Border Witness Program Texas 2015

May 14, 2015

April 24 through May 1, 2015

The Border Witness Program was one of the most extraordinary weeks of my life, full of learning and surprises and wonderful new friends. I had expected to learn about the experiences of some of the immigrant people on the border of Texas and Mexico. I did not expect to feel much like an “immigrant” myself, venturing into not just one but several “new worlds.”

For one thing, when I left New York, the temperature was 28̊; when I got off the plane in Texas, it was high in the 80s and next morning in the 90s, with the humidity at 97%. Also, I was the only member of our group who did not speak Spanish; although the others were generous in translating for me, not having the language was a great shock to my English-teacher-poet system! The landscape – flat, open Texas fields and small clusters of low houses – was a far cry from even the Westchester town I live in, never mind New York’s tall buildings. And the food, while delicious, varied and plentiful, was very different from my usual menus.

The first “world” we entered on Saturday morning, when we met Ramona Casas, current Director of ARISE, the group that offers the Border Witness Program, and Eva Soto, who served as our van driver and guide.

ARISE is a community of women – immigrants and daughters of immigrants – in the colonias of South Texas, transforming themselves and their communities. Founded by Irish Mercy Sister Gerrie Naughton in 1987, the women of ARISE invite other women of the colonias “to create a better future and to mobilize themselves to become contributing members of society,” as their leaflet explains. Using a “popular education”model, they invite each woman to identify her dreams and hopes for herself and her family and to develop the skills to achieve them. They collaborate for personal development, education for themselves and their children, and action for the needs of their communities. See pictures of ARISE.

Each day, as we visited each of the four ARISE centers, two women told their stories, and my admiration for them grew. From stories of poverty, families being kidnapped and threatened, struggles with immigration officials, and their fears in this new country, these women have become outstanding leaders and motivators of others, collaborating with each other, elected officials, and other groups working for justice in South Texas and better lives for their children.

Again and again, we heard the persistence of the ARISE staff and volunteers, knocking on doors and asking, “What are your dreams? What do you want for your life?” “No one ever asked me that before,” marveled Eva Soto, who drove our van all week. ARISE invites the women to dream and then to figure out how to make it happen. Absolutely amazing!

As soon as our introductions and brief orientation were complete, we began opening packages of hot dogs and soft drinks to help set up for El Dia del Nino (The Day of the Child), a traditional Mexican celebration, in the park two lots down the road.

El Día del Niño was a huge field day, full of games for the children and a program of Mexican dancers, and speakers, including Bishop Daniel Flores and Stewart, an animated caterpillar who engaged the children in listing ways they can help improve the Earth and their own communities. Punctuating the talks were raffling off the large prizes such as bicycles, donated by local sheriff and other local officials. See Pictures of El Dia Del Nino.

Hundreds of adults and children swarmed through the tents, hopped on the slide and merry-go-round, competed in games from magnetic “fishing” to the final pinata (a star with the ARISE logo) smashing, and ate nachos and hot dogs (my job was peeling off single paper hot dog boats, impossible with rubber gloves on). Bishop Daniel Flores addressed the crowd and blessed the children – then joined us at the serving table, spooning out jalapenos!

The Colonias
The second world we encountered is the colonias themselves, stretches of land that do not appear on official maps, and for the most part without streetlights, mail delivery, police stations, garbage pickup, drinkable water, or health care facilities. I had no idea there were portions of the United States, other than in a few remote rural areas, without these basic services.  Ramona told us of a recent move by the county to eliminate even the central garbage pickup; ARISE organized and presented their case to county officials: ending pickup would mean the people would have to pay huge fees to commercial firms. The officials relented.

The Basilica
We entered a third “world” on Sunday, by attending mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle. This pilgrimage shrine is magnificent, huge and light-filled, and packed with worshipers. Mass was said and sung – by a Mariachi band – in English and Spanish; words and translations were projected above the altar. The homily was delivered with great gusto in both English and Spanish, seemingly at random, according to the priest’s enthusiasm. After Mass, we walked behind the altar, to see the centerpiece up close, and through the Miracle Room, which had testimonies of answered prayers, with pictures of babies safely delivered, etc. This room also had a small golden model of the new statue of Our Lady of San Juan now being cast in Germany, as well as a very different and regal statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. In the gift shop, we posed with a larger-than-life-size model of the statue and also with the cardboard picture of Pope Francis. We stayed in the pilgrim hotel on the basilica grounds.

