From the Director’s Chair

Well, we are coming out of our winter time and things are heating up as spring approaches. We have been busily working on a number of projects that address the growth that we have experienced over the past three years. We have re-organized our department structure, added two new outreach programs, Outreach to the Elderly and St. Stephen Housing Initiative, all while moving our computer information to “the cloud” as they say.

As we look towards spring, we are planning our Summer Flea market, the annual sustainer drive, and in the summer we await the arrival of the Young Neighbors in Action groups, the annual retreat for Urban Missionaries of Our Lady of Hope in August, and the celebration of our fortieth anniversary as a social action ministry in the Diocese of Worcester.

We, also have been busily re-working our website, www.urbanmissionaries.com. Might I suggest you take a look and see the fine work Jeff Hall has done for us? But, knowing us you already realize that we are not satisfied with the site and so we have Jeff typing away, adding corrections, some amplification, and those new and exciting additions to the site. Couple this with the work being done by a group of Bryant University students as a class project updating our Facebook presence, our advertising program for Google and Facebook, as well as developing a new website for the LittleStore at www.the-little-store.com and you start to see that things are popping around here.

The Urban Missionaries of Our Lady of Hope are working on membership and the future direction of the ministry. Our hope is to expand the number of people who join us in doing little works of charity for “the least, the last, and the left out.” If you would like some information concerning the Urban Missionaries of Our Lady of Hope and the work we do, just email us at mailbox@urbanmissionaries.com and we will get back to you.

We hope you will join us for our fortieth celebration. We will be sending out invitations in September and we wish you and yours a very Happy Easter.

Saint Stephen Housing Initiative

Once again we are taking on a larger than life problem, the housing of newly arrived refugees, immigrants, and asylees. Since our very beginning, we have struggled with this problem. When refugees and asylees arrive, there is a great rush to find them a place to live. As you can imagine, given that they have no job, or any other means of support, life gets difficult fast. It is very rare that landlords are willing to waive the first and last month’s rent, along with the security deposit. In Worcester, this could equal anywhere from $2,400 to $3,600 or more to get an apartment. The newly arrived receive $200+ per person in the family from the government.  The only way around this problem is to find a house where newly arrived refugees and asylees could receive proper housing amenities at a reasonable price point. After dealing with landlords, who, understandably, wish to profit from their properties, we came to understand that we would need to buy a three-decker and set up the game in favor of the renters. Of course, whenever we told people about this plan they would immediately tell us that we were crazy and it would never work. We knew that we could never do it simply because we didn’t have the money!

Well, along came an angel who offered to provide the monies to purchase a three-decker and have a sizable maintenance fund. It took us over six months to finalize our strategy and get our board of directors to sign off on the idea, although we did sense a certain level of skepticism at the time.

We decided that we would not collect the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit, that the rent would be $800.00 per month, and the family could live there for up to eight years before having to move either to their own home or another rental. For this accommodation, the tenant would agree to participate in three courses. The first course would be on the rights of tenants and the responsibilities of landlords. The second course would cover financial management and the use of banks. The third course would be for those families wanting to buy a home of their own. This course would cover mortgages, credit scores, and home insurance.

We also decided that tenants would be selected using a lottery. We would gather prospective tenants from the various sponsoring agencies in the central Massachusetts area. The lottery winners would then be offered a lease for one of our apartments.

The final piece of this puzzle was what to call the program. As you might have guessed, we named it after Saint Stephen, a deacon and the first martyr of the church. It will be known as St. Stephen’s Housing Initiative. Our first house is located at 31 Colton Street, Worcester MA.

Currently, we are working with two families who will move in before June. We are interviewing a third family and we expect they will move in July. These families are Karens or Kerenini from Myanmar formerly Burma. Remember to keep our ministry and our new program in your prayers!

Deacon Bruce R. Vidito

My first memory of Bruce is when I was studying for the diaconate program at Barlin Acres in West Boylston. He was the maintenance man. He was a hulk of a man with red hair and a broad easy smile. As time went by, I had more and more occasion to work with him on various project for my fledgling ministry. Bruce would always say yes whenever I asked for his help.

After his ordination to the diaconate, I would spend time with him whenever we went to the annual diaconate retreat. I liked to sit next to him because he had a beautiful singing voice which I loved to listen to. He also was a great hugger. Whenever it comes time for the sign of peace or some other opportunity to hug, Bruce would put those big lumberjack arms around me, pick me up off the floor and then shake me like I was a rag doll, laughing all the while.

Our paths continued to cross every once and a while, and the conversation would just pick up where it left off as if it were ten seconds ago that we stopped talking. Then late last year, I got a call from a mutual friend telling me that Bruce was very sick. I immediately called him, but I reached Pauline his wife, and she told me Bruce had stage four colon cancer. This just about knocked me off my feet. Big strong Bruce, sick, it just didn’t compute. I told Pauline how sorry I was for Bruce, her and the family and if there was anything I could do to help to let me know.

I called Bruce a few days later and was able to speak with him for a few minutes. He still had that song in his voice, but I could tell he wasn’t feeling very well. I told him I was praying for him and his family and I was available if they needed anything. We said good-bye, both of us knowing this would be the last time we would speak. It surely is tough to say good-bye!