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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.
August 28, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Neighbors in an abandoned area of Detroit, people evicted from their ancestral lands and living in a “squatters’ community” in a desert area of the Dominican Republic, and the homeless population in the State of Washington. People in these situations were able to overcome their desperate circumstances, form community, and improve their lives with the help of individual Adrian Dominican Sisters.
| VIEW A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE PRESENTATION AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE |
The Sisters who ministered with the people to form these communities shared what they learned during an educational forum that was designed to help others in the Congregation to help create resiliency in their own communities. One of four Enactments of General Chapter 2016 commits the Congregation to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins, valuing their faith, wisdom, and integrity.”
Although resilient communities can be defined in a number of ways, the Adrian Dominican Sisters have adopted this working definition: “one that has a long-range sustainable vision that emerges from the community through an inclusive, collaborative process that engages diverse grassroots leaders and persons who have traditionally been marginalized; creates partnerships built on trust; seeks equity and justice; draws on spiritual wisdom and is healing; and reflects a concern for future generations, living within Earth’s regenerative capacity (i.e., ‘one-planet thinking’). These elements combine to promote the well-being and vitality of the community and its ability to address ongoing stressors from crises or disasters and sustain itself into the future.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Leadership Council designated 2018 as a year of study about resilient communities. Resiliency in our Midst, held on August 22 at Weber Retreat & Conference Center, brought forward the personal experiences of Sisters Janet Stankowski, OP; Maurine Barzantni, OP; and Judy Byron, OP.
While the ministries they spoke of differ, the three Sisters also spoke of ways that they specifically fit the Congregation’s working definition of resilient communities. Many of these communities fit a number of aspects of the definition, but below are highlights.
In their ministry, Sisters Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Renee Richie, OP, waked with and fostered the leadership abilities of the local women living with their families in a cluster of houses – essentially a “squatter’s community” at the crossroads of Cruce de Arroyo Honda in the Dominican Republic. “We told them we couldn’t lead the meetings because our Spanish wasn’t good,” Sister Maurine said. They role-played with the women so that they could manage an upcoming meeting – and helped them to build up their confidence. “About a dozen women emerged as leaders.”
Once the women came to understand that God did not want them to be poor, they worked together to meet the community needs that they themselves identified. Working as committees, they brought to their community prefabricated latrines; medical services, such as weekly consultations by two doctors, a pharmacy, and a medical lab; and Fe y Alegria Espiritu Santo, a school that began with 127 first-grade students ages 6 to 16. Because of earlier lack of educational opportunities, many of the students began first grade at an older age. The school now boasts a K-12 program with 1,500 students and professional teachers who graduated from their school.
Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, and Associate Patricia Gillis founded Voices for Earth Justice as an interfaith community “praying, learning, and taking action together for Earth justice.” The community was developed to address the environmental injustice plaguing the people of Detroit. In 2011, they purchased five lots with two buildings in the Brightmoor area of Detroit and built Hope House as a “gathering place and resource for neighbors and visitors,” especially around the area of environmental justice.
Voices for Earth Justice offers a number of workshops and retreats and leads the community in actions such as climate marches and lobbying with legislators, but remains focused on spirituality. “Prayer was and is our focus – to bring people together to pray for peace for all creation,” Sister Janet said. “We believe a spiritual transformation was needed to make the pollution and destruction stop.”
Sister Judy Byron, OP, serves on the Board of Directors of Mercy Housing Northwest, an organization founded in 1992 through a collaboration of five communities of women religious in the Seattle area – including the Edmonds Dominican Sisters, now merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters – and Mercy Housing, Inc. The goal was to create stable, permanent, affordable housing for groups that could otherwise be homeless, including low-income families, seniors, and immigrants and refugees.
Today, Mercy Housing Northwest manages about 54 properties, residential complexes in the State of Washington that offer services such wellness and after-school programs. Many of those complexes were developed through partnerships. For example, Emerald City Commons – a 60-unit complex in Seattle – was developed through collaboration with an evangelical church, which had owned the property and wanted to build housing on it. Mercy Housing Northwest partnered with them to develop the complex, Sister Judy said. She explained that Mercy Housing Northwest also collaborates with government organizations, foundations, and other social service and non-profit agencies to develop housing for people in need.
The models described by Sisters Janet, Maurine, and Judy can serve as inspiration for the various Resilient Communities Committees in the Congregation’s Mission Chapters explore areas in their geographic region where they can work with local residents to create resilient communities.
Feature photo (top): Sister Christa Marsik, OP, poses a question to one of the three panelists speaking during the Resiliency in our Midst educational forum.
From left, Sisters Janet Stankowski, OP, and Judy Byron, OP, listen to Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, during a panel presentation. Associate Dee Joyner, Director of Resilient Communities, listens from the podium.