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By Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP
October 17, 2019, Detroit – Sister Nancyann Turner, OP, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 70 Over Seventy Awards, in recognition of her outstanding work at the Rosa Parks Children’s Program at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Sister Nancyann created and led this program for the children of Detroit’s east side for the past 20 years.
The 70 Over Seventy Awards are presented by the Hannan Center in Detroit and represent the human potential that continues and, in many cases, increases with age. Awardees represent the many interests, accomplishments, and lifestyles of older people in Michigan. They include artists and art professors, business owners, entrepreneurs, travel agents, and university and state employees who became active in areas such as outreach to seniors, literacy, community service, and human rights and social justice advocacy.
In its published description of the Lifetime Achievement Award, the Hannan Center says: “Awardees will have lived interesting and fulfilling lives as well as continued to contribute to their communities, allowing them to have aged and continued aging well. The person will have made outstanding contributions of significance in their lifetimes and exemplify aging that others aspire to experience.”
This year the awards were presented during a ceremony at the Dearborn Inn on October 5, 2019. Awards were also given to people who made outstanding contributions to the Detroit area in the categories of Art, Community and Civic Engagement, Entrepreneurship, Lifelong Learning, Change-making, and Unsung Heroes.
“I felt just so blessed – I felt so grateful that I have the health to continue serving in that capacity,” Sister Nancyann said later in an interview. She said she was inspired by the other award recipients. “Despite how bad the world seems at times, it was great to hear about all the people who are making a difference. … It was awesome to be surrounded by people who work so hard for the betterment of humankind.”
Sister Nancyann said she loved her 20 years of ministry at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, where she directed the Rosa Parks Children and Youth Program. The program offers a number of projects – such as art therapy, a summer peace camp, and seasonal craft projects. But Sister Nancyann said one of her favorite programs is the peace garden. The children “learn to plant and nurture and cook food,” she said. “I think for years they thought all food came from gas stations.” The peace garden helps them to understand the source of food – and inspires them to share the produce with senior citizens nearby.
Her experience at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen has given Sister Nancyann a better understanding of the “devastating effects of racism – both personal and structural.” She said she has also come to understand how poverty impacts the physical, mental, and spiritual capacities of the children who grow up poor. But through her program, “we keep on building them up,” she said. “We keep giving them a safe place to express their feelings and to learn to deal with violence.” She said a volunteer recently described her program best: “You didn’t create just a program or a project. You created a safe place where children can be safe and loved and empowered.”
Sister Nancyann said she has fond memories of the work she has done with volunteers – about 30 each evening. “The volunteers come from city and suburbs [and are] old and young, black and white, but they share the bread of life. They witness to God’s love,” she said.
Recently retired from her formal ministry at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Sister Nancyann said that ministry never stops. Even when Sisters and other dedicated people no longer receive a paycheck for their service, “we’re still called to be about the mission. … The bonus is if you love what you’re doing in the mission. I always have.”