Detention and Slightly After
The fourth “world” we encountered is that of immigrants in the process of entering the United States. Some, like the unaccompanied children at Hope Center shelter/Centro de Albegue Hope and the families at La Posada Providente, were awaiting court decisions on whether they will be allowed to stay in the U.S. or be deported. Others, like those we met at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, were just released to join family or friends on this side of the border; some of these were still awaiting court appointments, too.

When a family is released by the immigration services – ICE, the Border Patrol, or Homeland Security – they are on their own as they wait for the person sponsoring them in the United States to pick them up or send money or tickets to join them. Sacred Heart, a Catholic parish near the bus station, has reached out in extraordinary ways to help these families. We were invited by the Catholic Charities organizer to meet three families on their release, to applaud as they entered the room and tell them how welcome they were. The amazement on their faces told how different a greeting this was from anything they had yet encountered.

Members of our group chatted with them as they waited to be checked in (I once again lamented my lack of Spanish). A phone was available so they could call their home country to say they had arrived and to alert their sponsors that they were free to travel. Then they washed their hands and were served breakfast. While they ate, we (well, the rest of the group, who could speak Spanish) chatted and scoured the auditorium full of clothes for suitable changes. With much consulting on sizes, color and other needs and preferences (heavy or light, jeans or more formal, longing for a Batman t-shirt), each family went off to the showers with a clean change of clothes. Each family also received a backpack with changes of underwear and socks, toiletries and, if needed, baby supplies. By the end of our stay, the children had emerged from their parents’ shadows and were playing happily in the play area or dragging clicking toys around the tables.

Working for Justice in South Texas
A fifth “world” is that of various organizations working for justice for the people of the area, mostly though not exclusively immigrant women and children. ARISE collaborates with these and other groups. We visited or were visited by several of these, including Equal Voice (part of a national network of support), the Young Center for Unaccompanied Children (legal aid for those seeking residence in the U.S.), United Women/Mujeres Unidas (for victims of domestic violence), Projecto Azteca (housing and other civic issues), and South Texas Human and Civil Rights (worker compensation, wage theft, among other issues).

Invisible Immigrants
A sixth “world” we entered by way of a video, The Forgotten Immigrants of Deer Canyon. This introduced us to mostly Mexican migrant men working in tomato fields and private estates in San Diego, which has no low income housing. About 100 men lived in improvised tents or small shacks in the brush of the canyon. To accommodate expanding development of the canyon, police would periodically bulldoze the homes of these men. Individual stories told of the men’s radical loss of income after NAFTA, loss of jobs and lands at home. One man said he had been able to earn 25 pesos per kilo of coffee beans before NAFTA; this dropped to 5 pesos after the treaty. All the men spoke longingly of the families they left in Mexico and their desire to return when they could support them. This made me very aware of the damage the proposed Pacific Trade treaty could cause.

Their faith in God and their view of their situation stunned us: in spite of all the difficulties of their lives, one man said, “I am very grateful to God because nothing bad has ever happened to me.” This faith was made tangible in the chapel the men built in the canyon; members of a local Catholic parish came each Sunday to offer Mass, as well as hot meals and clothing donated by parishioners. (The chapel was later bulldozed, too.)

Still another “world” that we entered briefly is that of the Border Wall. We hiked the sun-seared trail though a park near Hidalgo, Texas, to the Wall, a huge series of steel columns set inches apart. One Border Patrol truck sat near the Wall, and another drove by while we were there. As we walked back to the van, helicopters hovered over us. The beating rotors gave us a taste of what the surveillance might feel like to someone trying to steal across the border. In spite of the surveillance, two ladders lay on the ground, one at the foot of the wall, the other at the opposite edge of the concrete path; at least two people had made it over. All the way, we thought of and prayed for those who made it over the world, and especially those who were captured trying, as well as the journeys our own family members had made to the United States.

Stories of the colonias
Each day we visited a different ARISE center and toured the area around it, as Ramona and Eva told of the particular struggles of that neighborhood, pointed out houses that had been constructed from very little and others built with Habitat For Humanity, and praised work done by residents. At each center, the women plied us with homemade specialties and stories of the programs they ran.

