Faithfully Green: Harnessing Green Energy for Nonprofit Communities

Faithfully Green: Harnessing Green Energy for Nonprofit Communities

In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, On the Care of Our Common Home, Pope Francis expresses, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, at the same time protecting nature.”

A key component of the mission of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati is to “care for all creation,” a message which was reaffirmed with their 2015 Chapter Direction: “Called from the beginning of our foundation as Sisters of Charity to address the needs of our world, we move intentionally and creatively toward the vulnerabilities of our Earth and our sisters and brothers.”

This Spring, in recognition of Earth Day, SC Ministry Foundation invited three Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Sisters CJ Willie, Marge Kloos, and Barbara Busch to share how they are fulfilling the call to environmental stewardship. Staff from 20 nonprofit organizations joined in the conversation to learn how to adopt “green” practices, reduce energy costs, and inspire their community to do the same.

The Legacy of the Solar Nun

Sister CJ spoke from her varied experiences as the program director for EarthConnection, a member of environmental committees for both the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Mount St. Joseph University, and a board member for Ohio Interfaith Power and Light (OhIPL). Sister Paula Gonzalez, SC co-founded Ohio Interfaith Power & Light in 2007 as the statewide affiliate of the national organization. Before her passing in July 2016, Sister Paula had spent 45 years of her life advocating for renewable energy, earning her the recognition as the “solar nun.” Sister CJ shared how OhIPL is continuing Sister Paula’s mission by partnering with energy assessment experts to help faith-based nonprofits obtain low-cost energy audits and implementation plans to reduce energy costs. She included information about financing options that are available to support energy conservation projects, such as the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding mechanism.

Ward-Sara_Gonzalez-SPaula_Willie-SCJ
Ohio Interfaith Power & Light connects faith-based organizations with resources to become more energy efficient. Founded by the late Sister Paula Gonzalez (pictured center), the organization continues its mission through leadership of executive director Sara Ward (left) and board member Sister CJ Willie (right).

Moving “Off the Grid”

As the co-founder and executive director of Working in Neighborhoods (WIN), Sister Barbara discussed how WIN is providing energy-efficient home renovations, and developing plans to utilize solar and geothermal energy in newly-constructed affordable homes. For many years, Working in Neighborhoods has been providing energy-efficient renovations for low-income homeowners, which includes Energy Star rated furnaces, water heaters and appliances, insulation and replacement windows, as well environmental remediation to manage issues with lead or asbestos. In addition, WIN builds new homes with the same principals of energy efficiency and sustainability. WIN’s latest project will create a “Net-Zero” Urban Village in South Cumminsville, one of Cincinnati’s oldest, predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Within a targeted area, WIN will build 25 net-zero or near net-zero energy usage homes using energy efficient design and green energy technology such as geothermal and/or solar. WIN’s goal is to move low-income residents out of costly, inefficient and often unhealthy rental properties into affordable, sustainable homeownership. Within the same targeted area, 25 current homeowners will receive weatherization and energy efficiency upgrades.  Sister Barb shared, “We think we can help those in poverty… we’re not going to increase their money, but we can increase their ability to use their money differently.”

WIN_Busch-SBarb_newHomeowner
Sister Barbara Busch, SC Executive Director and co-founder of Working in Neighborhoods, has been presenting keys to first-time homebuyers for nearly 40 years. 

Living the Mission

Sister Marge’s background in environmental studies and global travel experiences have prepared her for the responsibility of coordinating environmental initiatives on the Sisters of Charity properties, through her role as an executive councilor with the Sisters of Charity Leadership Council. She shared how Pope Francis’ call to “integral ecology” led the Sisters to consider “what we were doing with our own properties to protect our ‘non-human neighbors’.” Sister Marge shared that when we utilize any energy, we “have to look at the ecological cost as well as the economic cost. As long as I can remember, Sister Paula has been encouraging us to do this.”  She described how the Sisters of Charity are on the leading edge of the renewable energy efforts in the Greater Cincinnati area through geothermal, solar, and other energy-efficient initiatives in order to transform their properties into “ecological models of sustainability.” One example Sister Marge cited was their effort to switch 10,500 lightbulbs in the Motherhouse to LED lighting. This has resulted in an estimated cost savings of $62,000 a year. Beyond the Motherhouse, the Sisters have installed geothermal HVAC technology for two of the Sister’s residences and solar technology for six of the residences. The combined impact of these renewable energy solutions is anticipated to reduce carbon emissions at the equivalent of 120,000 miles driven by a passenger vehicle in one year, or 54,000 pounds of coal burned each year.

