December 5, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – More than 1,000 days after the beginning of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan – dubbed by some as the poorest city in the United States – Sister Carol Weber, OP, gave an update on the crisis and on the work of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center on Flint’s North Side.
The presentation to Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates took place December 4 in the Rose Room of the Dominican Life Center in Adrian. It was sponsored by the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
“We go to the water faucet, turn it on, and brush our teeth and don’t think anything of it,” Sister Carol said. But the people in Flint are not so lucky. Recalling a visit to another nation where she needed to use bottled water to brush her teeth, Sister Carol said, “Now I live in a city in the United States of America where we [also] need to use bottled water.”
The crisis began when, as a cost-saving measure, government officials decided to use the Flint River as the source of the city’s water. The corrosive water damaged the lining of lead pipes, allowing lead and other materials into water used by Flint families. The pipes now are being replaced. “We hope that by the end of the season they’ll have 6,000 replaced,” Sister Carol said, adding that estimates are the project won’t be completed for another five to six years.
From the beginning of the crisis, the N.E.W. Life Center has been a support to the people of Flint. “When the news first broke, we got semi-loads of water,” Sister Carol said. “It came from all across the country.” The Center had to dedicate a room to store the water, she added. Now, the bottled water is formally distributed from four centers in Flint, but N.E.W. Life Center still gives out bottled water with the food it provides.
Even today, many people in Flint still rely on bottled water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and brushing their teeth. Sister Carol and two staff members of N.E.W. Life Center spoke of the daily difficulty that Flint residents face in carrying large, 24-bottle cases of water on the city bus and relying on that water for daily chores. “That’s been going on for three years,” Sister Carol noted.
“The water crisis affects the children the most,” Sister Carol said. N.E.W. Life Center added a program to teach parents and grandparents of young children about nutrition, and offered food that would help children to fight off the effects of the lead poisoning. “Once the lead gets into your system, it tries to go directly to your bones,” Sister Carol explained. “Food like green, leafy vegetables is the most important thing to eat to counteract that. We dedicate ourselves to providing this for the people we serve.”
With all the material needs that Flint residents face, Sister Carol said their greatest need is hope and trust. “To build the trust level back in our city will take a long time, but we believe we can build trust one person at a time.”
Sister Carol, Sister Judy Blake, CSJ, Co-Founder and Co-director of the N.E.W. Life Center, and the staff have been building up the trust in Flint since the Center was established in 2002.
Through the Center’s sewing social enterprise, women learn to become seamstresses and work in the Center’s own business, which originally manufactured medical scrubs and hospital gowns. Now, the enterprise is involved in other projects, such as making teddy bears for first responders to pass out to children, and producing filters for air conditioning and heating units.
The Center also has an employment-training program for the men. After a 16-week training program, the Center hires graduates temporarily to ensure that they have learned a good work ethic, and then helps them to find jobs. Many of the graduates endure a nearly hour-long commute to work in Brighton, Michigan, “but the men and women we have sent there are so grateful to have a job that they don’t mind the travel time,” Sister Carol said.
Other programs include a literacy center, which offers one-on-one tutoring and GED preparation; a food pantry; and a hot meal served three days a week, serving 3,000 people; Christmas gifts to about 580 children ages 10 and younger; and Christmas gifts of personal items to the people who participate in the feeding program.
Sister Carol noted that the Center has received monetary and volunteer support from the Congregation and from the greater community. She thanked the Sisters for their prayers and support. “I know that prayer carries us, and I know that where one of us [Adrian Dominican Sisters] is, we’re all there,” Sister Carol said. “So thank you for being there with me for Flint.”
Feature photo: Volunteers help with food and water for St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center’s food program.
December 5, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – People involved in all aspects of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Ministry Trust Fund gathered at Weber Center recently for the Ministry Trust Mission Effectiveness Workshop, focusing on the history and procedures of the Ministry Trust.