On Wednesday night, we were invited to a Golden Jubilee celebration for Mercy Sister Cathy Field, who has been volunteering for many years. We were treated to a feast, learned of all that Sr. Cathy had done, and then joined in festive dancing, all in the outdoor patio built by the men of the colonia.

Our (little) Crowd of Witnesses
Besides all that we saw with ARISE, I found just being with our group a great gift. Most of the Sacred Heart Sisters and lay members have worked for many years among the immigrants in various part of the United States and in other countries, including Mexico, Haiti and Brazil. Their dedication, love for the people, and thirst for justice fill me with hope and admiration.

Looking back on the week, I have admiration and hope because of the truly communal way the women of ARISE work with, encourage, and draw previously unknown strengths from each other. This is truly not only the work but also the way of the Holy Spirit! The work of the other members of our group also give me great hope, knowing there are people working to better the lives of immigrant people, with love and compassion.

Reflecting on the Week
The courage of the immigrant parents and children that we met in the shelters is immense. My heart is divided between astonishment at their love and courage in enduring all they have for the sake of their children and horror at the conditions that led them to make such arduous journeys.

One woman we met stays close to my heart. She had been traveling for two years, taking her three small children the length of one continent, on a plane to Central America and then overland up through Mexico, where she had been detained (imprisoned) for a couple of months; she loves Texas and hopes to be allowed to stay. Imagine what must have impelled her to make this trek!

At the same time, I am filled with anger and frustration that human beings – including the real live people whom we met – are subjected to such situations. The United States’ complicity or worse in the violence and increasing poverty in the immigrants’ homelands, and the de-humanizing process that Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement our laws require violate every principle I believe in from Christian compassion to the “American Dream.” Trying to look at all this through the eyes of compassion is a continuing challenge for me.

I come away from the experience with increased faith that change is possible and determination to do what I can to make others aware of what is going on and to advocate for the needed changes in our inhuman systems.  My prayer list has grown to include all the people we met, those we were unable to meet (in detention), and the men and women who make and enforce the policies that trap the immigrant people in more tragedy and hardship.

I am extremely grateful to Imma and Reyna of the Stuart Center, and to the Society of the Sacred Heart for organizing this Border Witness Program and allowing me to be part of it!


And the Wise Came Bearing Gifts….

January 28, 2013

Here are reports of just two of the many Christmas giving projects of Divine Compassion ministries:

Mustard Seed Migrant Ministry:

On the weekend before Christmas, La Tienda at Mustard Seed offered a place for migrant workers to purchase as gifts  for their families at reasonable prices.  All the gifts are donated by a variety of friends of and volunteers at the ministry, Sisters, Associates, and Companions of the Divine Compassion, and parishioners of Holy Name Church in Valhalla.

Tienda crew 2012
Keeping the books tienda 2012

 Mustard Seed families and volunteers gathered to conduct the sale and tally the proceeds.

More than 140 families, plus a contingent of single men with no family in the area, found all they needed as gifts of clothing, toys, accessories, toiletries, and kitchen appliances – the favorite by far being blenders, to make guacamole and other traditional dishes.

Directors Sisters Fran Liston and Pam Wagner report that there were enough donations for all the shoppers, as well as items left for an Easter gift shop and other occasions.

two of the girls tienda 2012

In their Thank You letter, Sisters Pam and Fran conveyed their thanks in these words:

Epiphany moments remind us that we are all ONE family
       among whom God chooses to dwell…

Thank you for being gift-bearers of light and hope,
       during this Christmas season,
      for the people of Mustard Seed


Our Lady of Good Counsel High School:

The students at GCA High School created an Advent Tree decorated with paper ornaments, each of which named a gift to be purchased for the children, families, or developmentally disabled adults served by Cardinal McCloskey Community Services.

GCHS Advent Giving Tree A 12-12

The students then purchased gifts, and, shortly before Christmas,
Mr. Camacho, facilities manager, gathered the gifts – a pile worthy of Santa’s bag – for transport.

McCloskey Services thanked the students for being among the donors of more than 10,000 gifts
this Christmas.

GCHS Advent Giving Tree B 12-12

GCHS Advent gifts- Comacho 12-12

Good Counsel Dedicates Technology Center

January 10, 2013

Good Counsel High School dedicated its computer labs as the Dr. Susan Merritt, RDC, Class of  ’64 Technology Center on November 21, 2012.

