Guerin Outreach Ministries: Catholic religious sisters offer English classes, friendship to residents of St. Anthy Trailer Park in rural Mecca, Calif.
Martha Arrendondo is 46 years old and has been in the United States for 26 years. She works in the grape fields in and around the Coachella Valley in California. Right now she is looking for a better job, and she knows that improving her ability to speak English would help.
Martha says she speaks English so-so: “muy poquito” (a very little bit).
About six months ago, Providence in the Desert, a small group run by Catholic religious sisters, came to Martha’s home in St. Anthony Trailer Park in rural Mecca and began offering the residents, most of whom are immigrants to the United States from Mexico, free English as a Second Language classes in their trailer park.
Martha and many other residents jumped at the chance and have been attending the classes twice a week in the evenings since.
“I like the class because I am learning more,” Martha said.
“We believe we render real service to people by teaching them in the proximity of their homes. People come in and they are so tired! But they can make it to the class,” said Providence in the Desert founder Sister Carol Nolan, a member of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.
Sister Loretta Picucci, Martha’s teacher at St. Anthony’s, is at 71 the youngest of the three Sisters of Providence from Indiana who have traveled out to California over the past nine years. With a mission of love, mercy and justice and backgrounds in education, they come to teach English to some of the poorest residents in the United States.
“I know there are poor all over the country, but these people are really very poor. And they are very near some of richest areas in the country. They are marginalized. People keep saying they need to learn English, they need to learn English, but they have no idea how hard it is to learn English,” Sister Loretta said.
“Besides the language, I think we help them with their sense of self-esteem. They want to be able to go to school and talk to their kid’s teacher, they want to be able to go to a doctor and speak in English. And this is what we do, we help them with that. To help the parents is to help the children. We help both to be better,” Sister Loretta said.
There are about 300 trailer parks in the Coachella Valley. In November of 2011 Providence in the Desert expanded to offer classes in St. Anthony. At present lessons are only offered at a handful of the parks.
“We would love to be able to expand further. We have people from other places asking us to come there,” Sister Loretta said. “One reason I think this is so valuable is that no one else is doing it, and it’s something that is very, very needed.”
As the Sisters continue to age, not just expanding but continuing the ministry becomes of pressing importance. One hope for the future is the second teacher at St. Anthony’s. Martha Langarica teaches the beginning level class.
Langarica started out as a student for Providence in the Desert herself. She learned quickly and showed great talent. The Sisters helped find a local business, Burrtec Waste Management, to subsidize her so that she could quit her jobs and study full time at the Adult School in Coachella. Now Martha also teaches classes for Providence in the Desert, helping others who like her may have been in the country many years but speak little or no English.
One of Langarica’s students, 43-year-old Elvira Castellanos, comes home from her job in the fields to attend classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings. For her, learning English is not just about her own future, but also about her daughter’s.
“I want to learn English for my daughter and for me,” she said.
At the heart of much of what Providence in the Desert does is family and friendship, shared dreams and shared hopes.
“The most rewarding part for us is that we become friends with our students. We don’t just part ways at school door; we share one another’s lives. This is really a great treasure for us,” Sister Carol said.
For more information about Providence in the Desert, visit www.ProvidenceintheDesert.org or call 760-347-3937.
For more information
The Sisters of Providence, a Congregation of nearly 400 women religious, have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located northwest of Terre Haute, Ind. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 19 states, the District of Columbia, Taiwan and China.
For more information about any of the ministries of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, visit the Congregation’s Web site at www.SistersofProvidence.org.
About the Sisters of Providence
The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.