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Posts tagged ‘youth’

Hopes Comes Alive!

By Kim Cavallero

Last night, I had the privilege of attending the 10th Anniversary celebration of Hope Partnership for Education, an educational center founded by the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus and the Sisters of Mercy in North Philadelphia. Hope is a middle school serving fifth through eighth graders, as well as the families of the students.

I have worked for the Society of the Holy Child (SHCJ) for the past 10 years. When I began with the SHCJ in 2002, Hope was just a dream. Now, it’s a reality. It’s been amazing to watch the transformation—not only in the school becoming a reality (though funding is still greatly needed for the school to have a building of its own), but also in the students who have had the benefit of attending Hope Partnership.

One of those students is Tyrik Harris, a seventh-grader. Last year, I had the privilege of interviewing Tyrik and his grandmother, Elaine Selby, for a video we created for our Annual Holy Child Awards Dinner Event. At the time, Tyrik shared with me that he went to the local public school in his neighborhood until fifth grade. He told me it wasn’t a good school—there were bullies, food fights, and “writings on the wall—mean things.” His grandmother shared that Tyrik’s behavior was worsening in the public school and she feared he would hurt himself or someone else. She learned about Hope and was able to get Tyrik enrolled. Today, the staff at Hope reports that Tyrik is one of the most well-behaved children there.

Tyrik’s story inspired me last year. But I beamed with pride last night at Hope’s event when I saw him, along with several of his classmates, perform an incredible drumming presentation, that had the more than 300 attendees at the event on their feet! (Please excuse the video quality. Seeing the talent of the students, I quickly shot a video with my iPhone camera!)

In addition, Mayor Michael Nutter stopped by the event last evening, offering his congratulations to all who have made Hope Partnership a reality. He shared that education is the most important gift we can give to our young people today, noting that it is the way out of poverty. At the event, Rose Gray was honored with the Igniting Hope Award and Karen Rowley was honored with the Embracing Hope Award. Both women have been integral to Hope’s success and powerful advocates for education and its power.

Hope is changing lives, but they need our support to do it. You can make a donation online through our website and designate that your gift is for Hope.

Kim Cavallero is Director of Communications for the Society of the Holy Child Jesus – American Province.

Lessons Learned in the DR

By Kim Cavallero
With my flight back to the United States tomorrow, my week here in the Dominican Republic is winding to a close. It’s been quite an adventure and I am thankful to Holy Child Sisters Kathleen King, Mary Alice Minogue, and Ann-Joyce Peters, for warmly welcoming me into their community, along with the three Holy Child Volunteers, Brooke, Kristen, and Elle, who are living here for a year and teaching in the school at the Society’s mission site. I’m come a long way since arriving last week—and I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Here’s a quick rundown of a few—some more humorous than others.

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Lesson #1 – Mosquito netting is important.
Make sure your mosquito netting is tucked in fully all around your bed and/or that you don’t trap any mosquitoes inside the net with you. Fail to do it right and you will wake up with at least 7-10 mosquito bites. Pack some hydrocortisone. (I could have used it.)

Lesson #2 – Hot water and water pressure are overrated. Compassion and humor are not.
When I first arrived last Saturday, Sister Ann-Joyce was showing me the “shower,” which essentially is a single stream of cold water running from a faucet. I’m sure she could see the horrified look on my face, but quite calmly and humorously, she just looked at me and said, “Well, it’s not going to win a prize or anything, but you know….”

A few days later, she showed me how to heat up some water so you could have some warm water with which to take a shower. She then showed me different pitchers you can use to pour the warm water over your head and said, “Everyone establishes her own system.” I took her word for it. After heating the water, I hopped in the shower. A few moments later, she yelled in, “How are you doing in there, Kim? You think you might stay a few more days?” I still wonder what she would have done if I had said, “No!” The point is I adapted and got used to it thanks to Sister Ann-Joyce’s humor and compassion! (I will say that hand sanitizer, cleansing face wipes, and dry shampoo are helpful to have here.)

