The Nuns on the Bus learned about the Vincent Village and heard inspiring stories from four of its clients during a stop Friday afternoon at the program's campus on Holton Avenue.
The nuns also are scheduled to hold a caucus gathering at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Mary Catholic Church, 1101 S. Lafayette St., where they will invite people to break into small groups to discuss seven areas the nuns consider as "gaps" in federal government social policy — income taxes, livable wages, family-friendly workplaces, voting rights and proper representation, health care, paths to citizenship, and adequate housing.
Nuns affiliated with the Network organization in Washington, D.C., began their "Mend the Gaps: Reweaving the Fabric of Society" bus tour Tuesday in Janesville, Wis. The 20-city tour includes stops at the Republican National Convention Monday through Thursday in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention July 25-28 in Philadelphia.
Network, which was founded in 1971 by members of women's religious orders around the country, lobbies for fair and just social policy by the federal government, it said on the group's website, http://networklobby.org.
Nine nuns and several staff members travel on the bus. As their brightly decorated bus pulled into the Vincent Village parking lot, they were greeted by staff and a few clients.
Vincent Village Executive Director Denise Andorfer welcomed the nuns and gave them a brief description of the Vincent Village program, which helps homeless families transition back to living on their own. Andorfer then lead the nuns on a tour of Vincent House, where homeless families start their journey, and the attached Youth Services Center, which provides programming for children living in Vincent House and the houses the organization owns in the surrounding neighborhood.
Vincent Village usually has 32 to 34 families staying in its housing at any one time, which typically includes 30 to 35 children, Andorfer said. All clients have to stick to a schedule and do chores.
Staff and outside programs also provide a range of support services to help the families transition to living again on their own.
The nuns also heard powerful stories about rebuilding lives from four women clients whose families are living in Vincent Village. The women told them how they had been impacted by racism, injury that left a spouse unable to work, lack of bus transportation for second- and third-shift jobs, and the burden of people judging them negatively because their family was homeless.
Wanita Coleman, 35, and Leila Roach, 55, who are African Americans, spoke of the impact of racism in their lives.
Coleman, a mother of three girls, remembers her mother, who was a smart woman, always being told she was over-qualified or under-qualified for jobs. Coleman has tried to make sure her children don’t grow up feeling they can’t pursue their dreams.
Roach, who grew up in Connecticut, told of facing racism as a customer in stores and in job settings after moving to Fort Wayne. She also had to cope with bipolar disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder before her marriage ended in 1996.
Her daughter grew up and joined the military, married and had two sons, Roach said. They have been a family since her daughter's marriage broke up because of the post-traumatic stress disorder she suffers from as a result of serving in Afghanistan.
Her daughter worked while she cared for the boys, Roach said. They became homeless when her daughter couldn’t get to her job on the outskirts of Fort Wayne, in part because the Citilink bus system doesn't operate late enough into the evening to accommodate people working second- or third-shift jobs.
Another woman, 38, said she wrestles with people “judging” her because she is African American, from Tennessee and became homeless. The woman, who has four children, three of whom live with her now, asked that her name not be used because she fled a domestic abuse situation.
The Vincent Village program has helped her stabilize their family life and start preparing to move out on their own.
“I love my family 900 miles away. But I have found a new family, and they will not let me down,” she said of Vincent Village clients and staff.
Jennifer Freeland-Davis said she and her husband were living well. Then he had a heart attack and, a several days later, he suffered a severe neck injury at his job that left him unable to work for about two years. His employer fired him.
“We went from making six figures (income) to zero within 15 days of his heart attack,” Freeland-Davis said.
They already had two children, and she was six months pregnant with what turned out to be twins.
Her husband couldn’t take care of the children because of his injury. No one wanted to hire her because she was six months pregnant.
They ended up homeless, but they have been rebuilding their lives at Vincent Village. They now live on their own in one of the organization’s homes. She also serves as president of the Vincent Village tenant council and volunteers at Vincent House.
"You four are such fabulous representatives of good strong women who take care of your families," Sister Simone Campbell, Network's executive director, told the women afterward.
At a rally outside after the meeting, Freeland-Davis spoke again about how homelessness can strike any family and about the need for programs like Vincent Village.
Campbell urged people to work together to seek change in U.S. government social policies that create growing "gaps" between the wealthy and those with lower incomes. People who filled out a card pledging to do so could sign their name on the nuns' bus.
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Great day with the Weigand family working on our new Sally Weigand Community Room, formerly our donation center. This new space will allow us to offer Sunday church service, tenant council meetings and monthly Birthday parties and much more!
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