By Rich Reader and David Rizo
We have a social ministry team, which is made up of smaller teams, one for each community where the Oblates have a chapel. Each team takes the time to meet people in their neighborhood and learn how they are faring. They arrange to have some food baskets on hand and maybe some tarps to cover holes in roofs. If the needs go beyond, it is called to the attention of various people at the parish level to provide spiritual direction, medical attention, or psychological treatment. The residents are also informed of the activities of the youth center, some of which are currently on hiatus, but have included SEARCH retreats, taekwondo, English classes, scholarships, and other programs. If they are migrants, they are informed about our migrant program.
These social ministers are on the front lines and see some very dire situations. However, most of them are not that well off themselves, and perhaps that is why they are so effective. One such person is 64 year-old Rosario who has been a social minister for two years. She lives with one son and her daughter (age 42). She lost another son to violence and her husband died of COVID-19. The remaining son also has COVID, and since he is diabetic, his recovery has been slow. The daughter’s husband also died two years ago, leaving the family to live on only Rosario’s small retirement until the son can start working again. You can see how beautiful it is that this family still wants to be doing social ministry. We have seen Rosario blossom during her trials into a beautiful social minister. The Oblates have helped her family in the past, and now she is paying it forward.
Our lead social minister at another chapel is Vicky who is 72 years old. Her community is one that has the greatest needs. Vicky is always canvasing the neighborhood smiling, waving, and stopping to visit. She invites people to church and often prays the Rosary with people, especially if there is an illness in the household. Vicky’s daughters worry that she is trying to do too much, but Vicky says that if she is just sitting at home she just worries about her own illnesses. She elaborates that serving God by serving her community makes her a stronger, more alive, and feeling more useful. In the short time that Vicky has been the lead social minister, her team has brought at least four people from various families to the attention of our medical students, which in turn has led to some perhaps life-saving events.
Fr. Jesse Esqueda, OMI, is our pastor and the organizer of our social ministry program. He appointed David Rizo (co-author) to coordinate the efforts from the parish level. He holds all-parish team meetings, orders bulk foods, organizes food basket assembly lines, and connects people with services and donors when there is an opportunity. David quotes Albert Einstein: “Only a life lived in the service of others is worth living.”
Recently, we restarted our annual roofing project. When visiting families, we always take note of the shape of their roof. Usually, we can help with a tarp, but there are times when we are able to provide a roof. Serving Hands International has been our main donor for roofs, funding 20-plus a year. When we do roofs, we hire some of our youth who need work, or who have the skills to run such projects. Redoing a roof usually amounts to pulling off a rather cobbled together structure that supports a tarp and replacing it with traditional rafters, plywood, and roofing material.
Our crew this year has been doing two and sometimes three roofs in a week. Luis, our former youth leader, and our resident engineer oversees the crew(s). Luis is frugal, and we are able to get more roofs with the donations received than usual.
The first family to receive a roof this year lives in a very poor community. They have two boys, ages 18 and 16, who are special needs children with impaired hearing and speech. They have one daughter, age 14, attending middleschool and an older daughter, age 17, who will graduate from high school this year. She talks about her dream of becoming a doctor who could help people with conditions such as her brother’s.
The father worked as a school bus driver, but COVID-19 put him out of work. The mother works in a factory, receiving minimum wage (approximately $80 a week). It has been a tough year for them, so a new roof at least will be one less worry and keep them dry.
Evelyn is our featured future teacher benefiting from a scholarship from Anthony Mcintyre. She is active in the Church serving as an altar server and working as part of the migrant team. She hopes that someday she can open her own daycare center, and eventually achieve certification to allow her to expand and become a first-rate facility.