Lesson #3 – Bring earplugs or a desire to dance the night (and day) away.
Roosters don’t just crow in the early morning hours. They like to crow at all times of the day and night. In addition, the people here love to play music—all the time. There is a constant, steady stream of noise: roosters, chickens, dogs, music, and people yelling. Silence is not important here. If it is to you, bring some earplugs!

Lesson #4 – Living without electricity isn’t so bad.
Where I am staying, the electricity is usually on from about 6:00-7:00 p.m. in the evening until 9:00 a.m. the next morning. In the U.S., when the electricity goes out—even for a few hours—it is a huge inconvenience for many of us. Here, it is a way of life and people just go about their day. They’re flexible and they adapt. Nonetheless, be sure to use a surge protector or risk blowing out electronic items such as your computer’s AC power source. (I’ll be buying a new one next week.)

Lesson #5 – Don’t jump to the worst conclusion. There are good people everywhere.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a very organized person (some might say in a neurotic way!), but this trip has thrown me for a loop and my organizational skills have disappeared into thin air! For example, yesterday, after doing some sight seeing in the city, we arrived home and I soon realized that my wallet was missing. I tore apart suitcases and bags—anywhere I thought it might be, but it didn’t turn up.

Within a few hours, I had canceled my credit and bank cards, assuming I had been pick-pocketed. The last place I remembered having it was in a shop where I had made a purchase. I had the receipt and asked Sister Ann-Joyce if she would be willing to call the store and ask them in Spanish if I had left my wallet there. It was a long shot, but it was my only shot.

Sister Ann-Joyce called the store this morning and sure enough they had it and were holding it for me. They explained that they didn’t have any way to contact me, which is why they hadn’t called. There are good people all over the world who do the right thing.

Homeward Bound
This week has been an adventure. It has challenged and stretched me to grow in ways I never imagined. I have seen people living in extreme poverty in Batey Lecheria and yet, they are full of gratitude for the simple gift of your presence. I arrived in fear last week, but am departing in peace tomorrow—and full of gratitude. Read Kim’s first and second blog posts.

Kim Cavallero is the Director of Communications for the Society of the Holy Child Jesus – American Province.

Between Heaven and Hell

By Kim Cavallero

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There is a stark contrast here in the Dominican Republic’s Batey Lecheria, where the Sisters of the Holy Child began a mission site in 1995. I heard one person describe it as “being between heaven and hell.” You look up and see a brilliant blue sky, lush green palm trees, and fluffy white clouds. You look down and see dirt roads, barely habitable shacks, and half-clothed children, many who have been abused and/or abandoned. They run through the streets and cling to anyone who they think will give them attention. Today, I was almost knocked over as four children, whom I had never met, grabbed onto me at the same time and wouldn’t let go.

But this week, the children of Batey Lecheria have been getting some extra attention, as have many of the residents here. Twelve parishioners from St. Luke’s in Charlotte, NC arrived on Monday morning to give a week of their time and energy to this community. This is the seventh year St. Luke’s has embarked on a mission trip here. The parishioners each paid $400 to come, with the remaining cost of the trip ($450 per person) raised through fund-raisers held throughout the year at St. Luke’s. Click here to hear from parishioner Jamar McKoy, who is making his first trip to Batey Lecheria this week.

Inspiring Experiences

Here in Batey Lecheria, the parishioners have undertaken a hodgepodge of activities this week: painting the shacks; playing baseball with the children; teaching the children how to paint and tie-dye t-shirts; and organizing and leading classes for the women in how to make sock dolls, jewelry, and other items that are then sold in the U.S. for a fair profit, which is returned to the women.

“You get a whole new sense of poverty here,” says parishioner Amber Ockerbloom. “There is a constant need. You can’t come once and not come again. You have to be open to what you are going to do because there’s always a place to do something here.” Along with Ockerbloom, parishioners Debby and Jim Lawrence share that you get as much as you give in Batey Lecheria, noting that the love they receive from the residents is so much more than they give to them.

