STUDIOBe

Sr. Pat Thomas, OP
Blog by Sr. Pat Thomas, OP

“The blueprint for a better tomorrow lives in the collective imagination.”

These are words that greet visitors to STUDIOBe, an art space in New Orleans. Recognizing the importance of art as expression and, for Dominicans, as preaching, STUDIOBe seemed like a perfect field trip for the Peace Center and our neighborhood kids. The founder of STUDIOBe, Brandon Odums, is a local African American street artist, which made our visit, so close to Black History Month, even more appropriate.

While STUDIOBe is a popular tourist spot here in New Orleans, Brandon’s backstory is one that we wanted to share with the students from the Peace Center. Brandon is a NOLA native who graduated from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), where he studied visual arts. He worked as a filmmaker and became interested in spray paint “street art” as a hobby. After Hurricane Katrina, he created a series of murals of Black revolutionaries in abandoned houses in the Ninth Ward. His installation attracted other young creatives to create an underground, guerilla art hub, which Odums named #PROJECTBe.

PROJECTBe was open until the Housing Authority of New Orleans shuttered the Florida Housing Development where it was housed. In the documentary “Strong Light,” Odums asked, “Why is this space still here, eight years after Katrina? Could be it’s a response to neglect… a response to the fact that New Orleans has so many eye sores right next to communities that are trying to rebuild?”

This is an important point to consider. New Orleans has faced so many disasters, and often the poorest, those of color, those who have the most resilience but also the fewest material resources, are left to recover in the shadow and wreckage of tragedy. This speaks to the mission of the Peace Center… where we work to provide a place of peace to strengthen those who want to build a peaceful life.

The larger-than-life images at STUDIOBE capture some fun nostalgia from former days, like a pay phone, a doll house and a Nintendo game system. More important, some of these images  reflect the reality of being Black in a White world, giving us an opportunity to discuss these realities with the kids.

One wall showed a painting of a young Black boy drinking from a water fountain with the sign “WHITE ONLY” pasted on the side. I asked one of our boys what he would do if he found one of those signs on a fountain in his school. His response was immediate, “Tear it down!”

I asked him what he would do if the cops came and he said, “Go down on my knees and raise my hands.” At the age of 12 he had had “The Talk.” He has learned as a young Black man, he needs to be more careful when he “protests,” even when he is in the right.

We are grateful that we had the opportunity to share this amazing exhibit with the kids from the Peace Center. We hope that Odum’s lesson of using art to inspire, to question, and yes, to preach, helps the youth that we serve find a new way to build peace.

Posted in News, Weekly Word

From Our Annual Report: Hope Changes Lives

According to a study by the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, only about 16 percent of “persistently poor children” become successful young adults. In a nation like Jamaica, where more than 25 percent of youth live below the poverty line, that means that a significant number of young people may feel that they have no opportunity to move past the generational poverty that they experience daily.

But thanks to the work of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, young people at Riverton Meadows in Kingston, Jamaica, see a way out of poverty and towards a better life.

Sister Gene Poore has been involved with summer programs in Jamaica since 1992. Ten years ago, she started working with youth in Riverton Meadows, a settlement built on and around a landfill in Kingston, as part of the Jamaican Outreach Collaborative. The Jamaican Outreach Collaborative is supported by grants from Common Spirit Health as well as donations from people like you.

“The Jamaican Outreach Collaborative was born out of a collective realization by people serving in west Kingston,” said Sr. Gene. “After many years of working in the area, we came to understand that the issues facing these impoverished neighborhoods were not only complex, but deeply rooted. The resources and expertise that were required to solve these issues seemed greater than one organization could offer.”

“We have learned that the work of genuinely transforming lives not only requires collaboration by people in and out of Kingston, but a vision that provides hope to vulnerable people lacking resources and options,” she continued.

The Jamaican Outreach Collaborative offers a wide range of aid – from healthy mom and baby clinics to summer camps to funding of schoolbooks and supplies. But one of the most transformative aspects of this ministry is the skills training program provided to young people.

With unemployment in the double digits across the island, more than 70% of those unemployed lack remedial academic skills, and 90% lack the professional skills that would make finding employment possible.

For more than a decade, the Dominican Sisters of Peace and the Jamaica Education Fund have been supporting youth in high school, universities, and in law school. They have sponsored 30-35 young people annually to receive the training that will make them employable and offer a way out of poverty.

“Jamaica has a rigorous permit and certification process for workers in most trades – from bookkeeping to security to nursing to cosmetology. These licenses and permits are often too costly for the young people of Riverton Meadows, so we help them pay for the training that they need to start their career,” says Sister Gene. “Many young people just lack the confidence and the family support to try to further their studies. The team on the ground that is funded by the Jamaica Education Fund offers guidance, academic reinforcement, and moral support. All of this has been done with the help of grants and donations from people who support our work.”

