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April 2, 2021, Detroit – In her work at Gianna House – which offers education and supportive programs to pregnant women and mothers of all ages – Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, has seen many success stories. Recently, one of those stories was highlighted publicly when Ariel Jewell, a young mother working toward self-sufficiency, received the Live your Dream Award and a $3,000 college scholarship from Soroptimist International-Grosse Pointe during a virtual award ceremony.
Soroptimist International offers educational programs on issues that affect women, such as human trafficking. In addition, the organization provides mentoring and a variety of programs to support girls and women as they strive to meet their educational and career goals.
“Ariel came to us in 2019 on her last pregnancy and started taking classes,” Sister Theresa recalled. Now the mother of three, Ariel left an abusive relationship and found herself without a stable home. “She told me that she wanted to improve herself, so she signed up at Davenport College for a pre-nursing program,” Sister Theresa said. Now a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Ariel worked three jobs as a home health aide and saved $10,000 to buy an old house.
Ariel’s efforts to be self-sufficient paid off as organizations such as Soroptimist gave her some needed support. Individuals and organizations donated funds to help Ariel fix up her house and she continues to work toward providing a stable home for her children.
Ariel is one example of the pregnant women and mothers of any age who seek support from Gianna House. “We’re super-interested in helping them to be good moms,” Sister Theresa said. “We offer them classes in parenting and personal growth, as well as life skills,” such as obtaining jobs.
In her ministry at Gianna House, Sister Theresa focuses on the outreach program. “It gives me a venue to do what I wanted to do – focus on women’s growth,” she said. Gianna House offers four classes a week, Monday through Thursday. Women who take the classes earn “baby bucks” that allow them to purchase baby supplies.
During the pandemic, Sister Theresa said, Gianna has begun to offer online courses through a program called Brightcourse, which streams more than 100 classes focusing on areas such as pregnancy, infancy, toddlers, and life skills. “They can use that any day, any time, and pick classes that they want,” she explained. “We’re trying to figure out how we can integrate this with my program. It’s much simpler than Zoom.”
Starting in April, Sister Theresa hopes to offer courses that mothers who aren’t comfortable with online classes can take over their smart phones. “We send them a number that would link them to a lesson [involving] a half-hour video.”
Gianna House offers more than classes, though. It also offers the women a sense of community. Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the lock-down of Gianna House, Sister Theresa said, “the women used to love coming to Gianna House because it formed a support group for them. They were such a support group for each other.”
Sister Theresa said young mothers are always challenged, but this year has brought even greater problems. “Right now it’s harder with COVID because of the home schooling [the mothers] have to do.” She recalled a young woman who was pregnant, working on her own GED, and trying to home school her children. “These are the realities that they face,” she said.
But Sister Theresa also has many memories of women who overcame their challenges and obstacles and are now doing well in life. Alissa, a first-time mother, took sewing classes at Gianna House and, through those classes and her love for sewing, found a job as a seamstress. “I’m so excited that Gianna House showed me something I love to do, and a job came out of it based on my talking about the knowledge I knew from class.”
Monique, who attended classes at Gianna House since she became pregnant with her daughter, Serenity, spoke of the strong influence that Gianna House had on her life. “The classes they offer here are the classes I need to be a better me and to be as good a mom as I can be,” she said. “I also meet some other mothers here I can relate to. … Here we don’t judge each other no matter what. We build one another up. I can honestly say I am happy that Gianna House came into my life when it did.”
Feature photo: Monique, holding baby Serenity, is grateful for Gianna House and for the other mothers she has met during her classes there.
January 5, 2020, Sylvania, Ohio – Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, was named Eco-Educator of 2020 by Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment (SAVE), an environmental organization based at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. Lourdes University is sponsored by the Sylvania Franciscan Sisters.
Eco-Educator is one of five awards presented by SAVE to honor those who are involved in enhancing environmental sustainability.
“It’s nice to be honored, to be recognized for this work,” Sister Corinne said. “One of our hopes for the permaculture site [at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse] is that it’ll grow as an education site. It was nice to have that recognized and brought to attention.”
Permaculture is a system of land use that takes into account environmental sustainability, working with – and learning from – natural systems. Maintained by Sister Corinne and Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, the permaculture site has already been used as a venue for educating others about the environment.
Beginning in 2017, students from Siena Heights University in Adrian and Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida – both sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters – spent 10 days to two weeks each spring participating in the Environmental Leadership Experience (ELE). They learned about permaculture and other environmentally sustainable practices and gained first-hand experience from working at the permaculture site. The 2020 ELE program was canceled because of the pandemic.
“It’s one of the most exciting times we have each year,” Sister Corinne said. The students “have to apply to be accepted, so they’re very motivated, and they go back to their college campuses to implement various environmental practices. It’s a wonderful adventure. It’s part of our hope for the permaculture garden being an educational site.”
In a typical Fall semester, Jared teaches a class of Siena Heights students for one hour per week, giving them opportunities to work in the permaculture site and learn from the experience. “I’m under no illusion that they’ll want to become small-scale farmers,” he said. Typically, they graduate and enter other fields. “But they have some kind of literacy about what our farming system is like,” he added. “Having a society with more literacy [in agricultural practices] seems worthwhile to me.”
In the spring of 2019, sixth-grade students from an elementary school in Lenawee County, Michigan, came to the Motherhouse to participate in the River Raisin Water Festival. Hosted by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and organized in collaboration with the River Raisin Institute, the River Raisin Watershed Council, and Lenawee Intermediate School District, the event focused on topics such as habitat restoration, marsh bird management, macroinvertebrates such as dragonflies and mayflies, and rain gardens.
Canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, the River Raisin Water Festival is in the planning stages to be held virtually in May 2021. “The presenters have agreed to work virtually with the students,” Sister Corinne said. “Our hope is to distribute the recordings to other schools.”
Along with these formal educational opportunities, Sister Corinne said she and Jared are also open to offering tours for groups and to community education programs.
Sister Corinne said she became passionate about environmental sustainability through a process of awakening. “Our lifestyles have not been healthy for the planet, and I think once you realize that, everyone gets passionate about trying to reshape lifestyles and habits and getting into a right relationship with Earth,” she said. “I think it’s an awakening.”
Both Sister Corinne and Jared have hope for the future – for a time when human beings will be more respectful to Earth and develop more sustainable lifestyles. “Humans have the capacity to be successful when they put their hearts and minds into it,” Sister Corinne said. Healing the planet “is going to require a continued and strong commitment to lifestyle changes, but if you can get people to do that, I think we can make an impact.”
“We’ve got some rough sledding, for sure, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying it’s the end of the world,” Jared said. “In these periods of history where everything changes at once and all the certainties go up in the air, it’s a time to try new things, new ways for humans to live.” He gave the example of people who, after spending almost a year working from home, “might realize they don’t have to commute an hour to the office or want to spend more time with their kids.”
Sister Corinne hopes the permaculture site can be a place where people can come to learn more about the environment and about sustainable practices. “We’ve had a lot of different groups each year that have come for touring,” she said. “We’re open to community education programs. They have yet to be developed, but are part of the vision for the site.”
For information or to arrange for a tour, contact Sister Corinne at 517-266-3420.
Feature photo: Sister Carol Coston, OP, left, who was instrumental in the founding of the permaculture site at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse campus, poses with Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability.