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.
October 25, 2017, Flint, Michigan – If you believe that young people have lost interest in books, a visit to Flint, Michigan, might change your perspective. There, in about a year and a half, children have taken home between 12,000 and 13,000 books, thanks to the efforts of Monica Horton, a tutor and board member of St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Literacy Center.
Monica recently retired from her years of service as a science teacher. Still wanting to be involved in education, she became a tutor and then a board member at N.E.W. Life, where Sister Carol Weber, OP, serves as Co-director.
“I tried to think of ways that we could help the community,” Monica said. Noting the “plethora” of children’s books at the Center, she decided to put them in buckets and give them out in restaurants. But, she discovered, “Our population isn’t going to restaurants, but soup kitchens.”
She and her husband, Jim, began leaving buckets of children’s books at soup kitchens in the Flint area. “We found out that the buckets consistently were empty” shortly after the books were left, Monica said. “My husband and I happened to work at a soup kitchen and we watched the children go to the buckets before they even went for food.”
Monica said she relies a great deal on help from her husband, who helps distribute the books, and on N.E.W. Life, which has become a collection hub. She also has turned to the local Flint community for continued donations, putting notices in local parish bulletins. Local community members have been very supportive of the project, some donating new books and other “scouring garage sales and finding places where there might be good books at a reasonable price,” Monica said. “It’s been magical. Every time we get low on books, we get a donation we never expected.”
Community members have also responded in other ways to help the cause. Volunteers from the Genesee Intermediate School District’s transition center for impaired adults “come and sort and clean the books, put stickers on them, and put them on shelves according to grades.”
There are many positive benefits to the Book Buckets, Monica said. For example, the books bring children and adults together, offering parents the opportunity to read to their children. “Some in the population can’t read, but everybody can say, ‘Show me the kitty,’” Monica noted.
Monica and the literacy center board are especially excited about the impact that Book Buckets is having on the children of Flint. “We’re changing people’s lives, one child, one bucket at a time,” she said. “We’re starting early with the children. If we can make reading not a job, but something exciting, interesting, and fun, then when they go to school they might have a totally positive attitude.”
New or gently used books for children in pre-school through eighth grade can be sent to Book Buckets at St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center, 3115 Lawndale Avenue, Flint, Michigan 48504.