SC-Solar-Panel
The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati contracted with Melink Corporation to utilize solar and geothermal energy on their properties. 

A recording of the “Faithfully Green” panel presentation as well as additional resources are available at: www.scministryfdn.org/programs/faithfully-green.

 

Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati statement on Care for the Earth:
http://www.srcharitycinti.org/opjcc/earth.htm

 


 

Contributors: Brittany Hein, communications assistant with SC Ministry Foundation and English major at Mount St. Joseph University; Amelia Riedel, director of communications and program officer with SC Ministry Foundation. 

Neighbors Helping Neighbors – The Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati

Neighbors Helping Neighbors – The Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati

At a time when most of their peers are focused on climbing a career ladder or advancing their education, five young women and men from around the world have chosen to live in Cincinnati in a lifestyle challenged by poverty as they devote a year of their lives in service for others. They share a home in Cincinnati’s West End neighborhood, share modest meals and utilize public transportation. They serve in full-time positions and earn only a small stipend for living expenses. They are a uniquely special group of young professionals called the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati.

The Vincentian Volunteer program was created by the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Cincinnati in 2012 to expand the Society’s mission of “neighbors helping neighbors.” The program engages young adults in 11 months of full-time service to neighbors in need, while living in intentional community with each other and growing in faith. Though similar programs such as AmeriCorps exist across the country, at the time the Cincinnati Vincentian Volunteer program began it was the only faith-based, residential service opportunity available in the area.

SVDP-VVC-2017_Maura-Fare_700p
As program manager for the Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati, Maura Carpinello enhances the program through her wealth of personal experience as a Colorado Vincentian. Here she is discussing the “Getting Ahead” mentorship program with Fare Olagbaju.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society has served Cincinnati-area neighbors in need for nearly 150 years, and is the largest provider of emergency assistance services that prevent homelessness. The need is great, since approximately one in three Cincinnati residents fall below the federal poverty line, according the 2015 Ohio Development Agency’s Poverty Report. In 2014, 69% of homeless families in Cincinnati were turned away from shelters, largely due to lack of capacity. As requests for services became monumental, the additional assistance from the Vincentian Volunteers has helped to meet the increased demand.

SVDP-VVC-2017_Molly-Tim_700p
The assistance from the Vincentian Volunteers has helped to meet the increasing demands for services. Vincentian Volunteer Molly Gibbons coordinates the Choice Food Pantry and is pictured here with Tim Barr, a former Vincentian Volunteer who currently serves as volunteer coordinator for St. Vincent de Paul. 

The SC Ministry Foundation has supported the Vincentian Volunteer program since its inception in 2012. Several Sisters of Charity serve as volunteers, including Sister Mary Ann Humbert, as spiritual advisor and advisory committee member, Sister Christine Rody, as pharmacy volunteer and board member, and Sister Nancy Bramlage, as an advisory committee member.

SVDP_VVC_2016-MidYearRetreatWithLizMaxwellMaryAnnHumbert_700p
Sister Mary Ann Humbert, SC, serves as a spiritual advisor for the Vincentian Volunteers. She is pictured here (back row, second from left) with the 2016 cohort of volunteers and Sisters of Charity Associate Liz Maxwell. 

The Vincentian Volunteer program engages a range of 4-6 participants each year. The current 2016-2017 cohort includes a diverse group of five members (pictured at top, from left): Mary Ellen Ostrowski from Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Olafare “Fare” Olagbaju from Lekki, Nigeria; Sarah Spech from Willoughby Hills, Ohio; René Betance from Chihuahua, Mexico; and Molly Gibbons from Margate, New Jersey.

 

Giving More than Medicine

A variety of reasons may influence a young adult to choose to give a year of their life to service. Mary Ellen’s decision to become a Vincentian Volunteer was tied to her career goal to become a physician’s assistant. Her position as a patient advocate for St. Vincent de Paul’s charitable pharmacy has provided Mary Ellen valuable experience with patient interactions. The charitable pharmacy provides low-income individuals access to prescription medications free of charge, due to donations from pharmaceutical companies, doctor offices and nursing homes, and donated service from volunteer pharmacists and pharmacy students. Before any prescriptions are filled, Mary Ellen and other patient advocates meet with each patient confidentially to document the cost of their medications in addition to other living expenses that exceed the patient’s income.

Sometimes a patient needs more than medication. Mary Ellen shared a poignant story about a woman who had recently lost her spouse and then was diagnosed with cancer. Mary Ellen could tell the woman was struggling on many levels. “I asked her if she would like me to pray with her, and she agreed,” shared Mary Ellen. “We prayed for strength and peace, and shared a hug.” Experiences such as this, Mary Ellen shared, “provide a different lens for me to see and better understand the struggles of underserved populations.”