In the Technology Center, Good Counsel students are introduced to many aspects of computer technology, with courses ranging from basic computing to web page design.  An introductory college-level class is also offered, in conjunction with Pace University.

After the Thanksgiving Liturgy celebrated by Father Jack Rachschmidt, OFM Cap., SisterSue Merritt GC HS tech lab ribboncutting 11-21-12 Laura Donovan, RDC, principal of the high school, presided over the dedication of the new Technology Center, culminating with Sister Susan cutting the ribbon to the Center.  In the Technology Center, Good Counsel students are introduced to many aspects of computer technology, with courses ranging from basic computing to web page design.  An introductory college-level class is also offered, in conjunction with Pace University.

Sister Laura cited the many contributions of Sister Susan as the reason for the naming of the Center after her.

Sister Susan is an alumna of the high school and also was on the faculty from 1970 to 1975.  Sister Constance Conroy (then Sr. M. Gaudentia), recently appointed principal of GC High School, invited Sister Susan to join the faculty; she left a good job with digital company and began her teaching career.

As a Mathematics teacher, Sister Susan introduced the first computers to Good Counsel, beginning with a mainframe computer connected to Pace University, and taught the faculty to use them.  Thus began computer education at Good Counsel, in the 1970’s, long before most high schools had such a program.  Good Counsel students received instruction in BASIC programming and continued to introduce faculty and students to continued developments in computer education.After Good Counsel, Sister Susan went on to teach at Pace University, establishing the Computer Science program, which soon became a department, and eventually what is now the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems, of which she was Dean until 2008. At that time, Sister Susan was elected president of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion.  Good Counsel remains an important part of Sister Susan’s life. She has served as president of the Board of Trustees, was selected a member of the Wall of Fame, and facilitated The Joan Rolfs Lewis Memorial Scholarship Endowment, which provides a scholarship for a student to attend Good Counsel Academy High School each year.  Sister Susan is currently Dean Emerita of the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University.

Sister Caroline Honored at Kennedy Catholic

December 21, 2012

Congratulations to Sister Mary Caroline Thomas, RDC, who was honored today at Kennedy Catholic High School where she taught for over 40 years, not including her previous years teaching when the school was at St. Mary’s High Sschool in Katonah.

Caroline Thomas RDCThe morning of celebration included a Mass in the school auditorium with Fathers Joseph Bisignano, pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in Yorktown Heights, and Matthew Newcomb, Kennedy teacher, concelebrating.  The sounds of Christmas music filled the auditorium, all sung beautifully by the school choir, directed by Inez Boston.

At the conclusion of the liturgy, which was also offered for Anne Marie McGowan Murphy ’78, a victim of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Alex Malecki, Director of Advancement, provided a portrait of a teacher, using Anne Marie’s love of her children, absolute dedication to their best interests, and courage in the face of their being threatened, and Sr. Caroline (as well as all the Kennedy sisters) who devote their lives to the education of youth and to a better future for all people, expecting that loving and responding to the needs of today’s children will enable them to make a difference.

Fr. Mark Vaillancourt, President of the school, had extended the invitation to Sister Caroline to be honored today, but he was unable to make the presentation as intended because he was concelebrating the funeral liturgy for Anne Marie in nearby Katonah.

Sorrow and joy rippled through the day, and surely we are living these as we grapple with senseless tragedy and, yet, are inspired by the love and generosity, the depth of compassion that has been the wholesale response to the people of Newtown.

Congratulations, Sister Caroline, and Thank You for your service to Catholic education and its ideals which flourish at Kennedy Catholic!

Preston High School’s Sixty-Fifth Anniversary

December 12, 2012

Preston High School celebrated its 65th Anniversary at a Gala Celebration on Sunday, November 18.  Sister Mary Ellen Bernard, RDC, was honored, along with Peggy Hearn Sobier, ’63,  and Kathy Gibney Gallagher, ’79.

MEB Peggy Kathy & Jane Grendell PHS 65th

The celebration began with Liturgy at St. Frances de Chantal, during which the pastor, Father Peter A. Miqueli, praised the Sisters of the Divine Compassion and the other members of Preston’s faculty and staff across the years for the excellence of the education offered to many young women.

Alumnae, former faculty members, and friends and families of Preston gathered for the gala Anniversary Luncheon at the Marina Del Ray after Mass.  The cocktail hour provided time for much visiting among classmates, students and teachers, and old friends, followed by a delicious buffet.