Students can choose from more than 20 areas of study to find the career path appropriate to their own interests and talents. Once complete, they can find employment in Jamaica.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The increase in trained medical professionals that has resulted from the Jamaican Outreach Collaborative has been particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many medical professionals were not available to serve at the Riverton Clinic during the pandemic, students in practical nursing rotated shifts at the clinic when their classes were interrupted by COVID-19.

Their training made them indispensable to the Riverton area during this time of crisis.

The sewing center founded by the Jamaican Outreach Collaborative, which offers employment to Riverton community members, also played a part in protecting the community from COVID, refocusing output from school uniforms and medical slings to much-needed face masks.

We are not offering a band aid, but an avenue for transformation for individuals and the neighborhoods in which they live,” said Sr. Gene. “Education, skills training, and the opportunity for employment are the only ways young people can break the cycle of poverty and provide for themselves and their families. They want to be – they need to be – part of building a stronger, safer, and healthier community.”

 

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Posted in News

From our Annual Report: Discovering Purpose

Cassidy Rinker, 27, was living in Madison, WI, and working a job that paid the bills… but was not interesting or fulfilling. The stress of the pandemic made it worse. But when her sister Lindsay Fisher, 37, approached her with an idea, she wasn’t sure it was the best next move.

– Travel to Kansas?
– For six weeks?
– To care for alpacas?
– With a bunch of nuns?

Lindsay had learned to love alpacas on a college trip to Peru and Cassidy tried to be enthusiastic about an opportunity for her to pursue this dream. And the more she thought about it, the more she felt her sister’s excitement. She needed to jump-start her life. Maybe this was the leap that she needed to take?

She quit her job and accompanied her sister to Pawnee Rock, KS, where the Dominican Sisters of Peace own a sustainably-managed farm and tend a herd of 15 alpacas.

“I didn’t know anything about farming,” Cassidy says. “I had lived in cities most of my life, and I was absolutely lost. But the Sisters welcomed me with open arms.”

Sr. Jane Belanger, a longtime member of the Heartland Farm community, took Cassidy under her wing. “She was a great mentor, and she knows – and does – everything, from handling the plants to using the machines on the farm,” Cassidy says. “I have never seen a woman with so much go-get-it-ness.”

“I fell in love with the farm…with the quiet beauty of the land, and the rhythms of the weather and the crops and the animals,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy also spent a great deal of time with Sr. Imelda Schmidt, who has lived on the farm for a total of 14 years.

“Sr. Imelda was so compassionate…she spent hours just listening to me talk about my old job and my old life. She didn’t tell me what to do – she just pointed to things I might consider and let me find my own way,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy signed up for an organic farming apprentice program and asked to remain at Heartland Farm until November to continue her training. Sr. Jane went one step further, hiring Cassidy to apprentice with the new Heartland Farm Assistant Manager.

According to Sonali McDermid, an assistant professor at the department of environmental studies at New York University, organic farming can boost yields over conventional farming because it relies less on water and chemical inputs. Cassidy will be part of a growing movement to feed more people while caring for Earth.

“The next few months will be an amazing learning opportunity,” Cassidy said. “My time with Sr. Jane, Sr. Imelda, and the community here at Pawnee Rock literally set my life on a new course, giving it new meaning, new purpose, and wonderful new friends.”

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Posted in News

From our Annual Report: Finding Freedom

When Selene, an immigrant from Mexico, married Luis and moved to Ohio, she thought her dream of normal life in America had begun.

But Luis isolated her at home, did not allow her to buy food or clothing for her children, and abused her.

Selene was just beginning to learn English and having no one to talk to other than Luis, who belittled her efforts, she felt even more alone. She knew that this was not what she wanted her life to be, but she didn’t know where to turn.

Her daughter, then in primary school, came home with an answer one day. “Mom, my friend belongs to this group, Proyecto Mariposas. It’s all moms and daughters like us… learning to speak English and learning to get along in our new country. I want to join – and I want you to join, too!”

That is how Selene met the Dominican Sisters of Peace Associate Yahaira Rose, founder of Proyecto Mariposas and Director of the Martin de Porres Center, a community outreach and retreat center. Meeting Yahaira was the beginning of Selene’s new life.

The moms and daughters in Proyecto Mariposas gather regularly for food, learning, and fun, creating a community of friends with not just a common language, but an immigrant experience much like Selene’s own.

“I thought I was the only person in Columbus who spoke Spanish!” Selene says. “Meeting these people was a gift!”

Selene learned that the sadness and isolation that she was feeling was not normal.