A “Self-Sustaining” Trip

In addition to giving their time, the St. Luke’s parishioners bring suitcases full of donated medical supplies for the medical clinic the Sisters of the Holy Child began and run at the mission site, as well as all the supplies for the different projects they undertake such as painting the houses and making sock dolls. At the end of the trip, they leave the clothes they wore during the week for the residents of Batey Lecheria, who later sell them and make a small profit. “We clean out our closets or we go to Good Will before we leave the U.S. and buy the clothes we will need for the trip,” explains parishioner Cindy Platko. The parishioners also buy the suitcases that they bring the medical supplies in at Good Will and then leave the suitcases behind.

Platko, who is a school nurse, and her husband, Greg, lived with the Sisters of the Holy Child for a year, while serving the residents of Batey Lecheria. The couple had done mission trips to Batey Lecheria and felt they could do so much more by serving for a longer period of time alongside the Sisters of the Holy Child. They now return to Batey Lecheria twice a year. “Coming here is like coming home and seeing family for me,” shares Platko. During return trips, Platko spends her afternoons making house calls to residents. For example, she brings aspirin to a woman whose hip was broken and never repaired four years ago.

Platko and her husband are akin to celebrities in Batey Lecheria, though they certainly are too humble and focused on the work at hand to consider their “celebrity status.” Since the moment they arrived, shouts for “Cindy” and “Gregorio” (as the residents call Greg) never end. The residents are thrilled to see them and they bring joy wherever they go in Batey Lecheria, just as all the St. Luke’s parishioners who are here this week have. “We’re a parish of action,” says Ockerbloom. How exciting it is for the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus to see so many people committed to the motto of their congregation: “Actions Not Words.” Read Kim’s first and last blog post from her journey.

Kim Cavallero is the Director of Communications for the Society of the Holy Child Jesus – American Province.

Holy Child Academy’s Motto “Actions Not Words” Impacts the Community

Holy Child Academy students spend time with a resident of St. Francis Country House in Darby, PA.

In 1927, the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus began Holy Child Academy (HCA) in Drexel Hill, PA. Today, 85 years later, the School continues to embody the Sisters’ motto of “Actions Not Words.” Take a look at all HCA students did during their first semester!

The school organized a host of activities that served the poor and needy, senior adults, and our furry friends! In honor of St. Francis Assisi feast day, the students asked for donated pet products for the Delaware County SPCA located in Media.  In November, Holy Child Academy Parents’ Association organized a Thanksgiving food drive for 24 families.  In December, gently worn coats were collected for the poor. Twelve bags of clothing were donated between Divine Mercy Parish in Philadelphia and the Community Action Agency of Delaware County. 

Under the direction of Holy Child Academy’s service coordinator, Ms. Anne Wood, students have been collaborating with St. Francis Country House, a skilled nursing and short term rehabilitation facility in Darby, PA. In November, five folks from St. Francis along with seven employees/volunteers spent a few hours at Holy Child Academy.  Our guests were treated to an arts and craft project, a singing performance by the Pre-Kindergarten class, and lunch with the students.  

In December, Holy Child Academy’s eighth-grade students took a short drive to St. Francis Country House for a visit with their friends. The time was spent socializing and doing a fun project. According to Ms. Wood, the students and St. Francis residents are forming a strong bond. “The visits, activities, and socialization have been a wonderful experience for both St. Francis and Holy Child. The men and women at St. Francis are lovely and gracious. They light up when we visit. For our students, I see them becoming more compassionate, respectful, and aware of the importance that elders have in our society.”  

For the Christmas season, the third- and fifth-graders decorated 60 snack bags for the Community Food Program of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Nutritional Development Services.  In late December, the older students paired with their younger “buddy” students to make Christmas cards for the patients at Delaware County Memorial Hospital.

In planning the spring service projects, the students’ openness to grow and to help others will remain a priority, and the activities will center on Holy Child Academy’s philosophy of “Actions Not Words.” Find out how you can make a difference through Holy Child programs.

Come and See

By Barbara Bartlett, SHCJ

After returning from Africa in February 2004, I moved to the Newton Street Community of Holy Child Sisters in Washington, D.C. While investigating possible ministries there, I came across a letterhead from Boys Town. I then discovered that there was a Boys Town facility quite close to the Brookland area where I lived.