Michael Daly,  president of the Board of Trustees, warmly welcomed everyone, and Carol Wagner, RDC, gave the Invocation.  Principal Jane Grendell gave an overview of Preston Today, complete with a video of the recent renovations and other notable scenes.

After the awards, talented Preston students entertained the diners with vocal pieces by the 2012 Preston Idol winner and the Vocal group, instrumental numbers by the Wind Ensemble, and a solo dance.

Gina Gentile ‘03 and Joseph De Bona, Dean for Students, were the Mistress and Master of Ceremonies.

The Awards:

Sister Mary Ellen Bernard, RDC, received the Monsignor Thomas Preston Award for Educational Excellence and Extraordinary Service to Preston High School, presented by Traci Buchannan, Class of 2012.

Sister Mary Ellen has been a member of the Preston community for more than 40 years, serving as English teacher, Department Chairperson, tutor, office assistant, and, according to the award, “ever-willing volunteer.”  The school recently named the multimedia production studio the S.M.E.B. Center after her.  Sister Mary Ellen’s award is named for Msgr. Preston, the co-founder of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion, who founded Preston High School.

Mrs. Peggy Hearn Sobier, Class of 1963, received the Mary Caroline Dannat Starr Award for Dedicated Service to the Preston Community, presented by Margaret Ahl Damo, Class of 1977.

Mrs. Sobier, a long-time active alumna and supporter of Preston, was Director of School Advancement from 2000 to 2010.  As Director, Mrs. Sobier met with alumnae around the country and locally and, with then-principal Sister Lucille Coldrick, RDC, began the capital campaign that funded the recent renovation of expanded science and computer laboratories.  Mrs. Sobier’s award bears the secular name of Mother Mary Veronica, co-founder of the Sisters of the Divine Compassion.

Kathy Gibney Gallagher, Class of 1979,  received the Sister Loretta Carey, RDC, Award for Compassionate Service and Fostering Peace and Justice in the Bronx Community, presented by Gianna Dell’Olio, Class of 2000 and current Director of Development, and Jennifer Geideman, Class of 2000 and Advancement Associate.

Mrs. Gallagher is manager of The Wicked Wolf, the latest venue for her famed hospitality.  Mrs. Gallagher received the award for her participation in and support of virtually every community-building activity in Throggs Neck.  For instance, she is a member of Board of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which raises funds for the Throggs Neck Benevolent Association (TNBA).  Mrs. Gallagher’s award is named for Sister Loretta Carey, RDC (then Sister Mary Thomas), beloved and wise former principal of Preston.

A Life of Joy in God’s Universe

November 27, 2012

Sister Jean Noonan , RDC, has worn many hats over her sixty-three years as a Sister of the Divine Compassion.  She has been an elementary and high school teacher, a research scientist, a Maryknoll Lay Volunteer in Bolivia, a registered nurse, and a medical records keeper.

Now in her “retirement years,” Sister Jean offers online tutoring in Chemistry, Earth Science and Physics for high school and college nursing students, while maintaining an active prayer life and communications with three younger generations of her family.  To keep herself fit in all ways, Sister Jean practices Zumba exercise, tools around the Good Counsel campus on her three-wheeled trike, and plays the flute.

Through it all, Sister Jean has been drawn to know and love God more deeply in the wonders of the universe, whether she is looking up to the night sky or examining molecules under a microscope.

One little-known chapter of Sister Jean’s life is her work in the laboratory.  In 1972, when plans were being made for the Apollo 11 space capsule’s trip to the moon, Sister Jean received a grant  from the National Science Foundation to be part of a team to develop analytical methods for studying the rock samples to be retrieved from the surface of the moon.

In her research for her Master’s degree, Sister Jean and colleagues had been examining the organic geochemistry of shale from the ancient seabeds under portions of the Midwest.  These seabeds included deposits of shale in Kansas.   By examining these 300-plus-million-year-old shale samples, Jean and her colleagues sought to understand the chemical evolution of the rock, including

the development of life-supporting compounds that were found in the fossils and the events that occurred in ancient times.  The methods for studying these rocks were an excellent parallel for studying the lunar rocks.  (For an article about the team’s results, see Kansas Geological Survey

Sister Jean recently authored one of the RDC White Plains Patch blog entries, “God and the Universe” (Click on title to see the article).