One of the unexpected benefits of Mary Ellen’s experience has been the friendship developed with her co-worker, Sister Christine Rody, SC.  Mary Ellen has had friends who have chosen religious vocations so the idea of working closely with a Catholic sister was not strange to her. “It has been fun to see how our friendship has grown,” Mary Ellen said, reflecting on her relationship with Sister Christine. “It was surprising for me to learn of her experiences, especially when she ministered in El Salvador. She has done some crazy, awesome things by making a radical, counter-cultural choice.”

SVDP-VVC-2017_Mary Ellen_SisterChrisRody_700p
Vincentian Volunteer Mary Ellen Ostrowski and Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Christine Rody have enjoyed working together as patient advocates for the Charitable Pharmacy. 

During the nearly 60 years through which Sister Christine has been a Catholic Sister, she has been a math teacher, ministered in violence-afflicted El Salvador, earned her license in canon law, and became a member of two religious congregations. Sister Christine became a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati in 2004 when her previous congregation, the Vincentian Sisters of Charity from Bedford, Ohio, assimilated into the Cincinnati congregation. “When our two congregations were discerning our options, we realized that the spirit and the charism of our communities had a connection,” she shared, referring to the model of St. Vincent de Paul in caring for the poor, and how that model was later adopted by St. Elizabeth Seton when she founded the Sisters of Charity. “St. Elizabeth Seton ‘American-ized’ the Vincentian charism.”

Sister Christine shared how the Vincentian Volunteers are continuing to live out this model. “Their generosity of spirit and willingness to live in poverty and in solidarity with the poor is remarkable. Most people their age are focused on their career and/or finding a life partner. These volunteers are so spiritually-minded at an early age.”

The additional assistance the Vincentian Volunteer program provides has allowed St. Vincent de Paul to effectively serve more neighbors in need, specifically reporting a 135% annual increase in individuals served. As the emergency needs of more neighbors are met, evictions are avoided and homelessness is prevented.

 

A Year of Service, Impact for a Lifetime

The program has also proven to be beneficial professionally, developmentally and spiritually for the participants, with 100% of the program’s alumni reporting that they secured employment or advanced education opportunities following completion of the program. Two of the volunteers have become full-time employees of St. Vincent de Paul after their service, and all of the program’s alumni remain actively engaged with St. Vincent de Paul and/or with other nonprofits.

Charissa Qiu, a member of the first Vincentian Volunteer cohort, currently works as Campus Ministry Coordinator at Mount St. Joseph University alongside Sister Nancy Bramlage, SC, who will retire from her role as Director of Mission and Ministry at the end of June. (See related article)  When reflecting on her experience, Charissa shared, “It made me question what it truly means to love one’s neighbor. It sharpened who I am and who I want to be in the world.”

SVDP_MSJU-2017_Charissa-SisterNancyBramlage_700p
As a member of the first cohort of the Vincentian Volunteers, Charissa Qiu (above left) highly recommends the experience to all young adults. For the past year Charissa has worked closely with Sister Nancy Bramlage, SC, (above right) at Mount St. Joseph University. 

Sister Nancy, who serves on the advisory committee for the Vincentian Volunteer program, shared how the St. Vincent de Paul Society reflects the mission of the Sisters of Charity and the spirit of St. Elizabeth Seton. “St. Elizabeth ministered to everyone, whether they were rich or poor,” she explained. “The Vincentian charism recognizes the dignity of all people. The Vincentian Volunteer program is a concrete expression of that charism.”

The Vincentian Volunteer program has played a vital role in building the capacity for the St. Vincent de Paul Society to meet the needs of the neighbors they serve. But perhaps its greater role is in laying the foundation for passionate, committed Vincentians who will continue to serve their neighbors in the spirit of St. Louise de Marrilac and St. Vincent de Paul, as well as St. Elizabeth Seton for many years to come.


 

Contributors: Brittany Hein, communications assistant with SC Ministry Foundation and English major at Mount St. Joseph University; Amelia Riedel, director of communications and program officer with SC Ministry Foundation. 

Grants Awarded to 39 Nonprofits

SC Ministry Foundation conducts semi-annual responsive grant cycles for funding requests from qualified nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations which align with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati mission.

