What's Happening


Associate Sharon Pikula, center, stands with a large donation of shoes brought to the Welcome Center in Phoenix by a donor from San Francisco.

April 19, 2024, Phoenix, Arizona – In a place where many people might see hopelessness, Adrian Dominican Associate Sharon Pikula saw a heart-warming scene where people help one another and find joy and comfort in small matters. 

Sharon volunteered for a week at a welcome center for immigrants in Phoenix, Arizona, working with other volunteers to give immigrants who pass through the center time for respite and recovery. Typically, the immigrants come from a detention center run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or from other nonprofit organizations located near the border, she explained. 

The welcome center where Sharon served was established in a former elementary school building by various local nonprofit organizations, under the umbrella of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Sharon explained. The center has space for up to 400 people to sleep, but its primary aim is to offer temporary space for immigrants to “stabilize their situation – rest, get a new set of clothes, get a shower, [and enjoy] three meals a day,” she explained. The ultimate goal is to prepare them for journeys to the homes of their sponsors, family members or friends who reside in the United States. Typically, 175 to 300 immigrants pass through the welcome center each week, Sharon said. 

During her week at the IRC Welcome Center, Sharon worked three-hour shifts packed with activity: coordinating showers, preparing used clothing, working in the clothing room, serving meals, and offering any other service needed by the immigrants. Often after her shift, she and other volunteers shopped at local thrift stores for clothing, toiletries, and other necessary items to stock the shelves of the IRC Welcome Center. 

Sharon described the work as heart-wrenching. “Other than the clothes on [their backs] and maybe a backpack, that’s all they’ve got,” she said. Yet, during the orientation, the volunteers were told not to question the immigrants about their experiences to avoid re-traumatizing them. “Their recommendation was to give them as much autonomy as possible and not to throw questions at them,” Sharon said. “I tried to be as helpful as I could, but I did not push any questions … and just helped them get whatever they needed.”

During off-hours, Sharon stayed at the nearby house of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The experience was “very holistic in terms of being of service but also having space for yourself to take in what you were experiencing – time for prayer and reflection,” she said. She also spent part of her evenings gaining some insight into the plight of the immigrants by reading Solito, the memoir of Javier Zamora, who, in 1990, at the age of 9, traveled by himself from his native El Salvador to be reunited with his parents in the United States. 

Still, Sharon witnessed joy and hope. “One of the things you learn is that you may find yourself in some really tough situations, but you still see the humanity of people in terms of helping each other out,” she said. She gave the example of a man from Africa who, on watching Sharon clean off the tables before preparing a meal, stepped in to help her with this task. She also recalled the generosity of a man from San Francisco who traveled to Phoenix with a carload of donated shoes for the immigrants. “They were gone within a day,” she said.

Sharon also applauded the generosity of activists who advocate for the welfare of immigrants, even if they don’t necessarily work with “day-to-day direct service,” and spoke highly of the support she felt from Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates who prayed for her and for the immigrants she served. “I really, full-heartedly believe that prayer support is deeply needed across the spectrum, whether you’re in direct service or the activist or whatever role,” she said. “We need that praying presence.” 

Sharon said volunteering at the IRC Welcome Center was part of her search to serve others. “As I’m moving into retirement, I want to do some service,” she said. She heard about the center from a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in her parish, who had served at the center. Feeling that Phoenix was not too far from her home in Washington State, Sharon applied to volunteer at the welcome center. “I’m hoping in the later part of the year to return there,” she said. “It’s a very tender and vulnerable place.”

Sharon has some advice for anyone who would like to volunteer at a welcome center for immigrants. “Be open to the experience,” she said. “If you have some prayer or spiritual practices, make sure you’re doing them regularly. Watch for the simple things. It’s not the grandiose stuff – it’s paying attention to the simple needs of the people and allowing them to be as autonomous as possible and giving them space.”

Listen to Sharon’s Holy Week reflection on her experience at the welcome center.

Exterior of Casa Papa Francisco

March 7, 2024, El Paso, Texas – During a February 9-27, 2024, volunteer session in El Paso, Texas, Sister Janice Brown, OP, ministered to immigrants crossing the U.S.-Texas border and heard personal stories about why they needed to leave their homeland and about their journeys to the United States.