Preston Students with Katie Couric and Jennifer Lopez

October 5, 2012

Four Preston High School students were guests on the Katie Couric Show on September 14.  Preston Alumna Jennifer Lopez (PHS ’87) was special guest for the day, and the girls were invited to join her.

The show had contacted Gianna Dell’Olio, PHS Director of Advancement, to discuss reconnecting Ms. Lopez with her alma mater during the show.  After seeing tapes of recent Preston theatrical performances, the show’s staff invited the four girls –   Seniors Gabrielle Cruz, Angela Fragale, and Amanda Socia and Sophomore Quori-Tyler Bullock – to appear with Jennifer Lopez.

With only a few days notice, the students choreographed a one minute dance to “Dance Again”, Lopez’s most recent hit song, unaware that they would not only appear with Ms. Lopez but also perform on the show.

Katie Couric announced that it was the 25th anniversary of Jennifer Lopez’ graduation from Preston and warmly welcomed the students. Then the students met Jennifer Lopez herself.

Ms. Dell’Olio reports: “Lopez was extremely proud and excited to see the girls and ended the segment by giving each one a hug and big congratulations!  Afterwards, she took time to sign a copy of the 1987 Preston High School Yearbook and take photos with the future stars.  The positive feelings abounded later that evening when Lopez tweeted a photo of herself wearing her new maroon and white garb (gifts from the students) and sharing warm sentiments for all Prestonites!

Last Memories of Summer

September 19, 2012

PHS Big Sisters & PCC Little Sisters and friends attend a Yankee Game

This summer, Preston Center of Compassion was thrilled to receive a donation from the NY Yankees, along with 100 tickets to attend a game at Yankee stadium.   Sister Patricia Warner, RDC,  Director of PCC, shared these tickets Divine Compassion employees, board members and Preston High School families.

    In addition, Sister Patricia and Sister Carol  Wagner, RDC, invited 14 Little Sisters fromThrogs Neck Public Housing to attend a baseball game for the very first time.

Trisha O’Donnell (graduate of St. John’s School in Mahopac and Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers — both “RDC” schools) and Susan O’Dwyer  (graduate of St. Frances de Chantal School and Preston) — both shown in the picture at right– are teachers at PS 72, Throgs Neck and were the adult mentors of the Big Sister Little Sister program this year.

As they experienced Divine Compassion throughout their elementary and high school years, they are involved in continuing the Divine Compassion mission educating young children in our local Bronx community.

   As the pictures show – fun was had by all!

Summer 2012 Compassion in Action

September 1, 2012

Summer time and the livin’ is easy…well, sort of.  Here are some RDC summer happenings that kept the energy a-movin’ all over “our world”:
(This entry thanks to Lucille Coldrick, RDC)

As Sisters Pam Wagner and Fran Liston’s Mustard Seed Ministry continued into the summer months, they were joined by many volunteers, including Barbara Heil, RDC, Steve Schmidt, ADC, and Company (week 1: 5 Kennedy Catholic High School female students; week 2, 6 students), who spent the weeks of July 16 and August 13 in Goshen, engaging the 50 – 60 eager young participants.

Each day began with “circle time” – lesson and prayer, followed by small group engagement in crafts, including rainy-day origami and lanyards led by Steve; sports, story-telling, etc. and, of course, given the heat wave that week, fun and games in the pool.  (Rumor has it that Barbara the Chef has a big role to play in the week’s success!)  Great time for the Goshen youngsters and quality service, new friends, and memories for the Kennedy
students!  GOOOO, Gaels!


Good Counsel Academy High School was the proud host of a Summit Leadership Academy for Girls, a program developed and led by GCA graduate, Imma De Stefanis, RSCJ and Reyna Gonzalez, RSCJ, during the week of August 5-11.  The program focused on leadership training from the perspective of servant leadership and covered such topics as:  exploring personal leadership style in light of personality and temperament; social contexts of leadership; solidarity and compassion; power – a look at gender, race and culture; and the spiritual and ethical dimensions of leadership.

Participants from our high schools, GCA and Preston, engaged in hands-on activities and presentations, jointly constructing new and more nuanced meaning around leadership and what it requires.  Each day a female guest speaker addressed a particular aspect of leadership from her own experience, serving the added purpose of exposing the girls to professional career options.

