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March 4, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – The City of Adrian and Lenawee County face a number of challenges. But given the community’s assets – such as caring people and about 800 nonprofit organizations – the community can face those challenges, particularly by building on collaboration already in place among service agencies.
That was the gist of an update by the Adrian Resilient Communities Committee, formed in response to the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s 2016 General Chapter Enactment on Resilient Communities. The Enactment calls on the Adrian Dominican Congregation to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins, valuing their faith, wisdom, and integrity.”
The Congregation spent a year studying resilient communities and shared some of the findings during a public symposium in March 2018 and an educational forum in August 2018. Committees have been formed in Adrian and in the Congregation’s Dominican Midwest, Dominican West, Florida, and Great Lakes Mission Chapters to explore opportunities to build resilience in their regions.
Jennifer Hunter and Sister Sharon Weber, OP, Co-Chairs of the Adrian Resilient Communities Committee, focused their February 25 update on the results of the Committee’s year of research and next steps in collaborating with people of Lenawee County.
Jennifer, Campus Administrator, reported on the statistics that the committee had unearthed: Adrian’s population of 20,000 in a county of 98,000 residents; the median wage of Adrian households, almost $34,000, compared to a national average of $59,000; and a poverty rate of 27 percent compared to a national average of 14 percent.
Sister Sharon, Vice President for Academic Affairs for Siena Heights University in Adrian, spoke of lessons the committee learned from their own involvement in the local area, as well as from listening to Co-workers, local community members, and Sisters. One of the greatest assets of the area is the attitude of the people, she said. “This is a caring community, willing to help each other.”
But, Sister Sharon said, people in the community also identified a number of challenges: the lack of accessibility to mental health services, reliable public transportation, food security, jobs with living wages, services for youth, affordable and accessible day care, and affordable housing.
The Committee’s research also focused on effective approaches the Committee and the Sisters, Associates, and Co-workers in the area can take in working with the community to address the challenges. “It helps to start where you’re wanted,” Jennifer said. “Don’t call [people] into your board rooms to sit around your conference room tables or don’t call them into your house. You go to their churches or their park benches or their spaces where they feel the most comfortable, and they’re going to open up to you.”
Habitat for Humanity of Lenawee County, which has worked with the people of Adrian through their East Side neighborhood revitalization program, proved the effectiveness of gaining the trust of the residents. “They learned that it takes years to build trust,” Jennifer said. The hardest lesson of all, she added, is to “give up control if you really want the residents to take charge of their future. Sit back and be a participant as opposed to leading that charge.”
Sister Sharon outlined next steps that the Committee planned for the coming year:
The goal, Sister Sharon said, is to build resilient communities that feature “sustainability, partnerships based on trust, equity and justice, spiritual wisdom, and healing.”
Serving on the Adrian Resilient Communities Committee are Sister Rosemary Abramovich, OP, Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, Joel Henricks, Ashley LaVigne, Brad McCullar, Sister Pam Millenbach, OP, Amy Palmer, and Sister Kathleen Schanz, OP. Associate Dee Joyner, Director of the Office of Resilient Communities, and Sara Stoddard, Finance Director, are members ex officio, and Kris Cooper, executive assistant, serves as the Committee’s secretary.
February 22, 2019, Flint, Michigan – The St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center received the Partner in Progress Award from the Genesee District Library in Flint on February 2 in recognition of the organization’s many contributions to the Flint community. Sister Carol Weber, OP, Co-founder and Co-director of N.E.W. Life with Sister Judy Blake, CSJ, accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
The award ceremony took place during the Annual Black History Month Brunch at the Genesys Banquet and Conference Center in Flint. The event also included a presentation of the Award of Excellence to three individuals: Bryant Nolden, First District County Commissioner; Clifton Turner, 2005 Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame inductee; and Dr. Beverly Walker-Griffea, President of Mott Community College.
St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center was chosen for the Partners in Progress Award from among 12 nominations “because of its wide range of services and far-reaching effect on the community,” said Kelly Flynn, Community Relations Manager for the Genesee District Library.
The Black History Month Brunch, begun in 2002, is “one of Genesee County’s premier events,” Kelly said. “It provides an opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to world history. The brunch also inspires residents to reach their full potential and to make a difference in our community, state, and nation.” A portion of the proceeds from the brunch help support the Genesee District Library’s Summer Reading Challenge, which reaches more than 6,400 children in Genesee County.
The Partners in Progress Award is one of many awards that the St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center has received in recognition of its contributions to the Genesee County community.
During its annual dinner on October 27, 2018, the Arab American Heritage Council bestowed the Community Contributor of the Year Award on Sisters Carol and Judy. Luke N.E.W. Life center also received the Four Pillars Award from the Genesee Community Health Center during its November 16, 2018,Gala. The award goes to an individual or organization that exemplifies the four pillars of hope, help, health, and healing.
Sister Carol said she was moved to receive the award during Black History Month. “It’s an honor to get any award, but an award like this is a real recognition from the community,” she said. The Partners in Progress Award “is for the center and everybody who’s involved in the center.”
When she accepted the award Sister Carol recalled seeing 500 people in the audience “and how engrossed they were in what we were doing as a center, and so highly supportive.” Among those in attendance were N.E.W. Life staff members and volunteers. “I spoke about how grateful we were to be honored in this way as a center,” Sister Carol said. “I thanked the board and the clients who trusted us enough to help them change their lives.”
Sisters Carol and Judy founded St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center in 2002 as a place to help women on Flint’s North Side to improve their lives. “The center has grown into a safe place where men and women come for food, job training, and education,” she said. This includes the work of the St. Luke N.E.W. Life Literacy Center. In addition, the Center offers a food pantry, which serves more than 3,000 people each month, and community services such as crisis prevention and child care.
In 2008, the Center opened a social enterprise program, a commercial sewing business, to help the women involved to learn a new trade and become self-sufficient. The Center opened its Employment Preparation Program in 2012. The 16-week program includes GED preparation; computer training; and skill building focused on 12 components, including positive approach to life and work, employer expectations, and financial literacy.
“The whole concept is to make sure [participants] have a work ethic so that when they get a job they’ll keep it,” Sister Carol explained. “We make sure that we take away all the barriers [to full-time employment] like lack of transportation and child care.”
Currently, graduates of the program have the opportunity to work for 60 to 90 days for the Center in social enterprise businesses such as commercial sewing; lawn care; and hoop houses, a form of greenhouse.
In early spring, the new graduates of the Employment Preparation Program will also have the opportunity to work in the Center’s new bakery, which is scheduled to open then. “We’ll bake bread and cakes” and visit local parishes on the weekends to sell them, Sister Carol said. Some local restaurants are also are considering buying bread and cakes from the Center’s bakery. “We have a lot of support from people in the area,” she noted. “They want to buy into the work of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center.”
Sister Carol also sees the potential for employment for women who gain experience through the Center’s bakery. “There are 53 institutions in a 25-mile radius that are looking for bakery workers,” she said. Women who are employed in the bakery will also be able to develop skills in cake decorating, another vital skill for those who work in individual or grocery store bakeries.
Feature photo: Sister Carol Weber, OP, accepts the Partners in Progress Award on behalf of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center. Photo Courtesy of Pop Mod Photo