Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck Reports from Nuns on the Bus

By: Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck

The "Nuns on the Bus" at a rally in Chicago. (Photo courtesy
of Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck)
Oct. 15 found 10 new travelers boarding the bus for the second leg of the four-legged trip on its way to Mar-A-Lago. You have read the experiences of Sr. Phyllis Tierney (Rochester) and Sr. Julie Fertsch (Philadelphia). The exciting aspect about part two is that it was a continuation of the experience of meeting equally dedicated and determined members of "we the people" from Omaha to Cleveland.

Throughout the week we visited four Congressional Offices. Constituents were also with us speaking about the impact on their lives of the tax policy and their fears about the anticipated shredding of the safety net. At one office the constituents brought a cardboard cut-out of the Congressman explaining that is the way they "saw" him rather than in person.

The greatest energy and hope came from those who met us at the rallies, shared their stories, signed the pledge cards and signed the bus. We the People are alive and well.

A "townhall" event in Chicago. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Mary
Ellen Gondeck)
The Town Hall Meetings were in Cedar Rapids at Mount Mercy University, St. Alphonsus "Rock" Liguori Church in St. Louis, St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago, and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in East Lansing, MI.

The message at each was about the great disparity in our country because of the Tax Policy. The presentation was a very "live" portrayal of the dollar differences among the five quintiles used as a measure of household income. It also presented the income of the corporations. Each gathering was unique, the highlight being hearing directly from "our friends" about their felt impact and the ideas to remedy the great pain that so many were experiencing because of the tax policy. At each site the Tax Justice explanation was very well received with the request for a way to replicate it more broadly. It was a real "eye opener" for most of the participants.

We were also energized by the agencies offering valuable and creative services to many in their communities. In Des Moines it was YESS (Youth Emergency Services and Shelter), the largest youth shelter in the state offering many significant services for youth from infant to teenagers — all surrounded with the love and compassion that was so needed to deal with the trauma experienced by the 50+ children who come every day.

In Peoria, IL we visited the Heartland Health Services which began in 1991 as a free clinic with volunteer doctors and nurses and in 2004 became, a federally qualified healthcare center and now runs five clinics with two more "out-county." Programs include pediatric, immunization, acute chronic illness, women’s health, behavioral health, and midwife services for over 5,000 people each year. 

One of the "tiny houses" in Detroit. (Photo
courtesy of Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck)
By Saturday we were in Detroit to visit the Cass Community Social Services. Rev. Faith Fowler shared with us the Tiny House program for people who are homeless. It provides a home for $250/month rent. At the end of 7 years, the home belongs to the resident who during this time receives home-ownership training, finance management training, and other support and wrap-around services to ensure success as a home-owner. At the same time, the residents are adding to the beauty of Detroit and creating community in the neighborhood. What could be better? The goal this year is 25 new homes.

The last agency that we visited was the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) in Cleveland, another place offering a number of programs. We learned about the culinary program, Chopping for Change, which is a partnership with LMM, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry. It is a pre-release workforce development training and behavioral health service for women in the criminal justice system. The smiles of the women told the whole story about the path from "making a big mistake" to being employed in a life-giving job.
Our travel time between events gave us a good opportunity to learn more about our colleagues, the nuns, the staff, the videographer and bus driver. Invaluable time! We were Simone Campbell, Mary Ellen Lacy, Quincy Howard (all from Network), Mumbi Kigutha, Jan Cebula, Linda Werthman, Ilaria Buonriposi, Gwen Hennessey, and Robbie Pentecost, and myself all with wonderful stories of their own ministries and lives.

Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck
The bottom line for me was that everyone we met was absolutely determined and dedicated even in their pain and struggles to make a difference for the common good. It was said over and over again that "we the people" will not be defeated.

The overall spirit was that we are strong together in addressing the changes needed for the common good. Simone reminded us that the lie being spread about the need for individualism is contrary to the very words of our Constitution, "we the people." We are a community, which was the message I felt from the folks gathered as they signed the pledge cards and the bus.

[Sr. Mary Ellen Gondeck is a member of the Justice Team for the Congregation of St. Joseph]

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