In June, 2016, the SC Ministry Foundation Board of Directors approved twenty responsive grants for:

Archdiocese of Cincinnati Catholic Schools Office, Cincinnati, OH – to support the outreach and integration of Latino students in Catholic schools;

Resurrection School, Holy Family School, St. William School and St. Lawrence School, Cincinnati, OH – to support student success through a counselor/social worker program in each of these Price Hill Catholic elementary schools;

Healthy Moms and Babes, Cincinnati, OH – to support healthy outcomes for high-risk pregnant women through community outreach;

Elder High School, Cincinnati, OH – to support community engagement, professional development and support services through the tech-reach program;

Purcell Marian High School, Cincinnati, OH – to support student success through blended learning;

St. Rita School for the Deaf, Cincinnati, OH – to support student readiness for kindergarten through the Language Opportunities for Tots program;

Santa Maria Community Services, Cincinnati, OH – to support student readiness for kindergarten through the Promoting Our Preschoolers program;

The Literacy Network of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH –  to support student success with the Third Grade Reading assessment through specialized instruction with grade K-3 students at Resurrection School;

Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH – to support legal assistance to homeowners and renters in Price Hill and advocacy for better housing policies;

Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation, Cincinnati, OH – to support improved health and well-being for uninsured adults through behavioral health services at the Good Samaritan Free Health Center;

Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA– to support successful students by providing health and counseling services in two New Orleans Catholic schools;

Boys and Girls Club of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH – to support the development of children in Price Hill through education, health and community engagement;

Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Cincinnati, OH – to support enhanced capacity of services as well as spiritual growth and leadership development through the Vincentian Volunteers program;

ProKids, Cincinnati, OH – to support the protection and supervision of foster children age birth to five through the training of court appointed special advocates;

The Health Collaborative, Cincinnati, OH – to support a comprehensive, community-wide collective impact initiative to address goals for improved health, greater access to health care with lower costs;

Cooperative for Education, Cincinnati, OH – to support sustainable education programs in Guatemala that lead people out of poverty through outreach and engagement with North American donors;

Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO – to support improved and expanded legal immigration services for low-income immigrant families.

Also approved were nineteen director’s responsive grants awarded to organizations in Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Washington, DC that will advance our mission regionally and nationally.

The semi-annual responsive grants represent one type of grant program provided by SC Ministry Foundation. In addition, the Foundation provides grants for sponsored ministries of the Sisters of Charity, capacity building grants, and discretionary grants. In 2014, the Sister Elise Grant was introduced as a small grant fund for programs where a small amount of money can make a big difference.

For more information, see:

Funding priorities

Responsive grant process

Sister Elise Grant

Catholic Sisters Stand in Solidarity with Immigrants

Catholic Sisters Stand in Solidarity with Immigrants

Regardless of your religion or the location of your neighborhood, chances are very likely that your life has been influenced in some way through the ministries of Catholic Sisters. Why? Because Catholic Sisters throughout history have been dedicated in their service to all persons – regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or economic status. Many of our nation’s hospitals, schools and social service agencies would not exist today if it were not for the courage of faith-filled women who founded them over 100 years ago.

A Legacy of Caring for the Oppressed

wayfarer'shouse_largel
Sister Blandina Segale, SC surrounded by her students in Albuquerque, NM in 1881.

The rich history and heritage of the Sister of Charity of Cincinnati contains many inspiring stories of innovative, courageous and deeply compassionate Sisters. One of those Sisters is now in the process of becoming a Saint. Sister Blandina Segale left Cincinnati in 1872 to brave the Santa Fe Trail. As a young woman in her twenties, her experiences grew from teaching children in small adobe schoolhouses across Colorado and New Mexico, to caring for the sick and the dying that others had rejected, to defending the rights of the regions’ Native Americans and Mexicans. When Sister Blandina returned to Cincinnati, she and her sister Justina Segale, also a Sister of Charity, co-founded Santa Maria Institute in 1897 to care for the poor and needy Italian immigrants in the inner-city.

 

A Nation of Immigrants – Past and Present

Margarita&Students2016
Sister Margarita Brewer, SC surrounded by students who received the 2016 English Language Learning Foundation scholarships.

Today, the work of Sister Blandina and Sister Justina continues through the assistance that Santa Maria Community Services provides to immigrant families in Cincinnati’s Price Hill neighborhoods. Many of our Sisters continue to devote their ministry to immigrant families, including Sister Margarita Brewer, who has assisted numerous immigrants and English language learners in Cincinnati and beyond. As a native of Panama, Sister Margarita personally understands the challenges of immigrant families. Through her work with the English Language Learning Foundation, more than $55,000 in scholarships have been awarded to ensure that students from immigrant families have opportunities to achieve their dreams through higher education. SC Ministry Foundation was pleased to be one of the sponsors of the 2016 event that recognized these deserving students.

