It is Friday morning after the long Labor Day weekend. The office is very busy. The morning street ministry has just ended and the work at our Warehouse for the Poor is just beginning. I just have to grab a cup of coffee and sit in the chair and take a deep breath.
The door buzzer sounds, and I see at the door one of our seniors, Steve. We (Steve and I) have had many conversations about the neighborhood and those in need. This was our first conversation about his own personal needs. Steve like so many others in the neighborhood has never asked for help. His struggles are similar, but he has done his best to take care of himself. Two years ago he entered a college program and has been working very hard. He applied for student loans and has acquired a fair amount of student loan debt. “Only two more classes to go and it will all be completed,” he proudly told me earlier this summer. Then it’s back to work.
As fall was approaching he was preparing not only to complete his studies and receive his degree, he was very excited about the prospects of returning to the work force. This morning though he was depressed and carrying a burden. You see the college he was attending was ITT-Tech. This past week, ITT-Tech closed their doors nationwide. He had been calling the college ever since he heard the news. Two classes to go and now nobody answers the phone. He cannot receive his degree. He cannot get his credits transferred. He appears to have lost it all. All this time and effort; all his personal money spent. He now has a load of debt for student loans with nothing to show for it.
Steve is the third person this week that I have spent time with talking about their despair and desperation regarding the closing of this institution. Depression is just too easy a description to place on these good people. In our surrounding neighborhoods this story is replicated over and over.
On September 8, “Taking Back the Night” a prayer group started by the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office of Black Catholic Ministries held a prayer vigil on the corner of McClellan and Gratiot, asking God for peace on the streets of the city they love. Detroit has the second highest murder rate and the highest violent crime rate in the country. Yet as bad as these two statements are, they do not offer a complete picture of the struggle experienced as many of the city’s citizens fight to maintain their dignity.
The struggle for an education, the lack of work, clean water, affordable housing, safe and successful schools, viable transportation systems, the struggle against human trafficking, yes even human trafficking, and the lack of any kind of response to the issues of mental illness—all are challenges that underlie the violence that works to crush the spirit of these wonderful people.
It is in this setting that we immerse ourselves, where together with our benefactors and volunteers we seek to encounter Christ, welcoming Steve as he struggles with his current setback. Together we work to “create worthy conditions of life” for all that live in or pass through our community.
Tuesday morning’s weather made me want to stay in bed and pull over the covers—it was raining and cold—a typical November morning. Nonetheless, my day needed to start, and so I made my way to St. Al’s. As I walked to our office, we had a guest who left her bed in front of our doorway—looked like she left in a hurry. She left her blankets and a bag of belongings. I say “she” because there were thin women’s stockings and paperclips on the bed that may have been used to hold back her hair. The word on the street, too, was that it was a woman who slept here, but no one knew her. She didn’t come back the rest of the day. Ron (name changed), who worships at St. Al’s, neatly folded up her belongings and put them aside behind one of the pillars.
The following morning when I arrived at St. Al’s, the bed was spread out and left just as it had been on Tuesday, only several feet away from St. Al’s front door. Our guest had left in the same manner and nowhere to be seen. Today her belongings would not be spared. The maintenance man from the former chancery building bundled the blankets together and put them out by the trash can.
We may never meet our guest—I wonder what her story is. Is she a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother? Is she struggling to pay bills on minimum wage earnings? Is she showing signs of health problems in mind, body, and spirit? Will we ever meet, and will Neighborhood Services have the opportunity to provide her with help to address the issues of homelessness?
Downtown and Midtown Detroit’s landscape is changing with all the renovations of buildings and razing of old houses and office buildings. But let there be no mistake, our homeless brothers and sisters are not gone. They may be pushed here and there, have no place not even a blanket to call their own, but they do have St. Aloysius Neighborhood Services to reach out to through our street ministries, whole health ministry, and a place to worship. Our brothers and sisters will always be with us.
Mother Theresa gives us a beautiful thought of action; she says, “Together let us do something beautiful for God.” It is our hope that we can continue together with you to serve our brothers and sisters in need in Detroit.
June 17, 2014
For more years than I can remember, the Compuware family has supported the Ministries of St. Aloysius Neighborhood Services. When the Outreach Center was active and serving the poor, we could always count on them to lend a hand when emergencies came up by supplying coffee, bread, money and a more than generous amount of personal time.
The location has changed a bit. The model of service has changed a bit, but one thing that has stayed constant is the support of the good people at the Compuware Corporation.