In my final 10 years in Africa, I had served on the Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Jos. As coordinator, I was particularly interested in human rights and children’s issues. My dream of an Archdiocesan children’s project became a reality thanks to a supportive team of young men and women. We worked for several years and, despite some discouraging experiences, were able to establish the Care for Children Project of the Archdiocese of Jos in Northern Nigeria. We had generous board members and were also fortunate in getting financial help from foundations and individual donors.

With this previous experience, I wished to continue working with youth in distressed situations, so when I saw the Boys Town letter I felt perhaps God was calling me to “come and see.” One Sunday morning, I did just that. After a 20-minute walk from our house, I met a young couple on the driveway of Boys Town. They were driving some of the boys to church, but they greeted me warmly and when I expressed interest in their work, they asked me to return the next day to speak to the director. I did return and, over the years, have become involved in programs there. As a volunteer, I am able to attend activities, give workshops and retreats to staff members, and serve on the local advisory committee.

This Washington-based Boys Town is one of 16 satellite campuses of the original one, which continues to flourish in Omaha, Nebraska. There are different programs offered by each. The one in D.C. is multi-faceted. It includes a shelter for short term care (one to two months in length), four family group homes whose residents can stay two or more years, a foster care program which recruits, trains, and monitors foster parents, and good parenting classes. Their newest project is preparing staff members to go to homes where interventions might be of assistance to its members.

I try to visit Boys Town monthly; it is not a “have to” experience. I may go to a group home for a meal with the family and boys, or attend an advisory committee meeting, or one of the various activities going on at the campus. Last December, I attended their annual tree lighting ceremony which included songs, recitation of some of the boys’ compositions, along with the lighting of the tree and refreshments in the homes and shelter.

An added surprise for me was the presentation of a certificate making me an Honorary Citizen of Boys Town. This framed certificate now sits on my bookshelf reminding me of my commitment to the program. It is often said that when there is involvement in a service project, there is usually more received than given.  This is true of my relationship with Boys Town. The two directors I have known, the two national directors (both Catholic priests), the committee members with whom I have worked, and the inspiring staff all challenge me by their dedication to their work. It is a privilege to share in these efforts. One of the committee members is an elderly naval chaplain who was one of Father Flanagan’s boys. It was he who was instrumental in bringing a campus to D.C.

A plaque now stands next to my certificate. It was given to me this Christmas, and its timeless message, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s m’ brother” now also serves as a renewed invitation to visit the nearby campus, once again to “come and see.”

Off To A Great Start

Forty-eight preschoolers graduated from LAMP in June.

Last month at the South Central Los Angeles Ministry Project (LAMP), a ministry of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus in Los Angeles, Calif., 48 preschoolers graduated. Parents, relatives, and friends who attended the event joined LAMP in celebrating the preschoolers’ achievements and the culmination of one year of hard work and fun. The event signaled the beginning of the educational journeys for these children, as well as for their parents, who have embarked on the journey alongside their children. This is because LAMP offers parent education and English language instruction, parent-and-child together classes, and family advocacy services. LAMP’s mission is to strengthen the entire family with education, tools, and strategies that help the parents become their child’s first and most important educator. For more information, click here.

Providence Center: A Family Affair

Rosita Perez (center) takes a break from volunteering at Providence Center’s Christmas Celebration at the Julio deBurgos Elementary School to bond with her children: (l to r) Angel, 11; Luis, 6; and Ashley, 9.

Submitted by Maurine Dooley

“It was the best thing I ever did,” said Rosita Perez of her decision to enroll her three children in Providence Center’s After School Program (ASP) in Philadelphia, Pa. Her children had asked many times to go to the program because they saw friends and classmates at the Julio deBurgos Elementary School, where the program is held enjoying the attention and assistance provided by mentors and volunteers at ASP.

