Justice on the margins: Providence Associate Maria Price
Currently, Maria serves as executive director of the St. John Center for Homeless Men. She began volunteering at the shelter in 1995 and joined the staff in 2006.
“It is truly a gift to work for the homeless men we serve,” Maria said. “Our work is about ending homelessness.”
According to its mission statement, the shelter “helps homeless men address barriers to self-sufficiency and housing so that they may leave homelessness for good. By providing shelter, social services, supportive housing, and serving as a hub with partner agencies, St. John Center is where homeless men seek help, find hope, and move forward.”
Quest to end homelessness
Maria said the shelter opened in 1986 as a “daytime shelter and social services center for individuals experiencing homelessness.”
“We currently see about 180 homeless men each day who meet with our social services staff to seek out assistance with housing applications, job searches, filling out basic forms, enrolling in Medicaid and obtaining guidance and referrals for other support services, all in an effort to help the men tackle the barriers that stand between them and housing,” Maria said.
She said the shelter has partnered with several other agencies and acts as a “hub” of services. It also offers the Permanent Supportive Housing program, which has helped house 75 men in apartments of their own.
“Housing is the solution to homelessness,” Maria said, “and we love this program that provides a transformative opportunity for the men to not just survive the day, but take control of their lives again.”
Maria said working at the shelter has been fulfilling.
“The last 25 years have given me opportunities to move closer and closer to individuals who live further and further on the margins of society,” she said. “I have humble skills to offer, but love nothing more than helping a group of people, such as our board, staff or volunteers, harness their energy and talent to move an agenda forward.
“The very best days are when one of the men shows us the keys to his apartment. What a celebration! That is an agenda that excites and motivates me!”
Justice in Central America
Did you know that through her church, Maria also works for justice in Central America?
During her years as a student at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Maria said she became “sensitized” to issues facing the people of Central America.
“A student activist was visiting campuses all over the country to educate us about the School of the Americas and the United States’ role in supporting repressive regimes in Central and South America,” she said. “I moved to Louisville upon graduation from The Woods and the church I joined, St. William Catholic Community, was a sanctuary church at the time.
“We provided support to Central American refugees attempting to escape the violence of their civil wars – wars our government funded, sometimes illegally.”
In 1990 and 1991, Maria traveled to Nicaragua with Witness for Peace, just shortly after the conclusion of the Contra war.
“We visited communities throughout the rural parts of the country and heard stories that put a human face on the ravages of war,” Maria said. “This experience deepened my commitment to the people of Central America, and all people who suffer at the hands of unjust economic policies and military actions.”
As a result, she said her church began a nurturing relationship with Our Lord of Esquipulas Parish in Esquipulas, Nicaragua, as sister church of St. William Catholic Community.
“One year, a group of St. William members would spend a week in Esquipulas, and the next year, Esquipulas church members would visit Kentucky,” she said.
Farming, justice and equality
Through this relationship, farming projects in Esquipulas grew, a health clinic was established and nutrition improved
“I had the privilege of visiting our sister-parish members with a 2012 delegation and again, my commitment to the people deepened,” Maria said. “These projects are the church community’s faithful response to malnutrition and the many attendant health issues that accompany a childhood of malnutrition, to the exodus of young men to Costa Rica for work, and to the lack of economic opportunity, especially for women.
“Their approach embraces environmental justice and recognizes the equality of women. It fosters economic empowerment and collective action. They are the Body of Christ. I am honored to support their initiatives.”
Maria said she also helps raise funds for the sister parish by conducting four soup sales annually.
“We feature healthy, fresh, homemade soups and parishioners make donations of any size for a pint of soup,” she said. “It is a simple way to fund raise, but most importantly, it connects us to our friends in Nicaragua.”
(Originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)