Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people. – Luke 2:10
Hidden in an industrialized neighborhood in Denver, Colorado, is a niche of color with flourishing gardens, beehives, and worm farms. This earth-friendly place that defies its bleak surroundings is EarthLinks – an organization that brings hope and joy to an increasing number of chronically homeless people in Denver.
EarthLinks remains firmly planted in this struggling neighborhood, providing those who are homeless and impoverished with an opportunity to earn an income through meaningful work in a safe environment. Participants build relationships and learn new skills by contributing to EarthLinks’ line of sustainable products which include soap, cards, vases, jewelry, birdhouses and bee boxes. EarthLinks’ programs focus on the strengths of each person, while also helping them to step out of isolation and re-enter community. As one participant shared, “I am no longer a loser – I am a beekeeper.”
EarthLinks has shown that participants with a stronger connection to community report a higher self-esteem.
Since 2007, the SC Ministry Foundation has supported EarthLinks, where Sister Jacqueline “Jackie” Leech, S.C., serves on the advisory board. “The special moments at EarthLinks are when I watch the participants and staff laughing together while producing beautiful items to be sold. I hear someone’s story of being homeless and the wonderful things EarthLinks has done for them,” shared Sister Jackie.
SC Ministry Foundation recognizes EarthLinks for their efforts to spread Gospel joy while helping the homeless care for each other and care for our Earth.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
When Pope Francis declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy, he wrote,“The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel.”
Since 1990, the staff at Bayley have been dedicated to the wellbeing of community members experiencing various stages of the aging process. Located on rolling hills across from the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse campus in Delhi Township, Bayley’s retirement community is home to more than three hundred residents with needs ranging from independent or assisted living, to skilled nursing or memory support care. In addition, hundreds of local senior adults participate in Bayley’s adult day program and fitness club. As a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Bayley is committed to providing compassion and quality of life to all those they serve.
Over the past twenty years, SC Ministry Foundation has supported nearly 1,000 nonprofit organizations locally, nationally and internationally. Our collective investment of more than $159 million in grants for these nonprofits supports the services that align with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati in promoting social justice, addressing the root causes of poverty, and advocating for better lives for all people through improvements in education, income, and health, while minimizing inequity and racism.
A few highlights of our partnerships through the past five years are featured below. We are grateful to all the organizations that have partnered with the foundation in our mission, all past and present members of our board and staff, and all Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. Above all, we thank God for the resources with which we have been blessed, and we ask for God’s continuing grace and guidance as we work to bring about the reign of God.
100% College Acceptance Earned by DePaul Cristo Rey High School Graduates
The inaugural classes of DePaul Cristo Rey graduated in 2015 and 2016, collectively earning $6.7 million in scholarships.
New Orleans Catholic Sisters’ Film Shared Worldwide
The documentary, “We Shall Not Be Moved: The Catholic Sisters of New Orleans,” produced by SC Ministry Foundation, shared the story of the Sisters’ resilience post-Hurricane Katrina with U.S. audiences through ABC, Catholic TV, WLAE, NET, and EWTN, which also broadcast internationally. The film earned the 2013 Gabriel Award for best religious TV program and the 2014 Gold Aurora Award for a cultural documentary.
Hundreds of Volunteers Deliver Quality Care and Hope for Uninsured Adults
In the five years since the Good Samaritan Free Health Center opened in Price Hill, 23,000+ patient visits have occurred through 33,000+ volunteer hours from physicians, dentists, nurses and therapists – placing the center as the largest urban free health clinic in Ohio.
Small Grant Makes a Big Difference
Since its inception in 2014, the Sister Elise Grant has helped Sisters of Charity assist their associated nonprofits with various needs including bus tokens, books, iPads and piano recitals. A total of 77 grants, each ranging from $500 to $3,000, have been awarded to 66 nonprofit organizations.
It Takes a Community to Grow One
Cincinnati, Ohio has been nationally recognized for leading Collective Impact initiatives – through which organizations and funders collaborate on change with a common agenda and shared measurements. One example is the Local Initiatives Support Corporation’s Place Matters program which focuses on the revitalization of five Cincinnati neighborhoods, including Price Hill. For every $1 that SC Ministry Foundation invested in Place Matters, $150 were leveraged for Price Hill.
Year of Mercy Pilgrimage: Crossing the Threshold of the Holy Door
SC Ministry Foundation board and staff members traveled to Baltimore and Emmitsburg, Maryland last spring to experience the spirit of St. Elizabeth Seton through the sites of her early ministries. The group toured St. Elizabeth’s first school in Baltimore, and her homes in Emmitsburg at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, which served as an official pilgrimage site during the Jubilee of Mercy.