Today, volunteers from Compuware Corporation can be found wearing Neighborhood Services aprons and backpacks, searching the streets of Detroit during their lunch breaks, looking for those most in need. They can also be found in our Kitchenette making hundreds of sandwiches to be given out to those whom are hungry.
For more than two years, the Compuware team has singlehandedly created mission and ministry. At 7:30 am they are at the back door of the Church picking up needed supplies, sandwiches, cookies, socks and hygiene kits and more. Working together with Skillman Library staff they weekly set up tables and meet and greet dozens of people in need and address the needs of body, mind and spirit. After the noontime encounter, the Library invites all in attendance to sit for a spell and enjoy a movie.
We are grateful for the love and dedication of the good people that join us from Compuware Corporation. We are a volunteer driven organization. Without volunteers there is no ministry—no helping hand reaching out.
If you are looking for a way to give back and a ministry to participate in, please consider giving us a call.
As I push on out of the Parish Office and onto Washington Blvd, the sun is brightly shining. The grass on the boulevard is freshly cut. The trees are wonderfully green and fragrant. There is not a soul to be seen. I can’t help but smile as I think about the activity about to be unleashed in the neighborhood. Surveying the street I notice a pickup and cars pulling up in front of the now boarded up community center. People emerge and start unloading and setting up tables. A gas grill is fired up and the smell of roasting hotdogs and hamburgers begins to fill the air.
“Good mornings” are exchanged as more volunteers arrive. Laughter bounces off the walls of the tall buildings that surround us. A homeless man wanders over to see what is going on. He reads the sign being hung off the main table and exclaims “I have heard of “Flash Mob’s” but a Flash Picnic? That’s a new one for me.” He burst out laughing as he headed down the table filling a plate, a hot dog, potato salad and all the fixins. Soon word spreads and the street and sidewalk come alive with people. A couple people come down from the chancery building. A construction crew walks over from the new scaffold work going up. Seniors with grandchildren come down out of nearby apartments. Two young men with guitars hanging off their backs grab seconds. “Who is doing this?” one of them asks. I respond, “St. Aloysius Church.” “Where on earth is St. Aloysius?” Somebody next to me points to the building not 100 feet away. “I’ve lived here 10 years and I never new that church was there.” “10 years”, I replied? “Welcome to the neighborhood! Welcome to St. Al’s.”
In the last week of November, I brought one of my potted plants into the house for the winter. It was very green and had no evidence of any budding flowers. So I decided to put it in a warm, well-lighted area, with plans of maintaining it until spring. But guess what? When I went to water it, a tiny bud greeted me! And now after two weeks, I have a beautiful daisy-like flower all dressed in orange.
But for this plant to survive and thrive, it needed to be relocated.
In the past two months, the St. Aloysius Community Center too had to be “relocated.” Years of relationships built on care, nourishment, and love, now benefits the St. Al’s Community Center as it has become a Ministry without walls. We are meeting people where they are: in the streets, in their apartments and homes, and in their hearts—addressing the needs of mind, body, and spirit! Our relationships are surviving and most importantly thriving.
As we relocated, we needed a way to store donations. Through initial storage space at Our Lady of La Salette Parish in Berkley and the work of dedicated volunteers, the newly formed St. Aloysius Neighborhood Services has been able to store and prepare donations used in our ministries.
In a few short months, we have been given another promising opportunity. Our sister parish, St. Josaphat in Detroit, has wonderfully asked to become an active companion in ministry to our brothers and sisters in Detroit. St. Josaphat is an advertisement icon for the City of Detroit. With its beautiful cross spires, St. Josaphat boldly stands along southbound I-75 on Canfield (ten minutes from St. Aloysius) as a welcoming gateway to Downtown Detroit. Fr. Darrel Roman has graciously offered the parish hall for much-needed dinner/party space for St. Aloysius’ Parish and the Senior Program. But also, the basement and second floor area of the parish hall can be utilized for storage of donated groceries and clothing. And a bonus for our volunteers is safe and abundant parking space—free of Downtown Detroit meter maids!
An orange daisy is a joyful gift of nature, unexpected yet so welcome especially in the darker days of winter. We are so grateful for all the volunteers and parishes who have given so much to the St. Aloysius ministries. We welcome St. Josaphat as our new companion. May we all be God’s instrument of peace and joy as we serve our brothers and sisters in downtown Detroit.