an increase in domestic violence in the neighborhood, the neighbors came together at Casserly with government officials to try to figure out what could be done- and they came up with a workable plan. Police officers and city council members often stop by Casserly House where they can learn from the people what their needs and hopes for the neighborhood are.
|The program helped this woman with English, |
citizenship and bringing her children to the US
Again, while I was at Casserly House, a woman came in to talk with Sr. Nancy. She shared that she came to the US with no English. In her country in West Africa, women were not educated so she could not read or write in her native language. Over time, she has learned to speak English very well, has become a citizen and been able to bring three of her children to the United States. “I am so happy and grateful to Sr. Nancy,” she shared. I asked her how she had persevered through such challenging times. She looked at Sr. Nancy and spoke about the program’s support making it possible for her to have hope for her future and her families future.
For Sisters of St Joseph, our earliest documents and our consensus statement remind us that our relationships with our neighbor are fundamental to our reason for existing. At these two houses, it is evident that our charism is alive and healthy.