It’s the day after Christmas 2022 at the Visitation Community in Copiague, NY, the home of Sister of St. Dominic of Amityville, Flor Buruca, OP. Although the tree came down already, the Nativity scene is still displayed prominently in the living room. It should be noted, that around the room, there are more than a dozen wooden angel figurines on the windowsill, on a wooden cabinet and on the mantle above the fireplace that almost seems almost as an extension of the manger scene. This is a good metaphor for Visitation Community.
In 2020, the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters reignited the mission of the Copiague home to welcome immigrant women and children. This ministry is led by S. Flor Buruca, assisted by Sisters Joan Donovan and Marie Danaher. Little did they know that the pandemic would demand a shift from welcoming guests into the walls of the home to bringing hospitality out into the world like winged angels.
During the quarantine, while church pantries were shutting their doors, Visitation Community responded to the need: developing a strong food delivery program.
Searching out and responding to calls for help, “We continue to serve 55 families in Amityville, Copiague, Lindenhurst, Brentwood and Huntington,” said S. Flor Buruca. “The food is often donations from Island Harvest, given to us through the Coalition for the Homeless. Visitation supplements with purchased fresh food like vegetables, milk and meat.” Most of the people served are refugees from Honduras and El Salvador, countries that are experiencing drought, floods, poverty and violence which send many searching for a better life.
Along with food, Visitation has also provided clothing, furniture, job searches, medical needs, rental assistance and guidance in emergency situations. In this past year alone, Visitation Ministry has helped 344 adults and 444 children, providing weekly services of food, supplies, PPE/vaccination information and advocacy in job searches, medical care and translation services.
The funding for the rental assistance and resettlement dimensions of this ministry is due in large part to a $50,000 grant from Leadership Conference of Women Religious from funds they received from the Hilton Foundation. The intention of the funds is to provide resources to ministries that serve the most vulnerable and marginalized populations and ministries impacted by the months and years of Covid-19.
“It came at just the right time last winter when we knew that our clients needed more than hand outs,” said S. Marie Danaher. “They needed hand ups that would provide stability in their lives. Twenty families to date, have been saved from homelessness and have gained security, dignity and hope from this grant.
Rental assistance is extremely important to keep families in their communities, near their employment and in their schools. One grateful person is single mother — Belkis of Honduras — who has four children ages 5 to 16 years old. When her Elmont basement apartment flooded, the elderly landlord didn’t have the funds to fix it.
“The conditions were not good, there was so much mold,” said Sister Flor. The landlord didn’t want to put them out – but what could he do? A team of immigrant pro-bono workers stepped forward. Using grant funding to buy materials, the entire apartment was renovated, the electricity was upgraded, and the boiler was replaced. “They made it beautiful,” gushed S. Flor. While the family had been sleeping on the floor on old mattresses, S. Flor secured real beds for them. The family is now happily living there for the same affordable rent of $800.
Another story involves a young couple from Westhampton — Rubia and Jose — with two young children and a third on the way. The family was a few months behind on the rent ($2,095 per month) because the husband, a carpenter, lost his job. They had received a notice of eviction proceedings. S. Flor sat down with the couple to work out a budget. Through the grant, Visitation Ministry offered rental assistance from August to December, 2022 which will keep the family in the apartment. Now Jose is working again, the couple has even agreed to pay back part of the money as a no-interest small loan to help others in the program.
“This grant helps us to reach out to people, to give them tools, to give them hope,” said S. Flor. “This goes directly to the people. It goes to the need.”
While these new ministries are exciting, Visitation Community still welcomes immigrant mothers and children into the home. Currently at the house, there are two guests: Pamela, 18, and her child Lyan, a toddler who loves to smile, wave and sometimes even hand people their shoes. (Lyan is pictured above with Santa Claus.) Pamela came to this country from Honduras when she was seven years old, after witnessing the murder of her mother by gang members. She first lived in the Visitation Community three days after she gave birth to little Lyan on May 18, 2021. She had no place to go, and the hospital wouldn’t release her unless she had a home.
“I called S. Flor,” Pamela said. “She cooked for me, let me take a shower while she took care of Lyan.” After three months, she was able to move into a room in a house with her dad. Recently, she was once again in need of a place to stay. “I called S. Flor and asked her to help me.” She arrived in December, and will be moving in early January. Visitation House is different from the places she has lived. She is used to renting a single room in dirty and overcrowded houses, she said. She said that often housemates don’t necessarily appreciate having a young child in the house because of the noise or behavior.
Looking around the cozy home in Copiague, she said she appreciated her restful time here. As Lyan played peek-a-boo or “Donde esta?” with S. Flor, Pamela said, “I like that it is quiet,” said the young mom.
“Visitation Community with the direction of S. Flor Buruca along with her Advisory Board and core volunteers will continue to be attentive to the evolving nature of this vital ministry,” said S. Marie Danaher.