A Mother’s Wait

Sister Judy works with Sharon, a successful graduate of Power Inspires Progress.The casualties of addiction, delinquency and disastrous decisions aren’t just the ones splayed on the sidewalk, loitering on a corner, with no roof, no job. Caption: Sister Judy works with Sharon, a successful graduate of Power Inspires Progress.

They are, too, the collateral loved ones.

Because for every man and woman who hits bottom, they are attached to a family – a family waiting, worrying, trying their best not to throw in the towel.

Ask Sister Judy. She’s seen both sides.

It’s how she met Agatha.

Sister Judy co-founded Power Inspires Progress. She began with a handful of unemployed, unskilled women who wanted off welfare. Together they began to cook. The year was 1991. 

Today, Power Inspires Progress operates two successful businesses – Venice on Vine and Venice Catering. It’s trained over 700 people, all of whom faced chronic barriers to employment, barriers such as generational poverty, lack of education, drug and alcohol addiction and a history with the court system.

Trainees have graduated to employment, some have even graduated college.

It’s why Agatha came to Sister Judy.

Over the years I’ve written about the success stories, the young men and women who have with Sister Judy’s help learned not only a trade, but a manner of comportment that allowed them to succeed in the workplace, and that allowed them to stabilize and become self-sufficient. 

But what I haven’t written about is the anguish experienced by those family and friends when that outcome is by no means certain. People such as Agatha . . .

. . . Agatha, now a soft-spoken, 80-year-old woman you’ll often see with a Bible. I didn’t write of the decades she spent praying for her daughter Cecelia. Cecelia, who associated with the wrong people, made all the wrong decisions, became addicted to crack. Before Agatha knew it, Cecelia was subsumed in the drug culture, as if kidnapped. Weeks went by with no word. Agatha sat by her window, Bible in hand, watching for her daughter, staying off the phone on the chance she might call. But Cecelia seldom called. Not for days, for weeks, for months.

I have not written of Marvin, a father who came to see that no matter how hard he tried, no matter the approach he took, he could no longer connect with his son. That every offer of help, or word of advice, came to naught; or made matters worse. And who watched his son sink into a void of vagrancy, petty crime and jail.

I have not written of Mike, the friend of a family in the suburbs, a family whose son went deeper and deeper into heroin, to the point that the family, out of exasperation and embarrassment, broke off all contact. (Though Mike never did.) 

I have not written about Agatha and Marvin and Mike, and the thousands like them, but they are as much a part of Sister Judy’s ministry as the 700 young men and women who have come through her doors. They are the ones praying, waiting by the phone, feeling as if there is no air to breathe.

Sister Judy is not a miracle-worker. She has succeeded and she has failed. But she gets into the trenches, as Jesus got into the trenches.

Cecelia was a success story. She came clean of the drugs, learned a skill through Venice-on-Vine, landed a job and today owns a new house, a house where she cares for Agatha. It’s a story come full circle.

Marvin’s son, and the son of Mike’s friends in the suburbs, are both showing up each day at Sister Judy’s. Their stories are still unfolding; I don’t know yet how they will read.

But I do know this: the work of Christ is hard. Sister Judy’s work is hard. The life of any of our Sisters working among those who are poor – is hard. It’s normal in this time of Christmas to see Christ’s presence in beautiful decorations, traditional foods, inspiring ceremony and in the joy of love and fellowship. It is certainly in these things.

But so too will you see God’s presence in the hopelessness of those hitting bottom, reaching up a hand, and finding the hand of a Sister. 

Please support Sister Judy in her work, and all of our Sisters, as they help those like Cecelia. And those like Agatha, Marvin and Mike. Give now.


Mary Ann Barnhorn, SNDdeN
Director of Development