to NEW Life for Women
- by Lori Golaszewski
as a street ministry. Meals, clothing and homemade cookies were handed
out to the homeless and unemployed in Flint, Michigan. One snowy January
afternoon, however, the makings of a new ministry were revealed. Carol
Weber, OP, one of the members of the street ministry team, was approached
by a Good Samaritan seeking newborn clothing for a woman who had given
birth in an abandoned, unheated building. The new mother was also in need
of a car seat. By chance, or perhaps through divine intervention, one
had been donated the week before to St. Luke's Parish, which operates
the street ministry.
Carol Weber, center, enjoys her role as director of the N.E.W. Life
wondering what we would ever do with the car seat, but we kept it, and
we knew then the reason we had the car seat," Sister Carol remarked.
"I also knew then that we had to do something more than bring food
and clothing to people on the street, so that's when we began talking
and praying about what the next step might be."
The next step turned out to be the N.E.W. (North End Women's) Life Center
and After-school Program, a safe haven where mothers and grandmothers
receive the help they need to be self-sufficient providers for the children
they are raising. The women, who are primarily African-American, participate
in a three-year program that offers life skills geared toward improving
the health and well-being of themselves and their children. "We help
them become more sustainable, not dependent," Sister Carol, the center's
Each Wednesday the women gather for activities designed to build their
parenting and homemaking skills as well as their self-esteem, while their
children participate in tutoring and daycare programs. The women are taught
proper nutrition and how to prepare well-balanced meals, how to clean
and sew, how to budget their finances and how to search for employment
skills they never learned from their own parents or caregivers.
Most of the women in the program are at the poverty level and had unstable
"The women come from single-parent families, they come from large
families, and they're taught how to survive rather than how to live,"
Sister Carol explained. "I don't know any of them who have any amount
of money. They don't have cars, they walk or take the bus here. We pick
up some of the women, and we pick up the children so they can be here
for the after-school program. But they're happy people, and they're faith-filled
people, and they always talk about being blessed."
"The women are excited by and open to what they're hearing,"
Sister Carol continued, "and for some of them, they've never heard
these things in their lives, and we're talking some very basic things,
like nutrition and how to make healthy food choices for themselves and
their children. Their response is that they never felt that anyone took
an interest in them before."
N.E.W. Life Center fosters
the health and well-being
of women and
A major focus
of the program is helping the women with their communication skills so
they can effectively interact with their children without getting angry
or violent. "Children's Health Services partner with us, and they
do a significant amount of role playing where the child becomes the mother
and the mother becomes the child," Sister Carol explained. "One
woman said she learned so much from the experience that her relationship
with her daughter has completely changed for the better."
Group counseling also gives the women an opportunity to communicate their
feelings and discuss any challenges they are facing in their daily lives.
Because they are in a supportive environment, the women have learned not
only what it means to be listened to, but how to be respectful when it
is another person's turn to share. Sister Carol said that it's often in
group counseling that she sees the progress being made by participants.
"Their attitudes are more positive, the way they interact with people
is much more positive, and they're about listening and responding rather
than everybody talking at once."
Given that the N.E.W. Life Center has been in operation for two and a half
years, Sister Carol has come to know the women well, especially since
there are only 10 participants. To ensure that each person receives individual
attention, no more than 12 women are accepted into the program. Sister
Carol said she enjoys her relationships with the women, and is surprised
by the amount of trust they place in her. "I'm not of their culture,
but it doesn't matter," Sister Carol said. "Their trust is immense,
and I'm in awe of it."