A Warm Place to Live ... and Thrive

A Warm Place to Live ... and Thrive

Women and children have a place to call “home”

When Sister Bobbi Bussan, OSB met Trisha, the young woman was living in her car. With 3 children. And no food.

Trisha’s story is one of many that Sr. Bobbi, former board chair of St. Joseph the Worker House Association, tells about a ministry that has won her heart.

“Trisha’s eldest daughter was in kindergarten,” Sr. Bobbi, who now serves as Benet House Retreat Center director says. 

“She was getting poor marks in school for behavior. Well, living in a car would do that to anyone. And the youngest was just 2 years old. I don’t know how she did it.”

Thanks to the Worker House, she didn’t have to do it for much longer. The family was welcomed into one of 2 residences operated by the Worker House for homeless women and children. There, they received what they needed not only to live, but to thrive.

“They made me feel like I was a human being again,” Trisha writes on the Worker House website. “They made us feel like we were worth something and not trash on the street.” 

The children settled in, the kindergartner started getting A’s in school, and – over time – Trisha was able to complete her LPN degree and move her family into a nice apartment. It was just the hand-up they needed.

The Benedictine connection

First formed as a Dorothy Day Worker House and operated by St. Joseph Catholic Church (now closed), today’s residential facility underwent major changes over the years. A change took place in 2007, when – after closing for a time – Sisters Bobbi and Germaine Cupp, OSB (now deceased) began volunteering for the organization, and Sr. Bobbi was elected board chair.

“This ministry illustrates our Benedictine value of treating all as Christ,” Sr. Bobbi says.

“Everyone deserves a roof, an opportunity to work, an opportunity to be educated. These are basic needs. Those who have more – more food, more influence, more money – have a moral responsibility to help. St. Benedict emphasizes this in his Rule, when he says each person must be cared for according to need.”

A future of hope

The St. Joseph Association dovetails with Benedictine values in important ways, Sr. Bobbi says.

“Hospitality is key,” she says. “These women need a supportive, caring environment, which they get here. We are nonjudgmental. We help them get back on their feet, build self confidence and esteem.” 

Another value is Stability, one of the Benedictine monastic promises. 

“When the women and their children experience stability of community here, they thrive. They learn to value it, and to provide it for their families.

“The single most important thing we do is to give these women a community that cares about them, and helps them look forward to a future of hope.” 

Sister Bobbi in St Joseph the Worker House garden

The community

Volunteer-managed and supported, the residence is located in the heart of old Rock Island. It offers family-style living for all who come: a communal kitchen, dining room, living room and bathrooms (with a list of chores for each resident); private bedrooms; indoor and outdoor play areas for the kids. A garden provides fresh foods.

A volunteer manages the day-to-day operations, but every woman pitches in. And every mother is responsible for her own children.

“The women must be looking for work or going to work,”  Sr. Bobbi says. “They have to find their own babysitters. But this is much more stable and nurturing than where they’ve come from.” 

Homeless for many reasons 

Substance abuse and domestic violence often contribute to the women’s homelessness (although they are not fleeing violence or new graduates of recovery programs; St. Joseph does not have the resources to help with those problems). 

Other factors include the loss of a job, divorce, illness, and even a broken-down car, without which getting to work becomes impossible.

That was nearly the case for a young mom with a 2-year-old. “Tiffany” had no car when she arrived in the dead of winter. Her daily schedule included taking a bus through 2 transfer stops to drop her child off at daycare before heading to her job at McDonald’s.

“She spent half her day just trying to get to work,” Sr. Bobbi says. “We had an old car – it was in good shape, but old – that we were able to sell her for a dollar, thanks to the donation of a newer car. It made a huge difference for her.” 

In fact, having a car allowed her enough extra time to pursue a medical assistant degree.

“We encouraged Tiffany to apply for education funds through the Sister Germaine Education Fund, and she did. Eventually she was able to pay 10 percent of her income for rent. She really got back on her feet. She’s a wonderful success story.”

To learn more about St. Joseph the Worker House, visit their website: http://www.sjtwh.org/.

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