Sister Janice served at Casa Papa Francisco, one of three Annunciation Houses in El Paso, Texas. Annunciation House serves as a place of hospitality for immigrants who are released from detention centers and are on their way to family members or friends in the United States who sponsored them. 

White woman with short blonde hair, her right eye closed, wearing a white turtleneck and a gray patterned jacket smiles at the camera Sister Janice was one of 11 volunteers who arrived together at Annunciation House and received orientation from Ruben Garcia, founder of Annunciation House. Because she was staying with the local Sisters of Loretto, she was assigned to serve at the closest house, Casa Papa Francisco. 

Nearly every person who came to the site "had the documents that are required to enter the country legally,” Sister Janice said. “They had gone through Border Patrol. They had gotten a court date.” After spending time in detention centers, the immigrants come to Annunciation House for rest, a meal, perhaps a change of clothes, and help in getting transportation to their sponsors’ home in the United States, she said. During her volunteer time at Casa Papa Francisco, immigrants traveled to join their sponsors in New Jersey, California, Colorado, Florida, and other places in the United States, she recalled. 

The hope is that Annunciation House guests stay for a short time before reconnecting with their sponsors. “Sometimes, the people don’t even stay a full day,” Sister Janice said. “If they can get transportation arranged, they can leave the same day. They might get a good meal, wash their clothes, and be on their way.”

Volunteers help to keep Annunciation House operating by completing numerous day-to-day chores. “I stepped into the working zone of the hospitality house 100 percent,” said Sister Janice. “We served wherever we were needed.” This included unlocking the doors in the morning and locking them in the evening, registering the guests, preparing meals, helping with the laundry, overseeing guests who worked in various areas, and cleaning the kitchen and other areas. 

But while these duties are essential, Sister Janice emphasized a greater dimension to her volunteer work at Annunciation House: being present to the guests and listening to their stories. “I don’t speak much Spanish,” she said, adding “Google Translate was my friend.” However, she understood and listened to many of the immigrants’ stories. 

One woman – whose husband was already in the United States – came with her children. They were kidnapped by a gang and held for 20 days while they called her contacts demanding money. Another woman had to pay $7,000 to a coyote – a person who charges immigrants to smuggle them across the border - to transport herself and her son to the United States. 

Another woman, on her way from Mexico to the United States, was drugged, raped, and abused. “She found herself in the hospital, and she didn’t remember any of it,” Sister Janice said. Her leg was so severely cut that she lost circulation and had to have her leg amputated to survive. “Casa Papa Francisco took her in,” she said. “She got a prosthesis and is trying to learn to walk on it.”

Immigrants and volunteers attend Mass in the chapel at Casa Papa Francisco. They sit in folding chairs in front of a priest at the altar with a large hanging cross on the wall behind him

Immigrants and volunteers attend Mass in the chapel at Casa Papa Francisco.


Sister Janice said several groups come together to help the immigrants. Along with the volunteers at the Annunciation House, other organizations serve in various ways. Las Americanas Border Servant Corps in New Mexico helps immigrants when they’re dropped off at the airport. Sisters of Loretto help with transportation, laundry, and gathering donations. “It’s quite a network of volunteers,” she noted.

“The resiliency of the people is amazing to me, that they go through all of this and are so vulnerable,” Sister Janice said. “They’ve gone through a lot of tough times but remain grateful and open.” 

Sister Janice advised people who volunteer at Annunciation House or similar houses of hospitality, even in the midst of a great deal of physical work, to be present to the guests. “There’s lots of work to do, but the presence and being welcoming are extremely important,” she said.

Sister Janice was at Casa Papa Francisco during the time that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Annunciation House, seeking to close it down. She pointed to the tremendous support that Annunciation House has, from Oscar Leeser, Mayor of El Paso; several state representatives; and Bishop of El Paso Mark J. Seitz, DD. 

Annunciation House “has a lot of support from the community, and it would be tragic to stop the good work,” Sister Janice said. Supporters stand behind the work of Annunciation House as part of the “Gospel mandate” to serve people in need. “We are called to welcome the stranger,” she said. “I think we are meant to be in a relationship with people who are vulnerable and in need.”  

Watch the press conference by supporters of Annunciation House from February 23, 2024.

white folding chairs around long tables covered with blue tablecloths in a tiled room with a cafeteria line at one end.

The dining room at Casa Papa Francisco is the scene of meals that restore immigrants newly arrived from the detention center.




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