In our Community Spotlight series, we’ll profile the various non-profit organizations that do so much to strengthen the communities we work in. For our first edition we spoke with Sister Maryadele Robinson and Judy Swanson of the Labouré Center, of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.
MR: We started in 1906 as a result of newly arrived neighbors in need. The inspiration to start the Labouré Center, which at that time was known as Columbus Day Nursery, was that people arrived as immigrants and needed jobs; so we started the service to give mostly women immigrants job training, and usually they’d end up at an entry level job as helpers in offices or as cleaning ladies. While they and their husbands were at work, we would do the child care. The daycare was started in that year, and really has run continuously since then.
What other programs does the Labouré Center provide?
MR: I think the beautiful aspect of our beginning which we try to carry through is that everyone’s welcome. Through the years, as the services changed, it was in response to community need. For example, today we have trained social workers who help individuals, families, and children learn life skills, how to mediate problems, etc.
We also have two wonderful youth programs that are very effective. One where teenagers apply for and get a job as a tutor. They are trained by adults to teach young children, and we do cultural, recreational, artistic interactions and activities after school. Another program we have is mentoring, where adults are trained to work with a child between the ages of 8 and 16. It’s a one on one match, where the mentors commit to spending 2 hours per week with their mentee. Once a month we do an activity with all the mentors and youth.
For adults, we have a job training program, which gets people into a health care career path. They leave with a certificate to be a home health aide or a nurse’s aide, which opens the door to very well-paying jobs like LPN or RN, and we urge people to keep going in their education.
For seniors, we also have a program where we have somebody who goes to 3 senior centers in South Boston to help tenants with anything they need. And there’s a volunteer program called “Public Health and Wellness” where sick elders who are home-bound are visited by a volunteer who does preventative work so they don’t need skilled care later on.
JS: We’re really a “cradle-to-grave” kind of organization, where we’re involved throughout the entire life of people. As opposed to other non-profits that have a more specific focus, we do so many different things, so sometimes it’s hard to categorize the center.
How has the changing face of South Boston affected the Labouré Center?
JS: What I see is that the changing character of the community also changes who can help you. We started out with people who lived here their whole lives. Now we have new people coming in who are very busy, who work two full-time jobs and yet still find time to help. I think that we’re a wonderful conduit into the community. People find out about us and they come here and want to volunteer because they know about the work that we do and they can also find a new group of friends.
MR: We’re delighted in having the new residents involved in our fundraising and in our programs, and we’ve been reaching out to people who are newer to the area to join our board. We like to have fresh new ideas and embrace everybody.
JS: We also have a thing called “Circle of Friends” which is an easy way to get involved: if one of the social workers needs something, for example a teenage mom who needs a high chair, they’ll come in and I’ll email it out. We don’t do it frequently so when people do receive the email they know there’s a real need. And literally within seconds, I’ll have responses! It’s really amazing.
How do the small businesses in South Boston work with the Labouré Center?
JS: We try to partner with them any opportunity we can. For example if they want to have a meeting here, we are absolutely open to it. If there’s anything that the Chamber of Commerce is doing we want to be involved, which is why I try to be involved in the Street Festival each year. It’s tough to be a small business owner!
MR: It’s the personal relationships that matter. A long time ago, the optometrist was the Santa Claus at Christmas, and more recently Heather from the Juice Box volunteered her house for the House Tour. Frank Burns of A Street Scrap Metal made T-shirts with Labouré on them and raised over $3000 for us over time when people bought T-shirts, and Stapletons did the flowers for the House Tour. We also try to reciprocate by giving them our business when we can.
Anything else you’d like to share with us?
MR: Speaking of accompanying people throughout their entire life, last week one of our long-time volunteers Evelyn just turned 98! She was at the House Tour holiday shop and encouraging people to donate. She finally decided to retire from volunteering, which got some laughs when one of her friends texted her to tell her to quit slacking off!
To learn more or to find out how you can support the Labouré Center, please contact Judy Swanson <email@example.com>.