Via video, Sister Mary Margaret Pachucki, OP, Vicaress and General Councilor, welcomed participants, which included those receiving grants and members of the committee that administer the Ministry Trust Fund. Sister Frances Nadolny, OP, General Councilor and Administrator, also welcomed participants, who came from various parts of Michigan and as far away as Wisconsin and Texas to gain insight into the Ministry Trust granting process. They represented non-profit organizations that serve populations ranging from formerly incarcerated men and women to inner-city youth, women dealing with crisis pregnancy or housing issues, and spirituality seekers.
After a litany of prayer for the “success of the work of the hearts” of the various ministry sites, Sister Fran offered background information on the history of the Ministry Trust. “From the moment we began ministry at St. Joseph Hospital and Home for the Aged in 1884, we were aware of the importance of sharing with others,” Sister Fran said. The Ministry Trust specifically was born out of the Congregation’s 1970 policy to “allocate resources to people in critical need of care, people who were disenfranchised.”
The Ministry Trust was founded in 1995 by Sister Patricia McCarty, OP, then Adrian Dominican Sisters Director of Development. Sister Pat directed the Ministry Trust Office, established in 1999, for two years. Under the 12-year leadership of Sister Joanne Lucas, the grant application process was developed, along with local and national granting committees and criteria for applicants.
Dee Joyner, Adrian Dominican Associate and Director of the Congregation’s Office of Resilient Communities, gave a presentation on resilient communities – the focus of one of the four Enactments of the Congregation’s 2016 General Chapter.
“Community resiliency represents a community’s ability to bounce back from shocks and stresses caused by climate change and extreme weather events, but also man-made stresses, which come about as a result of economic downturns or cultural and racial tensions,” Dee explained.
An April 2017 gathering of Sisters, Associates, and people in ministry with the Congregation came up with a working definition of a resilient community: “One that has a long-range, sustainable vision that emerges from the community and evidences grassroots leadership, community participation, collaboration, and partnership and a diversity of people engaged, healing and celebrating the human spirit, and one-planet thinking.”
Based on this draft definition, Dee said, many of the organizations represented at the workshop already work with some elements of resilient communities. She noted that the leadership of the Congregation has set aside 2018 as a year to study to come up with specific grant criteria for resilient communities.
Participants then heard about the Flint, Michigan experience of economic injustice through a presentation offered by Sister Carol Weber, OP, Co-founder and Co-director of St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, and Cara Manns, who earned her GED through the Center and now serves as its receptionist.
Cara spoke of her family’s experience of dealing with the water crisis: from the presence of lead in her grandson’s blood to having to use bottled water to brush their teeth, cook, and bathe. She also noted the challenge of trying to get to one of four water distribution sites in the city after work – when the sites begin to close down.
The water crisis “has caused an already poverty-stricken city to be even more burdened,” Sister Carol said. “The only image I can think of is people who already have everything on their backs, and this water crisis is one more thing laid on their backs.”
The N.E.W. Life Center responded to the crisis at first by serving as a water distribution site, and later added weekly nutrition classes to help mothers and grandmothers prepare nutritious meals to offset the effects of the lead poisoning in their children. The Center also offers job preparation and training, as well as a sewing co-op so that the women can earn a living. Among the new products created by the co-op are filters created from recycled water bottle pellets, under a partnership with General Motors, Sister Carol said.
Participants also learned about practical aspects of applying for a Ministry Trust grant: writing a proposal for the grant, developing measurable goals and objectives, and engaging in stewardship and financial accountability.
The 24 Ministry Trust grant recipients for fiscal year 2018 serve a variety of populations in various settings: from the rural poor in Kentucky, inner-city residents of Detroit, and homeless people in West Palm Beach, Florida, to crisis pregnancy help in Detroit and support for struggling families in Yakima, Washington.
Feature photo: Cara Manns, left, and Sister Carol Weber, OP, offer a workshop on Environmental Injustice, relating it specifically to their experience of the Flint water crisis at their ministry, St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center in Flint.