“You can’t teach someone a great heart,” shared Carlos Crump, in praise of Seton High School students. “There are no classes for that. It has to be genuine.” Carlos had the opportunity to mentor Seton High School students as they assisted his team in the patient transport department at Good Samaritan Hospital as a part of the Seton/TriHealth Summer Employment Program. For 15 years, the SC Ministry Foundation has supported the program to give Seton students real-world experience in health care. Over a span of eight weeks this summer, 59 Seton students provided assistance to 17 locations across the Greater Cincinnati TriHealth network, in positions ranging from transporting patients, to serving as a clerk in the pharmacy, or staffing the registration desk.
Seton seniors Paola Rios and Zoey Bass, (pictured above), welcomed daily visitors to Good Samaritan Hospital during their service at the hospital registration center. Their mentor, Ashley Walriven shared that “Zoey and Paola encountered hundreds of people through this role. Their smiles set the tone for each person’s experience at Good Samaritan.”
This year was Seton junior Kim Tope’s first experience with the program, through which she worked in the senior behavioral health department at Good Samaritan. While she said she was uncertain in the beginning, it ultimately turned into a great experience; “I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was really neat being with the patients and spending time with them and just making their day better.” Kim also added, “It was a challenge, but out of the challenge there was a bigger reward.”
Gaining real-world experience is a key factor in the success of this program. For Sydney Hoffmann and Abby Nutter, both 2016 Seton graduates, working in the labor and delivery department at Good Samaritan and observing births was a defining influence. Sydney revealed, “It has really helped me and opened my eyes on what I want to do for my career.” Both Abby and Sydney emphasized, “We are really grateful for this program.”
Isabella Timon, also a 2016 graduate, was able to expand her experience beyond her assigned post in the the post-anesthesia care unit to observe surgical procedures, including a gall bladder surgery and a hysterectomy. Because Isabella will be studying nursing in college this fall, she said, “It was really helpful for me to get the experience with the patients.” This was Isabella’s second summer with the program at TriHealth. During her senior year at Seton, Isabella chose the Seton/TriHealth Summer Employment Program as the focus of her senior project to help promote the value of the program to her peers. Isabella’s efforts contributed to a waiting list for student entry to the program for the first time since the program’s initiation fifteen years ago.
Katie Tope, a 2016 graduate, explained how useful the experience was for her. “My major is going to be pre-med psychology,” she shared. “I got to learn a lot and see a lot before I go to college and see what my major is really going to be like.”
Jessica Lee, a Seton senior, worked at the TriHealth Fitness Pavilion in the Kids’ Life Center. Jessica happily reminisced that “I personally think I had the funnest job out of everyone because I got to play with kids all day and that’s what I love to do. It might not have been the most medical-based job, but I was still able to see different parts of the medical field.” Jessica learned that, “You don’t have to be in a hospital to be medically integrated.” Through her participation in the program, she also had the opportunity to observe a physical therapy session, which is a field she is considering for her college studies.
TriHealth staff who serve as mentors provide invaluable support for the program, and in return, mentors recognize how the students have benefited their departments. LaShaunda Jones from the TriHealth Fitness Pavilion speaks for both herself and her department saying, “We look forward every year to having the Seton students. They are hard workers, they are really respectable, and they are such a great help to us.”
This summer, 55 TriHealth employees participated as mentors in the program, a significant increase from 31 in 2015. New mentor Brian Cameron from the Bethesda North surgery department positively asserted, “Our student, Kelsey Lively, was more efficient than I could have imagined. She would notice and attend to the details that really impact patient care. We see things the same way every day. It takes someone like Kelsey to see it differently.”
The Seton/TriHealth Summer Employment Program not only provides support for departments, but also invaluable experience to Seton students and extra smiles for the patients they encounter. As one of the largest employers in Cincinnati, TriHealth often continues their connection with Seton students, and has hired many Seton graduates who have participated in the program.
This unique opportunity for Seton students is driven by a dynamic collaboration among four Cincinnati organizations: TriHealth, Inc., Seton High School, the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation and the SC Ministry Foundation. The common thread that intertwines these organizations is a shared mission based on the values of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, who founded Good Samaritan Hospital and Seton High School more than 160 years ago. The tradition of excellence in health care and education established by the Sisters of Charity continues today through all those connected with the Seton/TriHealth Summer Employment Program.
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.