She met with a therapist who serves the families of Proyecto Mariposas as well as Rising Youth, a ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Peace that offers academic assistance and violence prevention services for local Latinx youth.

She also registered for classes at the Dominican Learning Center. Adriana Johnson, ESL Program Coordinator at the Center, says “Selene was so focused! She wanted to pass all four GED tests as quickly as possible – and she accomplished her goal. She also wants to motivate others and promote our program. She even meets with our current learners to motivate them.”

Ultimately, Selene determined that the healthiest thing she could do for her family was to get Luis out of their lives. It was ugly and difficult, but her newfound determination was bolstered when her son, Alex, came to her after she called the police to keep her husband from assaulting the two of them. “Mom, I am so proud of you,” he said. “You did what you had to do – you kept us all safe.”

It took Selene just four weeks to obtain her GED at the Dominican Learning Center. She has a new job, her children live in a safe place, and she is studying to obtain her US citizenship through a program offered by the Martin de Porres Center.

Yahaira Rose says, “Selene has a great spirit! I love working with her and her kids. She is determined and has great potential. I can’t wait to work with her in other capacities and celebrate her successes in our community.”

“God has been so good to me…he is truly my best friend,” Selene says. “My friends at my church, Yahaira, the ESL teachers at the Dominican Learning Center, the lawyer I met through the Martin de Porres Center – they helped make my life better. I have my kids, my place, my job, and I hope that I can be brave for the next woman who needs help… that I can be the friend that I found by coming to Proyecto Mariposas, to Yahaira, and to the Dominican Sisters of Peace.”

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Posted in News

Embracing the ‘What Will Be’

We are three weeks into 2022. I would like us to step back from our busy lives and take a glance at these past three weeks and what the year ahead could look like.

On New Year’s Eve, my community watched the movie: “New Year’s Eve” (2011) It reminded me of three characteristics that are often found in a Hallmark movie: family conflict, financial distress, and isolation. I think, most of us experienced these three in these last two years as CoViD has reshaped our lives. However, there is a fourth characteristic of these movies: serendipity – – discovering unexpected things that matter – whether it’s happiness, or hope, or love, you name it.

In the movie, New Year’s Eve was a night about having another chance – another chance for love, forgiveness, and hope, reminding us that we, too, are blessed with these serendipitous moments. We might consider that every New Year’s Eve, like Claire, who is in charge of the New Year’s eve celebrations in the movie, reminded us that we, too, have an opportunity for another chance to make our lives and the lives of others better. When the ball got stuck halfway in the air on Times Square during the celebration, Claire was asked to share a few words with the audience:

“As you all can see, the ball has stopped halfway to its perch. It’s suspended there to remind us before we pop the champagne and celebrate the new year, to stop, and reflect on the year that has gone by, to remember both our triumphs and our missteps, our promises made and broken, the times we opened ourselves up to great adventures… or closed ourselves down for fear of getting hurt, because that’s what new year’s all about: getting another chance – a chance to forgive, to do better, to do more, to give more, to love more, and to stop worrying about ‘what if?’ and start embracing ‘what will be.’ So, when that ball drops at midnight, and it will drop, let’s remember to be nice to each other, kind to each other, and not just tonight but all year long.”

The movie invited everyone to embrace the ‘what will be’ and to be kind to one another. Pope Francis, too, invited us to listen to one another and to walk with one another. He summoned us to enter into a personal and communal discernment for a synodal Church by praying with and listening to where the Spirit is calling us, by listening to one another, and by reflecting on how we are called to be Church. May we be awakened to our call and be challenged to become better disciples.

I would like us to reflect and pray with these questions:

  • What is God asking of us at this time?
  • What can help us listen to God’s Spirit in our hearts?
  • How can we stop worrying about the ‘what if’ and embrace the ‘what will be’? 

Our faith teaches us to be bearers of hope, love, and charity. As a final reflection, I would like us to consider the words spoken by Sam, a businessman in the movie, where he states,

As we move forward in this new year, let’s try to remember

 that sometimes it’s ok to listen to your heart.

I know it’s risky, take that leap of faith.

Let us take the risk to listen to the call within us, where God reveals who we will be, individually and communally.

Some of you reading this blog may have played with the thought of responding to God’s love by becoming a Sister; you may have even prayed with this thought for a while. If you would like to talk to a Sister about discerning God’s call to religious life, click here to contact us. If you would like to come and see what it feels like to live a life of prayer and service in community, we are offering a retreat in March (March 4-6, 2022) at our Motherhouse in Kentucky for single Catholic women, ages 18-45. We are offering the retreat both in person and via Zoom. For more information, contact Sr. Bea at 614-400-1255, or via email: Bea.Tiboldi@oppeace.org.

Posted in God Calling?, Vocations Blog