December 19, 2012 | Education, Health and Well-Being, Economic Opportunity
“What I learned from working with the poor”: Words of wisdom from nuns on the front lines of America
A holiday gift for you: Words of wisdom from nuns on the front lines of American life
By Aryanna Garber
"Inside every person is a better self."
When the temperature drops and living on the streets of Spokane becomes unbearable, women with nowhere else to turn know they can find hot showers, warm food and respect at Women’s Hearth. Founded in 1991 by Sister Cathy Beckley, the center—open to both homeless and low-income women—offers its clients dozens of classes, as well as a supportive community to help get them back on their feet.
In today’s brutal economy, women are particularly suffering, says Sister Cathy. “Women are more likely to live below the federal poverty line than men, regardless of age, race or ethnicity,” she says. “This gap between men and women is bigger in the U.S. than any other country in the western world. Even more shocking – 13 percent of women over 75 years old are poor compared to just 6 percent of men.”
The work is hard, but the rewards are in the results. “For me, just to have a heart for other people and to see them grow and to give back is the most fulfilling feeling,” Sister Cathy says. “Inside every person is a better self, and whether you have faith or not, that inner self can come forward to make a difference.”
To learn more about Sister Cathy, the Women’s Hearth, and Transitions, its parent organization, visit: www.help4women.org
"Learn, learn, learn all your lives…the world is yours!"
For the students who attend all-girls Aquinas High School in the Bronx, college isn’t necessarily a given. After all, 50 percent of them come from families below the poverty line. But those statistics don’t daunt Sister Bea McMahon, who has taught there for 25 years and is heavily involved with the school’s outreach program. Thanks to that program, more than 95 percent of the school’s graduates go on to earn college degrees. “I can’t think of many things I’d rather do than raise funds to help young women of needy families receive a great start to a higher education and career,” says Sister Bea.
One of the school’s success stories: Julissa Reynoso, who was born in the Dominican Republic. A 1994 Aquinas grad, she went on to Harvard and is now the ambassador to Uruguay—the first Dominican woman to become a US ambassador and the youngest US ambassador in the world. When she returned to Aquinas to speak to students, Reynoso showed she had absorbed Sister Bea’s lessons well: “Learn, learn, learn all your lives,” Reynoso told the high schoolers. “The world is yours!”
Giving back is second nature to these students. Just recently, they started a program to collect money for the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund. Sister Bea says that’s just what she expects Aquinas girls to be: “Confident, knowledgeable, and committed to building a better world.”
To learn more about Aquinas High School and how to help, visit: www.aquinashs.org
"Change takes time."
How do you help another person transform her life? Patience, trust and something Sister Pat Dowling calls “accompaniment.”
Accompaniment, says Sister Pat—founder of the Women’s Resource Center in Baltimore, which provides food, shelter and counseling to women in need—means “being with, as opposed to doing for.” It means assisting the person as they find their own path to transformation. “We expect change to happen immediately, and many people who volunteer often get frustrated if they can’t see improvements right away,” she says. “But we need to allow people to take steps as they are able. We are there to accompany them.”
A member of the Sisters of Bon Secours, Sister Pat got the inspiration to start the center in 1997. “I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be wonderful to offer women a place where they can first and foremost receive hospitality and the opportunity to form meaningful relationships.”
Her faith and her work keep her optimistic. “During these tough times there is a general level of anxiety and despair, but the Center can stand as a beacon of hope, a place to go with people who care and are willing to walk with you.”