Rosita, who is a busy wife and mother works at the Marriot Hotel as a Breakfast Ambassador and she helps in caring for her mother who has had several serious surgeries recently. She visited ASP and talked with the Program Director, Gloria Rodriguez-Soto, and was impressed. Her three children, eleven-year-old Angel Mendez, nine-year-old Ashley Mendez, and 6-year-old Luis Bones were registered soon after that meeting. It was not long before this Philadelphia native and graduate of Lincoln High School became a volunteer in Providence Center’s After School Program. 

Rosita’s daily schedule is overwhelming. She is up at 4 a.m. to travel to the Willow Grove Marriott, where she provides guest breakfast service. At 10 a.m., she leaves work and heads to her mother’s home to help her with errands and to take her to doctors’ appointments. Around 3 p.m., she is on her way to Providence Center’s After School Program to volunteer. The family arrives home about 6 p.m. when Rosita makes dinner followed by baths and preparation for the next school day. At 8 p.m., she takes her three children to her mother’s home where they spend the night so she can leave early the next morning for work. Home again, she washes dishes, cleans up, watches the 11 p.m. news and finally gets a few hours of sleep before her day starts again! Weekends are quiet, and include family game nights and Mass on Sunday.

What makes Rosita so remarkable is that when that her children are at ASP, she could be resting—after being up since 4:00 a.m.—but instead she chooses to take that time to volunteer. While Providence Center and the Sisters of the Holy Child have always made it a point to help the community, Rosita shows us that the true help is in giving those people in the community the opportunity to help themselves. Rosita was looking for a program that could assist her in cultivating her children’s education—not just a babysitter.

To know myself loved by God as I am!

By Sr. Carmen Torres, SHCJ     

Twenty-eight years ago, I made a youth encounter retreat at Saint Raphaela Mary Retreat Center in Haverford, Pa. It was a life-changing experience! Prior to the retreat, I had started helping out at Visitation BVM parish’s CCD Program and youth group. Later that year, God’s grace moved me to respond to the call I had been so afraid of giving voice to and naming—that of a religious vocation. Three years later, I entered the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and became a Sister.     

During a recent youth retreat, Sr. Carmen Torres led young retreatants in an exercise where they created masks on one another.

Recently, I returned to Saint Raphaela Mary Retreat Center. This time, however, I came not as a young retreatant, but as part of a team that would guide 10 Hispanic teenagers through a weekend retreat with the theme, “Descubrete Joven en Cristo: Learn, Grow, Belong.” It was a time for the teens to learn and grow in their identity as Hispanic Catholics and deepen their sense of belonging in the Church.     

Amazing Realizations
When I made my first youth retreat 28 years ago, the leaders introduced the topic, “Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?” I still remember the filmstrip images: the clown, the body beautiful, and the bully—to name just a few. These images were representing masks that people wear when they fear that being themselves may not be acceptable to others, especially their peers. We used this topic again, but with new technology. We had a Power Point presentation and devised an activity where each of the teens created a mask as a way of visualizing both the person that, at times, they put on and the person they really are today. The teens were paired up and helped mold a mask on each other using “Rigid Wrap.” It was very messy, but lots of fun.     

When asked what it was like to have plaster on their face while the mask was being molded, they used words like scared, weird, and afraid it (the mask) would not come off. When asked what it was like to have the mask finally lifted from their faces, they responded with, “like I was free,” and “I was new, starting over again.” Isn’t that it? To know myself loved by God as I am! There is freedom in that kind of self-knowledge.     

Inspiring Support
As the weekend progressed, the teens heard from Fr. Gus Paleo on Hispanic Identity. Fr. Gus had them laughing, but also really thinking about their role as Catholic Hispanics in the Church—the potential influence they have on their peers. It reminded me of the words of the Foundress of my community, “Be yourself, but make that self all that our Lord wants you to be.”     

The teens also listened to witness talks by team members. Most impactful was the witness of a team member who is a teenager himself and a leader in his parish youth group. He spoke of his love for the Church and how the community of his parish surrounded him and was a support to him during the long-suffering and eventual death of his mother.     

Others (Msgr. Joe Shields, Sr. Marion Vincent, Fr. Tom Higgins, and Sr. Ruth Bolarte) came to the retreat to offer a word of encouragement and most especially their presence.     

