News

For further information on any of the news items listed here, please contact Alice Black, PhD, OPA, Director of Communications & Mission Advancement, at 614-416-1020.


 

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

Dominican Retreat and Conference Center is in the News!

By Bill Buell
The Daily Gazette

Schenectady, NY
January 2, 2022

If you’re still looking for some holiday spirit, the place to be Tuesday nights in January is the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna.

Jim Dillon, a longtime Niskayuna resident, and former teacher and school principal in the Guilderland Central School District, will be at the retreat’s conference center on four successive Tuesday evenings this month to talk about the holiday movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Dillon will show part of the movie on each night, then discuss why director Frank Capra’s 1946 film had such a wonderful second life after failing to produce a financial windfall at the box office.

“Capra thought it was the best movie he ever made, and he also thought it was the best movie ever made, period,” said Dillon. “He was not a modest guy. But then the movie bombed and he must have felt something like George Bailey felt. He must have been questioning his whole life.”

 

George Bailey, as most probably know, was the main character in the film and played by Jimmy Stewart. Faced with a crisis in his life that leaves him desperate and distraught, George thinks about committing suicide on Christmas Eve by jumping off a bridge into an icy river. But before he takes the plunge, he is visited by an angel who gives him the opportunity to see what life would have been like in his hometown of Bedford Falls if he had never been born. Donna Reed also stars as Mary, George’s wife, and the cast features some of best character actors in Hollywood history, including Lionel Barrymore, William Travers and Ward Bond.

While the movie did draw good reviews when it came out right after the conclusion of World War II — and also received five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture — it was overshadowed by “The Best Years of Our Lives,” William Wyler’s work about veterans returning home from the war. That film won seven Oscars, including Best Picture.

“I think people had just gone through World War II, and they see Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed and they think, ‘romantic comedy,’ ” said Dillon. “But then they walk into the movie theater, where it’s dark, and they see a very dark movie. At that time it was a hard movie for people to watch. They were sitting in a dark movie theater, which intensified the film, and they just couldn’t take it.”

One scene in particular was hard to bear, according to Dillon.

“George shows up at home where the family is waiting for him, but he’s feeling desperate,” said Dillon. “I think Jimmy Stewart showed a side of himself as an actor that he hadn’t before. He knocks everything off the table, upsetting his family. That’s a hard scene to watch, especially in a dark movie theater. I still have trouble watching it. People didn’t know how to take it, but if you’re watching it on your couch in your living room, you can get the message the way it was intended. It’s not so intense.”

That’s one of the reasons the viewing public came to its senses and realized just how great a movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” was, according to Dillon. The film’s celebrated second life came from people watching it at home on television after the film entered the public domain.

“They forgot to sign the copyright renewal, so after 26 years any of the networks could show it whenever they wanted,” said Dillon. “You need to fill some airtime, so you put on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ People saw it with fresh eyes, and fortunately Capra lived long enough to see the revival of his film. That had to be very gratifying to him.”

‘Really resonates’

Dillon, who retired as a school administrator in 2010, hasn’t slowed down since he left Lynnwood Elementary School in Guilderland. He has written a handful of books relating to education, including “The Peaceful School Bus” in 2008 and “Using Stories for Professional Development” in 2020. A member of the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish on Union Street in Niskayuna, he also produced another book during the COVID-19 lockdown, “The Gospel of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’: A Spiritual Journey Through the Movie.”

“I’ve always had a real affinity for the movie,” said Dillon, explaining his decision to write a book about Capra’s classic. “Sometimes in life you find a work — a piece of art or a movie — that really resonates with you for a variety of reasons. I’m also deaf in one ear, like George Bailey was, so that created another connection for me.

“I’m also very connected to my church, and like churches have book studies and discussions, I thought it would be a good idea to watch the movie with other people and then discuss it,” continued Dillon. “I did that at St. Kateri. It went pretty well, and that got me thinking about writing a book to maybe help other people who might facilitate a discussion about the movie.”

When a St. Kateri parishioner mentioned Dillon’s project to Joy Galarneau, program director at the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center just a few hundred yards up Union Street, Dillon found himself with another gig.

“A friend of mine, a real mentor, recommended what Jim had done, so I went out and read his book,” said Galarneau. “I thought having a program here was a great idea. The book was excellent, the message was beautiful, so I called him and we set up the program.”

The film hasn’t lost its magic for Audrey Kupferberg, a retired University at Albany professor and film critic for WAMC Public Radio.

“There are many Hollywood movies that express family values, the love of community and the importance of doing good over evil,” said Kupferberg. “However, only one film that I know of expresses with such credibility a validation of life itself. In the post-war 1940s, when suicide was not part of many Hollywood stories, this film bravely speaks out.

“Due to the populist approach of director Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart’s talent to portray a folksy everyman, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ has continued to entertain, as well as convey strong messages about living our lives,” Kupferberg added. “It is a unique and highly significant film, and one of my all-time favorites.”

Deep dive

For his presentation, Dillon goes through every major scene in the movie — and there are quite a few.

“I got the screenplay just so I could really look at the dialogue and study each scene, and all that research really made me admire the film even more,” he said. “I’ve also read two books about Capra and I now appreciate how the film was in some ways autobiographical. The movie reflected his life and his experiences, his many ups and downs, and I think Capra must have really identified with George Bailey.”

Dillon’s favorite might be the scene in the Hatch family parlor where Mary and George listen in together on a phone call from an old friend. Mary tries to rekindle an old flame, while George resists. The most important scene, Dillons says, might be in the opening sequence when viewers see a sign that reads, “You Are Now in Bedford Falls.”

“Why would Capra put up a sign like that in the middle of the town,” said Dillon. “To me, it’s because he was very clear that he wanted his audience to realize that the film was for them. It’s not just about George Bailey. The director is telling you that you need to identify with George Bailey, but you also have to go on the journey with him. The film takes you through hell, but you’ll come out on the other side, and eventually you’ll see that life is wonderful.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the retreat center will limit the number of participants for the in-person-only event. For information, visit www.dslcny.org or call the retreat center at (518) 393-4169. Reservations are required.

‘Four Weeks to a Wonderful Life’

WHAT: A discussion about Frank Capra’s 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”

WHERE: Dominican Retreat and Conference Center, 1945 Union St., Niskayuna

WHEN: Tuesdays, Jan. 4, 11, 18 and 25, 6:30-8 p.m.

HOW MUCH: Free-will offering

MORE INFO: Visit www.dslcny.org or call (518) 393-4169

Posted in News