I accompanied my 13-year old daughter to volunteer in the Refugee Outreach Program of St. Patrick’s Church. What a surprise to find the parish center teeming with people of different colors.
During orientation, we learned of their vibrant ministry for refugees from countries, such as Burundi, Congo, Burma, Rwanda, Eritrea, Kenya, and Tanzania.
The next Sunday, we were assigned to babysit at the daycare. Many children were left in the room filled with toys and books so that their parents can attend the various programs offering English language classes, citizenship classes, training and social activities, sacrament preparation, ESL, GED, college information and assistance with applications, job search support, computer training, tutoring, mentoring, and continuing education including talks on money management, community safety, etc.
As my daughter and I signed in, we saw a little girl whose almond eyes were wide, tear-drenched, and darting back and forth at the door, where her father exited to attend one of the programs upstairs. We tried to distract her with toys and books but she sucked on her little fingers and continued to cry. My daughter stayed with her while I assisted other children. Later on, I found the little girl smiling and holding onto my teen’s hand as they walked to the playground. They played together until the girl's father came back to pick her up. My daughter had the same joy on her face when she said goodbye to her.
As we walked back to the car, another little girl, whom I played with came running to me and hugged me then said goodbye. I was caught off guard and deeply touched by such spontaneous display of affection from someone I just met that day.
Most of the volunteers we saw in the center were from middle and high schools. According to Therese Sabine, the director of the outreach program, “Another part of our ministry is to provide a place for the volunteers to experience the joy of service. The relationships they form are truly life changing. Many of our volunteers return after college to say that the program has influenced their life’s path.”
Greatly inspired by this ministry I interviewed Therese Sabine, Director of the Outreach Program and discovered how something this big started out so small, like a mustard seed and grew into a tree that now shelters many refugees.
Read her inspiring story below.
1) How did you receive your call to this ministry?
I was giving a group of Sudanese refugees a ride to mass on Sunday and realized that they needed support, mentoring, and friendship to acclimate to life in Dallas. This was back in 2001.
2) Who or what inspired you?
I lived in Brazil for a couple of years after college. I remember the difficulty I had when I didn’t know the language, and the loneliness I felt being separated from my family. I thought also of the many parents who were separated from their children. I thought that if my children were victims of war and had to move to a strange new land, I would want someone to reach out to them.
3) When was the turning point that you decided you’d pursue the call?
I was on St. Patrick parish council and at a meeting the bishop called for the parishes to respond to the needs of the refugees. I knew then that we needed to start a program.
4) What setbacks did you encounter and how did you overcome these?
Initially, we had no money to buy books or food for the lunch program. The week we started, I happened to win the grand prize of $1500.00 at the Men’s Club spaghetti dinner. We were able to buy books and parish members provided the food for lunch. We now receive donations from members of the parish.
5) How does your day look like? Do you have a routine?
During the week, I am the counselor and Religion teacher at St. Patrick Catholic School. On Sundays, I arrive at the school around 10AM to set up for the program. The volunteers and refugees arrive around 11AM for lunch and then attend classes for ESL, Citizenship, Faith Formation classes, or have recreation time in the gym until 12:45. We have the cafeteria filled with donations of clothes and household items for anyone that needs them after class. The refugees also receive a voucher for attending class and can redeem it for toiletries. At 1:15 we clean up, and I take home any refugees that need a ride.
6) Where do you see yourself and the ministry five years from now?
The goal for the ministry is to provide a welcoming home or those who are new to our country. We hope to broaden this goal to build bridges among the cultures and to encourage kinship among all of us. The earliest to arrive in the program are now volunteering with us. The members of the program have formed a community where we share in the joys of weddings and family celebrations and comfort each other in times of sorrow. It is also a safety net for people who need financial help for emergencies or legal help.
7) What advice can you give to those who want to pursue their passion and purpose?
Pray. Be open to listen to the voice inside that directs you to what your heart and God is calling you to do. I have learned that once you commit, God will send the people and resources that you need. Just trust in His Divine Providence.
On another Sunday, as my daughter and I drove home and I told her how excited this one little girl was about the backpack she got from the donations. My daughter said, “Maybe my classmates and I can collect clothes and toiletries that we can donate to them, Mom.”
With just three exposures, my teen had learned empathy. I’m glad that she chose to volunteer in that program. It has already made an impact on her, and hopefully will form her character well.
What about you? Where do your children volunteer? What lessons have they learned from the experience?
Hope this story inspired you to do your share in your community.
If you’re interested in helping with the St. Patrick’s Sunday Outreach Program for Refugees, please contact Therese at firstname.lastname@example.org. They would love to have you join them! Read more about the awesome things they do for the community at https://www.stpatrickdallas.org/refugee-outreach-committee