The teenagers settled fairly quickly into the rhythm of the weekend. Those of us who led the retreat weekend were stunned the first night when we gave them free time at the end of the evening to play board games and instead they gathered as a group and started a discussion about what they believe and what it is like to share their love for God.     

The more things change, the more they stay the same
It was a weekend of abundant laughter, moments of tears, and an outpouring of God’s grace. Not much has changed since my own retreat 28 years ago. Young people still desire to grow in relationship with God. They still want to participate in the Church they name as their safe place. They still want their parents to tell them more frequently of their love for them. They still want to get to know and hear the life stories of those adult Church leaders that serve as inspiring role models. What a privilege it was to be witness to the glimpses of God at work in the lives of these youth.

An International Effort: Creating A Children’s Book

Illustrations for the children's book were created by Sr. France White after students at Mayfield Junior School in California modeled

Recently, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus published a children’s book, A Generous Love: The Life of Cornelia Connelly. This was a collaborative effort with the writing done by Catie McElwee (a volunteer in the Dominican Republic with Response-Ability, one of the Society’s ministries) and the illustrations done by France White, SHCJ, all with the assistance of the Sisters of the Holy Child serving in Latin America.  

It all started with a simple idea: some of the Sisters in Latin America asked Catie to write a book for children about the life of Cornelia Connelly in honor of her 200th Birthday. Since Catie has a degree in creative writing and Spanish, the Sisters felt that this would be an awesome opportunity to put Catie’s talents to good use. Also, since Catie is bilingual, the story of Cornelia would be able to be shared with those who are both Spanish- and English-speakers.  

The book begins with Cornelia’s wedding and follows her many moves across the U.S. and Europe, then it leads into some of the events that shaped Cornelia’s life. The book shares the loss of Cornelia’s children and her separation from her husband, Pierce. Although some aspects of Cornelia’s life were intense, Catie approached those topics delicately and conveyed the story in straightforward language, including questions that will engage children while they are reading. Hear more from Catie about how she brought Cornelia’s story to life.  

The book was written, but what’s a children’s book without colorful illustrations? Thankfully, no one had to look too far. Sr. France White, an artist, was asked to create the illustrations. She took the words that Catie crafted and drew illustrations that brought them to life. To ensure that the illustrations were as realistic as possible, she called on the students of the Class of 2012 at Mayfield Junior School of the Holy Child Jesus in Pasadena, CA to pose. She was able to use the photographs of the students and bring to life the emotion in each photo. Quite a collaborative work of art!

Mentor Overcomes Shyness

Located in the Fairhill/West Kensington section of North Philadelphia, Providence Center was founded by the Sisters of the Holy Child in 1993. Working with the community, Providence Center provides educational programs and enrichment actives for adults and children.

As a high school freshman, Jaileen “Jay” worked as a teen mentor at Providence Center. Providence Center’s Teen Mentor Program hires bilingual teens—primarily Latina young women—from local high schools to work directly with the children in the Center’s After School Program, increasing the individual attention given to students. The mentors are paid a stipend for their work, which provides needed income for themselves and their families, and provides an alternative to at-risk behavior.

Looking back at her start at Providence Center, Jay admits that she was a timid young woman; she confesses that while she still maintains some of her shyness today, the Mentor Program helped her to develop confidence in herself. “I may have felt shy and like the students would not like me or listen to me. However, after being there for four years, I learned that the children looked up to me, and they do not realize how shy or nervous you are. They looked up to me as a leader, and that made me feel confident in myself. I did not realize how much help students really needed, until working at Providence Center.”

Through the program, Jay shares that she learned how to communicate. “I learned how to talk to the parents, children, and other mentors.” Jay highlights the mentor retreats as being meaningful and memorable experiences, particularly for her spirituality. “Going to retreats, my mind was cleared from other things like school, and was focused on God and my family. They reminded me to always trust in God, He is always there for us.”

This past fall, Jay started her college career at West Chester University. Although she is unsure of her major, she is leaning toward a career with children because of her experience at Providence Center.


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