May 1, 2012 // Local

St. Margaret’s House serves day needs of area women and children

Valerie Conner Ryan looks over scarves, some of which she silk screened with Tamara McGill of St. Margaret’s House.

SOUTH BEND — With its entrance hidden from view off Lafayette Street in downtown South Bend, St. Margaret’s House (SMH) is a building that can easily go unnoticed. But while it is not physically striking, what happens inside its walls could be considered so beautiful, even miraculous, for those who take part in its programs as well as for those who work and volunteer there.

SMH has been a part of the South Bend landscape for almost 22 years, serving women and children, no matter their denomination, by not only feeding them with a hot lunch but helping them to transform and remake their lives. They can learn how to better care for their children through parenting classes, how to destress lives or learn a new skill making beautiful one-of-a-kind silk scarves as part of the Silk Creations program. And in many instances, many learn how to communicate and trust others and to leave abusive situations. For those in need of counseling, individualized counseling is offered as well as case management.

Besides a daily lunch, other immediate daily needs are also met through SMH’s clean and modern shower and laundry facilities where the women can shower or wash their clothes. Women in need of clothing can visit their stocked clothes closet room. A computer area is set up for anyone who needs to use a computer. A child’s play area rivals any from a day care. On one of the three floors, there is an art studio where women complete art projects, which includes a separate area for their silk scarf program. These scarves, each which hold a unique story of the woman who created it, are sold at several events locally and help each artist financially.

While it is not a Catholic facility, there are Catholics who work for and regularly volunteer at the award-winning facility, which recently received the Leighton Award for Non-Profit Excellence.

Sisters of Holy Cross novices, Sister Semerita Mbambu and Sister Royne Costa have been regular volunteers since last June helping lead a Gospel study and whatever is the need of the day. Sister Betty Smoyer, who is a sister of Notre Dame de Namur is the guest services assistant and also works with the novices while they are there. Executive Director Kathryn Schneider has many responsibilities as director but notes she is always “in awe of how people step forward to help out whenever there is a need, always hoping to do more.”

“We have over 160 volunteers here who make this place work. There are only 10 people on staff. They do such things as work the front desk, help in the kitchen, help in the clothes closet and the Silk Creations (scarves program) and more. We could not open these doors without our volunteers,” noted Assistant Director Patricia Marvel, parishioner at St. Augustine Church. She added that everyone is welcome to volunteer, including men.

Volunteering at SMH sometimes includes allowing the women to share their stories.

“I’ve been so enriched by those who have shared with me and are able to trust me,” said Sister Semerita with Sister Royne adding, “they (women) always teach us. I feel very encouraged and humble.”

“We just respond to the needs of the times and we see what needs to be done. I like doing this especially because we share our faith with the women and they have the desire to know more about God and Jesus Christ,” said Sister Semarita. She and Sister Royne lead a spiritual reflection group once a week and recently helped lead a retreat for the women of St. Margaret’s House at Saint Mary’s College titled, “Find God In Yourself and In the Community.”

Sister Royne realizes that for each woman it is much more than just stepping through the door at St. Margaret’s for a noontime meal. Sister Betty says, “The biggest thing is that we help to break the boundaries of isolation. Poverty can be a very isolating thing. …

They have to learn to trust one another and us,” she says.

“If they (community) continue to help them, these women will get something here, not just immediate needs but help with interaction … learning to trust each other. That is very important,” said Sister Royne.

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