Safe at last

June 8-14, 2006
Safe at last
FrancisCorps volunteer Meghan Flick, from Fenton, Mich., stands in the attic in the Dorothy Day Women’s Shelter in Syracuse, surrounded by donated clothing and other items
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
FrancisCorps volunteer organizes renovation project at Dorothy Day House

Meghan Flick, FrancisCorps volunteer at Dorothy Day House, is on a mission to provide a pleasant atmosphere for the women and children who find themselves on the doorstep of the nine-bedroom house.

Dorothy Day House is operated by Catholic Charities of Onondaga County and serves as a temporary safe haven for women and their children who have become homeless for any number of reasons, ranging from eviction and substance abuse to simply being down on their luck. In addition to shelter, they receive meals, counseling and assistance. Each year, more than 200 women and children pass through the shelter. Some may stay for as long as a few months. “Each woman and child who walks through the doors of Dorothy Day House is in desperate need of many things,” Flick said. “Many come to us with literally only the clothes on their backs and the hope that we can help. Their optimism and dreams have fallen many times to the wayside and their struggle for survival has replaced any inclination of luxury. At Dorothy Day House, they find a safe, welcoming environment from which to begin anew.

“As you can imagine, continuous use of the house’s furnishings has led to deterioration and outdated décor,” commented Flick. “These women and children deserve a look at a bright future with surroundings that make them feel good about themselves.” This insight led Flick to consider the idea of renovating the home. Last March, after discussing the idea with Mary Driscoll, the director of Dorothy Day House, Flick determined what she would need in money and volunteers to complete the project slated for April, May and June. With the “Adopt-a-Room” plan Flick hoped to enlist families, individuals or groups to choose a day to renovate a room at the house.

Flick felt that painting and wallpapering were some ways in which to spruce up the facility. She also wanted to provide window treatments, linens, pillows, blankets, dressers, night stands, small tables, rugs, floor or table lamps, posters, pictures, wall decorations, alarm clocks, small chairs and rocking chairs to make the bedrooms more comfortable.

In an attempt to recruit volunteers, Flick sent a letter and flyer to FrancisCorps families and friends in early April. Her plan received a good response. “Both the house and the volunteers benefit from this plan,” remarked Flick. “Coming down here, you get a special feeling about doing the work yourself. I think having the women see that people are taking time out of their lives and money out of their budgets to do this for them means a lot to them.” The volunteers’ names will be displayed on the Dorothy Day House Celebration Wall.

As far as the completed improvements are concerned, the upstairs reading alcove has been given a face-lift. FrancisCorps family members Sally Thies and Kathy Harmond created a slipcover for the chair in that area, painted the walls, brought in window treatments, painted the bookcase and added a shelf and a painting. “It made a world of difference,” said Flick. “The women absolutely love the reading alcove.”

One resident of Dorothy Day House enjoys living there so much; she doesn’t want to leave. “I want to stay here forever,” she said. “This already seems like a nice place to me, but it needs new living room furniture, carpeting and more cabinets.” Homeless when she entered the shelter on March 30, she said her life is much better now. Flick hopes to have the renovation project completed by the end of June, when she finishes her year of volunteerism and ministry.

FrancisCorps Director, Father James Moore, OFM Conv. of Assumption Church in Syracuse, recruited Flick, a native of Michigan, from St. Mary’s of Notre Dame in Indiana. FrancisCorps volunteers commit to one year of volunteerism and ministry at a chosen charity. The volunteers espouse the Franciscan values of community, simplicity and spirituality. Local families adopt the volunteers and subsidize their expenses to enable them to accomplish their mission. Since Flick began her ministry last August, she has graduated from performing the essential household tasks of cleaning, cooking and shopping to case management. “I always knew I wanted to go into some type of service. I felt that calling a long, long time ago,” said Flick. “With a psychology background, I wanted to go into some type of therapeutic setting — counseling or whatever.” After being recruited into the FrancisCorps, Flick wanted to serve at Dorothy Day House. She feels thankful that she was assigned there.

Flick said the past year she has served at the shelter has impacted her tremendously. “My experience here has been an extreme real-life situation,” she said. “You don’t get too much more real than this. Because the majority of my life has been spent with white, upper-middle class Catholics, this was a huge reality check. You hear a lot of tragic stories from the people who come through the door, but the cases that end as successes really end up meaning that much more.” Flick feels exceptionally grateful for her affirming childhood. “My family has prepared me for this experience — I was brought up in a very service-based environment. I’ve completed two internships. One of them was at a halfway house for teen runaways back in Michigan and the other was as a school counselor for a middle school in Indiana.

“I’m also grateful for the support that I have in my life that these women just don’t have,” she continued. “There’s a very thin line between ending up in a shelter and going out and holding a ‘normal’ life — there really is. And, the amount of support is a very big factor.” Another resident came to Dorothy Day House on May 22. Grateful to be off the streets, she said she wants to start her life over. She misses her grandchildren, who reside in New Jersey, and she is looking forward to the day when she has her own home so they can visit her. Among the success stories is a young woman who moved out of Dorothy Day House on May 22. She had lived there since February. After recently graduating from Cicero–North Syracuse High School, she is looking forward to attending Onondaga Community College in the fall. Dorothy Day House is named for the activist and Catholic Worker movement co-founder. It opened its doors in 1984.

A “Naming Opportunities Endowment Fund” has been established to offer individuals, families, foundations and organizations a way to provide immediate or long-term support and receive recognition for their commitment to women and children. Naming Opportunities are available for each room at the shelter and range from $1,000 to $10,000. A wall of honor will be established to recognize the efforts of major donors and volunteers.
For inquiries or to schedule a “makeover day,” contact Meghan Flick at (315) 476-0617 or by e-mail at meghanflick@gmail.com.

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