Sisters Carol Weber, OP, and Judy Blake, CSJ, received the C.S. Mott Citizen of the Year Award during the 2021 Art of Achievement Evening Awards Ceremony, held last month at the Capitol Theater in Flint. Co-founders and Co-directors of St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center, they were recognized for their years of service to struggling people in Flint.
The award is named for Charles Stewart Mott, founder of a major foundation that funds community organizations around the world – including the N.E.W. Life Center.
“It was a very humbling experience because there are a lot of deserving people who do a lot of work in Flint,” Sister Carol said in an interview. “People are so grateful for what we are able to do. It’s a ministry – a call from God. I’m only doing what I’m called to do.”
The ministry of Sisters Carol and Judy is extensive. The N.E.W. Life Center focuses on helping people in the North End of Flint, which is predominantly African American and low-income. Services include a food pantry, a literacy center, employment preparation, and specific job training in areas such as commercial sewing and lawn care.
During the onset of the Flint water crisis in 2014 – when lead was found in the city’s water – the Center played a key role in distributing clean water and in teaching mothers of young children the importance of good nutrition to help combat the effects of the lead. “We’re still having problems with water,” Sister Carol said, adding that the Center received the donation of a filtration system to supply clean water for cooking and drinking.
The Employment Preparation Program teaches participants “soft skills” needed to be dependable workers, as well as specific job skills. The program helps participants to “get a better handle on who they are, what their goals are, and what their life plan is,” Sister Carol explained. The Center also partners with employers who are willing to hire people who have served in prison, she added.
One of the job-training components deals with making pallets for a business that supplies them to General Motors. Another aspect of that program, Sister Carol said, is training workers to take apart wooden crates found in the landfill and giving them to Habitat for Humanity to sell in their ReStore. “We’re trying to teach our people the skill of production,” she said. “The job they will get after on-the-job training most likely will be in production.”
The women in the Center’s commercial sewing company continue making clothing for Stormy Kromer. But, as Christmas approaches, they’re also working on a special project: making personalized Christmas bags – filled with gifts such as socks, underwear, a stuffed animal, a toy, a coat, and a blanket – for almost 500 local children under the age of 10. The N.E.W. Life Center also assembles a family box for other members of the family, including clothing, personal items, and toilet paper.
Sister Carol said two other Adrian Dominican Sisters have recently come to the N.E.W. Life Center to offer their gifts in special ministries. Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, is beginning a support program for pregnant women and for mothers of small children. Sister Patricia Magee, OP, is starting an after-school educational program for elementary school children from a local Catholic school.
“We’re growing,” Sister Carol said. “People are investing in us. It’s a good time for us in Flint because people recognize what we are able to do. The people in Flint trust us.”