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Cultivating diversity through education

The 2020 Women’s Leadership Luncheons in March will focus on the importance of diversity in the struggle for peace and unity. This theme is essential in the lives of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) who work to fulfill the mission of directing their entire lives toward that oneness for which Jesus Christ was sent. By giving special emphasis to women, young people and those who are poor, diversity can be seen throughout SSND ministries. One ministry that exemplifies how important diversity and helping those in need is Good Counsel Learning Center’s Refugee Outreach Program. Sister Richardé Marie Wolf, coordinator of the Refugee Outreach Program, states, “I love it, I love everyone who comes in. Each woman is so different. It’s so intercultural and the students are so hungry to learn, day after day.”

Sister Richarde' Marie Wolf, coordinator of the Refugee Outreach Program, helps tutor adult women at Good Counsel Learning Center and in their homes. The Good Counsel Learning Center started 52 years ago as a one-to-one tutoring and teaching center located on the same grounds where the sisters live in Mankato, Minnesota. The Good Counsel Learning Center was created by the late Sister Mary Donald Miller, to help address the unmet educational needs of children, youth and adults in the area. Today, it serves youth, kindergarten through 12 and refugee adult students learning English, along with helping on citizenship tests. In 2012, Good Counsel Learning Center saw a significant rise in enrollment of refugee women requesting tutoring services, so the Refugee Outreach Program was started. Sister Elise Silvestri modeled the program after a similar program she worked with in St. Louis. Volunteer tutors, mostly those who have previously been teachers, go into the home of the students who are unable to come to campus to work with them. Many of these women are Somali, Sudanese and Ethiopian. For a variety of circumstances, they are not always able to come to the Good Counsel Learning Center. “When we are teaching these women in the Refugee Outreach Program, it’s hard. But, we want to empower the women to get out into the community. To develop the talents they already have, and allow them to be able to communicate with their children’s teachers, doctors, nurses, etc.,” says Sister Richardé Marie. She took over the program in 2016, and is currently tutoring women along with scheduling and training tutor volunteers. Sister Richardé Marie says, “I teach adult women who want to learn the English language. I have four to five students that I see throughout the week, at least two days a week. It’s my job to tutor them one-on-one for an hour each time. I love it.”

The Good Counsel Learning Center has a set program that runs alongside the student’s school year, allowing individual, one-to-one learning for 15 plus hours a year. The Refugee Outreach Program can last as long as the women want to learn. It can take roughly seven years of intense training to learn a different language and these students are receiving tutoring only two hours a week, so many of them have been with the program since it first launched in 2012. Sister Dorothy Zeller, Executive Director of the Good Counsel Learning Center, thinks the Refugee Outreach Program is an inspiration for all involved, “Sister Richardé Marie works with the volunteer tutors from the community to train them. The volunteers, students and Sister Richardé Marie find it very rewarding. Everyone becomes very attached, not just the women learning but the extended families too.”

Sister Richardé Marie shared a story about one of the women she has been tutoring off and on the past few years, “One woman I have been working with, shows up and is excited to be back from being away from the program for a while. She is from Ethiopia and she works, having to deal with scheduling has been a challenge for her. She is very faithful with coming to learn, that is what she wants to do. On the first day of tutoring, she showed up and we were both happy and excited. For the next three weeks, I didn’t hear from her. Then she called me one day and she said her car wasn’t working and she can’t make it to class. Other family circumstances stopped her from coming as well. I get another call a few weeks later and she said she was so sorry that she wasn’t coming, she really wants to come to our sessions. After the phone call she then sends me a text, ‘Teacher, I’m so sorry about all these days I take without letting you know. But I tried to go to school, we have car trouble but know that I asked someone to take me there. Nobody could. I think I will see you on Friday and Saturday. I don’t want to miss my class again. Sorry. Forgive me. My beautiful teacher. I don’t want to lose you, my wonderful teacher. I love the way you teach. I really appreciate it even now when I write these words because you are teaching me the good way.’ To me, it spoke to my heart about who she is and her desire to come back and learn. Relationships like this are really moving to those of us teaching at Good Counsel Learning Center, specifically through the Refugee Outreach Program. Getting to know the women and their culture is incredible. The text also teaches me that I have many more things I can focus on with her in our future sessions.”

Sister Richardé Marie is excited to continue to work with the community, tutors and refugee women who are empowered to learn English. As for the future of the program, tutors who have teaching experience are becoming limited. However, college students are always eager to volunteer and tutor. “I will be making it a top priority to work with the local college students so they can volunteer to work with the refugee women in our community. By providing a tutoring service, refugee women are able to go for a walk and go into a store by themselves and feel okay. They gain a basic understanding of English, which allows them to be a part of the community,” states Sister Richardé Marie.

Join us at our annual Women’s Leadership Luncheon in March to learn more about what SSND are doing in your community and how you can get involved.

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320 East Ripa Avenue

St. Louis, MO 63125

Phone: 314-561-4100



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