Dominican Sister of Hope Mary Alice Hannan, OP was volunteering at a homeless shelter for runaway women under twenty-one-years-old when she first met Desda, a homeless woman in Manhattan who she would soon befriend.
In 2000, Sister Mary Alice opened Desda’s Grate, a house for homeless, single moms in New Rochelle, NY.
“There’s a lot of programs that will help unwed mothers, but then when the kid grows up, there are fewer,” she remarked. “You have to help the mother and the child. There’s no timeline [for how long they can stay], as long as they’re working on their goals and they’re trying.”
It turns out that, when you commit to helping mothers and children for the long-run, certain issues come up, like kids being home alone all day during the summer or struggling with homework during the school year. So, Sister Mary Alice, along with plenty of help, created a summer camp and an after-school tutoring program for kids who are in need, regardless of whether or not they live at Desda’s. Both programs are run out of her home.
During the school year, Sister Mary Alice partners with Iona College and New Rochelle High School to get volunteer tutors at her home four days per week. Sister Mary Alice is also available to help with other needs, like when she learned that one student was being bullied at school because of his ratty shoes. It didn’t take her long to buy him a new pair.
“He didn’t get name-brand sneakers,” she says. “It’s not a grand gesture, just a little help. This ministry is about supporting the families who, in the eyes of the world, look like they’re fine. But the kids just need a little extra help.”
During the summer, the twenty-five elementary-aged kids who attend the weeklong camp “do arts and crafts, play games, and squirt each other with the hose in the backyard,” Sister Mary Alice says. “And I’m completely, physically exhausted!”
The best part? Many of the camp counselors are volunteer middle- and high- school students who used to live at Desda’s.
This post is part of our Hope Is series to commemorate Hope’s 23rd birthday. Follow along and see all of the posts here.