These young adults will have the opportunity to contribute to our neighborhoods and our region much like the experience of our ancestors from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Africa, and many other areas around the world.

As young professionals, they will have the opportunity to become our future entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as community volunteers, parish members and welcoming neighbors.

However, more support is needed to ensure that immigrant families are welcomed into our communities, our places of work and our places of worship.

A Nation Strengthened by Diversity

ImmigrationInfographicContrary to the “sound bites” that dominate mass media, immigrants have strengthened our economy and our communities. According to reports from The Partnership for a New American Economy:

  • Immigrants have added approximately $3.7 trillion to housing wealth nationally. With the rising trend of baby boomers who are downsizing, immigration reform could alleviate the shortage of home buyers. [source: renewoureconomy.org]
  • By the year 2050, the number of Americans over age 65 is projected to double the 43 million seniors in 2012. This fact, coupled with the increased educational attainment of young Americans and decreasing birth rates will leave a significant gap in the nation’s workforce. Immigration reform could bridge this gap since most immigrants are of prime working age. [source: renewoureconomy.org]

The report, “New Americans in Cincinnati,” produced by The Partnership for a New American Economy with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, provides local data:

  • In 2012, immigrants in metro Cincinnati accounted for 3.5% of the population, yet held more than $1.5 billion in spending power;
  • Tax contributions from immigrants in 2012 totaled over $189 million in state and local tax dollars;
  • Immigrants represent 6.8% of the high-tech workforce, and 11.3% of all information technology workers.

Immigrants are also devoted to faith, family and community. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, a growing number of Latino students are contributing to classrooms, with a 68% increase in Latino enrollment across 91 Catholic schools since 2011.

Sisters of Charity – Faithful Advocates for Justice

As a congregation, the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati strongly advocate for change in our nation’s unjust immigration policies, as stated in their Public Statement on Immigration, which supports the 2003 Pastoral Letter Concerning Migration from the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States. Thirteen years have passed since the Bishops’ call for reform, and yet the message remains critical:

“Migrants and immigrants are in our parishes and in our communities. In both our countries, we see much injustice and violence against them and much suffering and despair among them because civil and church structures are still inadequate to accommodate their basic needs.

We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us. The treatment of migrants challenges the consciences of elected officials, policymakers, enforcement officers, residents of border communities, and providers of legal aid and social services, many of whom share our Catholic faith.”

– Excerpt from Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of Mexico and the U.S.

Sisters stand in solidarity with immigrants, and are committed to ensuring their God-given dignity. They strive to fulfill the words of Christ, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40).

Sisters advocate and pray for the women, men and children who seek asylum in our nation – a nation which was founded on the concept that all are created equal, with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

SC Ministry Foundation recognizes the contributions of all of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Catholic Sisters with other congregations, and the faithful lay people who partner with them to support the vulnerable immigrant population.

We challenge our grantees and partners across the nation to join us in daring to risk a caring response, and in advocating for our immigrant sisters and brothers in Christ.

Making the Dream of Homeownership a Reality

Making the Dream of Homeownership a Reality

IMG_7819On a sunny but cool Saturday morning in late February, volunteers gathered at a small construction site on a narrow street in West Price Hill to receive instructions from Natalie, the Habitat for Humanity site manager. Before the construction work would commence for the day, a special ceremony was planned to kick-off the official beginning of the project which would become a new home for a family of five. Soon others joined the gathering – family and friends of the family who would soon call this structure their home.

Just a few months ago Sajah and Earl Woods learned that they and their three children had been accepted as a partner family with Habitat for Humanity. “I have been just so happy and excited about this whole process,” shared Sajah. “But when we drove up today and saw all the people that were here just for us – I felt overwhelmed.”

Building Houses, Building Hope

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati (HFHGC) is a non-profit Christian housing ministry that seeks to eliminate substandard housing by building, renovating and repairing homes in partnership with low-income families. The cost savings from volunteer labor and generous donations allow Habitat homes to be sold to partner families at no profit and financed with no-interest loans. Homeowners are required to invest 500 hours of “sweat-equity” labor, and complete classes in finances and home maintenance.

This is the seventh home that SC Ministry Foundation has supported through Habitat for Humanity. All six of the families from previous builds continue to maintain and reside in their homes.

Mission Moments that Last a Lifetime

The kick-off ceremony included prayers to ask for God’s blessing over the home’s construction, the safety of the workers, and the Woods family. After the ceremony, Sajah’s mother shared that she had been taught by Sisters of Charity throughout her years of education. Now the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati were present in the family’s lives again, through the support from SC Ministry Foundation.