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By Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP
Outreach Program Director, Gianna House

September 15, 2020, Detroit – When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, struggles with job loss and worries about obtaining vital necessities were real and far-reaching. Gianna House Pregnancy and Parenting Center in Eastpointe, whose mission is to provide support and resources to mothers in need, looked at creative ways to continue to serve these women during this unprecedented time.

Gianna House opened a residence for pregnant teens ages 13 through 17 just over a year ago. While we did not accept new residents during the first, uncertain months of the pandemic, we continued to provide loving support to our resident teen and celebrated the August birth of her beautiful, healthy son. Teens may come any time during their pregnancy and remain up to a year after birthing to continue their academic education and gain parenting and life skills.

In addition, for the past five years, Gianna House has been a resource for underserved mothers of any age through a vibrant Outreach Program. In looking for ways to continue to help while our center was quarantining, our Outreach Program was expanded to include online learning opportunities for community mothers to continue to attend our classes. Mothers who take classes receive “baby bucks,” which they can use to purchase items from our closets, such as diapers, wipes, and clothing – all donated to Gianna House throughout the year.

Starting in May, modified classes were led virtually by our volunteer facilitators. As each class is completed, mothers email reflections on what they learned in class and what they need to purchase for their babies. Each Monday they pick up their items at designated times from the Gianna House porch. 

“I found Gianna House very soon after COVID hit my community,” said Carmen, a mother from Macomb County, Michigan. “I was newly pregnant and very nervous. I had recently lost my stable job and money has been very tight with the conditions of the world shutdown. I was home, which made it very easy to conduct classes online and to earn diapers and other baby supplies for my son. I’m very happy GH is here to help women and families like me. They are a true blessing.”

Myleka, the single mom of five children, ages 2 to 12, from Wayne County, Michigan, also describes Gianna House as a blessing because of its online courses. “Not only did Gianna House bless us mentally but they have also helped by blessing us with the necessities that we need for our little ones,” she said. “Being able to reach out for help at a time like this and receive it was a real blessing. I would like to thank Gianna House and all of their sponsors for helping me and my family. Thank you for thinking about moms and families like mine during this pandemic!”

Finding teachers with the capability to conduct online classes was a bit challenging, but networking with established groups such as CARE of Southeast Michigan, Ascension Health System’s Southeast Michigan Community Health, and Community Housing Network, Inc., has been a great help. It works both ways – they provide great classes and we refer moms to their programs.

“As part of our national mission at Ascension, our goal is to serve the most vulnerable populations,” said Neefesha Marion, LLMSW, of Ascension Infant Mortality Program’s Jubilee Parenting Support Group. “It has been a great experience working with Gianna House, providing women and families parenting education.”

CARE’s Early Learning and Parent Education Director, Tonia Pauli, thanked Gianna House for its “unwavering support of the moms in our community. Through our state’s COVID-19 closures, Gianna House has collaborated with us to continue to provide workshops and education.” 

Gianna House is now accepting applications for new residents, using safety procedures to ensure the continued health of all staff and residents. For more information please call 586-445-0440 or visit www.giannahouse.org.

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April 20, 2020, Flint, Michigan – Women in the Commercial Sewing program of St. Luke NEW Life Center are putting their training as seamstresses, their skills, and eight hours per day to good use: making cloth masks to keep the people of Flint and a variety of social service agencies and churches safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also continuing its outreach to the most vulnerable in the community by offering food to those in need.

Since its founding in 2002 by Sisters Carol Weber, OP, and Judy Blake, CSJ, St. Luke NEW Life Center has served the needs of the people on the North Side of Flint, Michigan. Its Employment-Preparation program teaches job skills such as commercial sewing to “structurally-unemployable” residents of Flint. 

The Center’s sewing business, in compliance with the stay-at-home executive order of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, has put aside making its routine products, such as medical apparel. In its place, six of the Commercial Sewing employees have agreed to sew masks for organizations that order them for their staff and clients.

Sister Carol said she received a request for 1,000 masks from the CEO of the Mass Transit Authority (MTA) of Flint and Genesee County to keep staff members and passengers safe. They have since received orders for masks from businesses, churches, and social service agencies from as far away as Harbor Beach, Michigan.

The goal is for the women to sew 10,000 masks – including 7,500 that they will make specifically for the people of Flint, with material provided by a local foundation.

Olivia Young examines a mask that she is in the process of sewing. Photo by Sister Carol Weber, OP, Courtesy St. Luke NEW Life Center

Sister Carol said some of the women sew at the Center, while others have opted to sew from home, enabling them to watch their children. Those who sew from home receive a weekly packet of material previously donated to the Center, thread, and elastic. At the end of each week, the women bring in the masks and receive a packet for the next week.

The women receive a weekly paycheck for making the masks, but the project means more to them than money. “The one thing I’ve heard them say over and over is, ‘I’m glad I can help somebody – that what I’m doing is helping somebody stay alive,” Sister Carol said. 

“The project has brought us to a different level of awareness,” Sister Carol said. “When we talked about the people who are going to receive these masks, we decided that as a company we would be praying while we’re sewing for the people who are going to receive it and the people they’ll be working with.”

The St. Luke NEW Life Center is also serving as a food source for the people on the North Side of Flint. The Center purchases the food from a local food bank and, every Friday, distributes a bag of food – along with a bar of soap – to families who line up in their cars or on foot. “Last Friday they were lined up for four blocks,” Sister Carol said. 

This is a new form of food distribution for the Center, which, before the outbreak of the pandemic, had served meals in the building, giving people a safe place to eat and to socialize. The Center has had to suspend that service because of the difficulty it would pose in social distancing. 

But simply giving people food to take home without that safe place to eat has been a difficult adjustment, Sister Carol said. “One of the things we wanted over the years was that this be a place of safety,” she explained. “We’ve done so well that they want to get out of their cars and come here to congregate – and we have to tell them to stay in their cars. It’s very hard because this has always been a safe place for them.”

In light of COVID-19, Sister Carol said the Center has had to take much into consideration in its service to the people of Flint, both in food distribution and in the mask-sewing project. “We have to look at our people and our volunteers,” she said. “We have to keep them safe as well.” She noted that 95 percent of the people served by the Center are African American, a population with a disproportionately high rate of death from the virus.

Gwendolyn Coleman sews a mask for St. Luke NEW Life Center. Photo by Sister Carol Weber, OP, Courtesy St. Luke NEW Life Center

The Center also takes special precautions in the commercial sewing work area. “We wash everything down three times a day,” Sister Carol explained. “Everybody has access to masks, and they’re close to bathrooms so they can wash their hands."

In spite of the complexities of reaching out to the most vulnerable in the Flint community, Sister Carol sees many reasons to hope. “We want to do our part in helping everybody we can,” she said. “It’s the prayerfulness that really governs our time together, not only to work but also to pray – and that’s a saving factor right now.”

Through the years, Sister Carol said, the people of Flint have learned to rely on each other, and COVID-19 confirms that interdependence. “We try to help as much as we can, and other agencies do, too,” she said. “We’re not standing alone in this at all."

Sister Carol hopes that the pandemic will change people for the better. “One of the things it’s taught me is how dependent we need to be on each other, and how positive people can be in the middle of a pandemic.” 

The Center also appreciates help from the greater community. The NEW Life Center always needs donations of materials to help them sew the masks and other projects, as well as monetary donations to help with its many programs for the people of Flint.



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