The girls were also led through a process that taught them project design, implementation and assessment, with each participant developing a project that she can implement in her school, Church or community.  Some examples: Anti-bullying campaign in school, raising awareness about autism, healthy eating and nutrition for children, and self-harm prevention among teenage girls.

The girls were given an immediate opportunity to put their new leadership and public speaking skills to work by planning and leading the entire closing event on Saturday, August 11th, with family, friends, and some RDCs in attendance.  Sr. Imma comments: “They organized themselves flawlessly!” with PowerPoint presentations that included an overview of each project, rationale, resource assessment, means for obtaining needed resources, a budget and expected outcomes.  Whew!

Further commentary: Imma and Reyna spoke of their 10-year experience offering this project to college students and young adults in the U.S., Mexico, and Haiti. They saluted this group of girls at GCA as “pioneers,” the first group of high school participants in the program, applauding the group’s openness, maturity and earnest desire to learn.   Students and parents commented on how the program far exceeded anything they had expected or imagined. Special thanks were offered to Laura Donovan, RDC, and Julie Kaen of GCA, “whose interest and support made the project possible.”  All lived first-hand the Summit Leadership Academy’s tag lineLeadership is action, not position.

Perhaps next year will bring a new group of potential leaders to the program. As a special outreach to the future, let’s all work on informing and encouraging high school girls to participate in the Leadership Academy.  This year’s participants so loved the experience that they volunteered to return next year as “mentors.” Goooo, Cougars and Panthers!


Meanwhile, Good Counsel also hosted the Rainbow Connection Summer Program.  Director Gina Nieves describes it: “Founded by the Sisters of the Divine Compassion (in 1990), the program is geared at providing children from predominantly low-income, immigrant families with a compassionate and nurturing environment in which to grow and explore. The primary aim of the program is to offer children an affordable yet invaluable summer experience.  Throughout six weeks of fun, children are exposed to age-appropriate academic, artistic, and athletic activities by a caring, supportive, and mostly bilingual staff.”

Among special celebrations were an Independence Day picnic, with children dressed in red, white, and blue. . . Topsy-Turvey Day with intentionally mismatched outfits on parade. . . Pajama Day. . . and Costume Day.  The climax came on August 3 with the Annual Family Picnic and Crazy Hat Day, with families bringing lots of interesting dishes and a cooling down visit from the ice cream truck carrying free ice cream for all!


In the Bronx, the Preston Center of Compassion’s annual Summer Recreational Program, was run by Patricia Warner, RDC, Program Administrator, and teachers and coaches Marge McEvoy, ADC, Director, and Mike Houlihan, Assistant Director.  It is the strong purpose of PCC that all services and programs, including this one, are targeted to those youth and families who are most in need in the east Bronx.

A grant from the New Yankee Stadium Community Benefits Fund Inc. enabled PCC to offer low-income family campers camp scholarships and to feed all campers and staff breakfast, lunch, and healthful snacks.  The grant also enabled PCC to be the first community agency in the Bronx to use the funds towards creating a Physical Fitness Component to the camp program, based on the President’s Challenge Program.   Campers tested their heart rates, developed a palate for healthy foods and snacks and learned how to stay physically fit and avoid health risks such as diabetes and obesity.  The camper’s families expressed deep gratitude for this new facet of the camp, and PCC is committed to seek grants to continue this for next year’s program.

Other summer activities at Preston Center of Compassion included:
A Leadership in Compassion Award Ceremony in June, honoring New York City Councilman James Vacca for his longstanding commitment to the Senior Run Program through PCC, which offers outreach services to homebound seniors in Throggs Neck.

— Inauguration of the Fr. Bill Collins Mentoring Fund to underwrite the PCC Big Sister/Little Sister Program for elementary students from Throggs Neck Housing who are tutored by PHS students.

The Annual Fundraising Dinner and Raffle, with Leadership In Compassion Awards presented to Carol Wagner, RDC, for founding PCC Counseling services in 1991 and for providing counseling services on a sliding scale to families and children for over 20 years; and to Tom and Lyn Scheuring of Lamp Ministries, for service to the material poor in New York City for over 30 years. (The Scheurings are also the parents of two Preston High School graduates, Maria ’89 and Malissa ’90, and are proud grandparents of their daughters’ children).