Sister Dorothy Gartland: neighborhood ministry making a difference
Fifteen of the best years of my life as a Sister of Providence were spent working as program director/supervisor of the after school homework program at Providence Family Services (PFS). I’ve had a wonderful life and maybe I’m a bit nostalgic, but truly Providence Family Services was and is an important part of our West Humboldt Park neighborhood here in Chicago.
Sister Patty Fillenwarth’s dream of a center to serve the people in the neighborhood began 20 years ago. The first year offered bilingual counseling. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes began the next fall. The following school year the after school homework program began.
When I took over the homework program the next year, a wonderful new world opened for me. Not only did it bring me into the lives of the women working the Center as counselors and the teachers of ESL, but it also brought me closer into the lives to of the children in the after school program, their parents and the tutors.
Located next to the grade school building at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, PFS welcomes the children who come daily to be helped with their homework. (Most come from homes where Spanish is the language spoken).
In the early years, in addition to college students, many Sisters of Providence volunteered weekly to help the children. Without a doubt their dedication and professionalism was an important part of our work. They were truly following Mother Theodore’s advice to “love the children first and then teach them.” The after school homework program couldn’t have gotten off to such a good start without them. They are still remembered by “former students” of PFS.
The group of volunteers who helped me most in my personal growth was the young college and high school students, mostly from DePaul and Dominican Universities, who helped with the program. It was the first time I had worked with people of this age group, and I was very happy for the experience. One of the big lessons that was reinforced in me was to never judge by appearances. On occasion, a young person would present him/herself adorned in an unusual way. I came to see over and over that how a person dresses, how many hair colorings, body piercings, mohawks or tattoos one has does not really reveal who a person is. Over and over again, as I worked with the young people, I saw young men and women who came to help our children achieve their potential. They came to give their time and talent, and they gladly served as mentors and tutors — no matter how they looked.
Over and over again throughout my time with PFS, I had the joy of welcoming back as “tutors” high school and college students who had returned to help as they had been helped. Of the other tutors, more than one college student expressed regret that there hadn’t been such a program in place when they were struggling throughout grade school.
Providence Family Services’ 20 years is a tribute to the leadership of Sister Patty Fillenwarth, who envisioned and brought it into being. She has always been visible and supportive in all aspects of PFS. She has been and continues to be a caring and joyful person engaged in running the Center. Sister Patty is without a doubt the heart of Providence Family Services. Working with her has been a joy and a blessing. I thank her for the opportunity I had to work with children, parents and volunteers of the after school program. The program continues to grow under the directorship of Sister Virginia Jung, OSB. Each year groups of children come and are helped by young dedicated college students who continue to inspire me with how joyfully they serve those in need of the mentoring.
Thank you, Providence Family Services, you continue to bring me joy.