Giving Tuesday: Helping Homeless Students with the 'The Matthew Project'

Springfield Dominican Sisters cook Brandon Bushnell prepares a salad as Gary Schwarting adds corn to a portable food container that will be part of a meal for the homeless children served in The Matthew Project.
Springfield Dominican Sisters cook Brandon Bushnell prepares a salad as Gary Schwarting adds corn to a portable food container that will be part of a meal for the homeless children served in The Matthew Project.
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Giving Tuesday means providing hope to homeless children

The Matthew Project

One of the ministries the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois are pleased to be involved with is The Matthew Project. The Matthew Project was founded earlier this year to provide tutoring, school supplies, food, clothing and life skills training to homeless children in District 186. Project creator Ann Libri hopes to give these students opportunities to grow up with a healthy body and mind and tools needed for success in life. The name for the Matthew Project comes from the Biblical book of Matthew, in which Jesus says to his disciples, “For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and you clothed me… The truth is, every time you did this for the least of my sisters or brothers, you did it for me.”

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It is estimated that more than 700 children who attend District 186 schools are homeless. They may live in shelters, on a relative’s property, or in abandoned homes, hotels, cars or tents.  On Thursday afternoons at 622 South 8th Street, Springfield, Illinois, some of these children attend an after school program provided by The Matthew Project. The program typically consists of a warm meal, one-on-one tutoring in schoolwork and an educational program.  Lisa Thiele, one of the project’s leaders, recalls how the Dominican Sisters became involved with making meals for the children:  “Ann and I are strong with our faith and prayed for a place that would give the kids a warm meal.  We asked several restaurants and they turned us down. …the Sisters said ‘yes’ enthusiastically!”  Project supporter Dan Frachey arranged the Sisters’ participation for the project with Sacred Heart Convent’s Food Service Director, Nina Rossini.  Nina gets feedback from the kids themselves to make the menu: the children wanted quesadillas, spaghetti and other delicious meals. Sisters and staff gather the supplies for the meal, and Sacred Heart Convent cooks like Gary Schwarting, Seth Morton, Brandon Bushnell, Reggie Britton, and Paul LaBonte prepare the meals.

“These children do not get a warm meal at night, so this 4:00 meal is their dinner,” Thiele says. “They say grace before the meal and then they gobble it up quick.”  Thiele went on to say, “We say, ‘the Sisters made this for you,’ before our prayer.” After the meal, they meet with their one-on-one mentors, trained volunteers who assist the children with schoolwork.  “We are seeing so much progress,” Thiele says. “Their self-esteem is improving and we’re giving them a lot of love. We see results from academic tutoring. For example, one kid went from C’s to getting an A on his spelling test last week. There was a girl who was scared of raising her hand in class, and now she answers questions all of the time, according to her teacher.”  The refrigerator that displays the children’s accomplishments is getting filled with good spelling and math papers. In fact, the overflow of their good work is getting so large that they are going to construct a corkboard to provide a bigger space for posting their proud achievements.

After forty-five minutes of homework and mentoring, children attend a final session on wellness, financial literacy or cooking and check out the library of donated books.  The Matthew Project teaches life skills such as how to budget and balance a checkbook, so that children can improve their situation.  Volunteer Jim Langfelder, Treasurer for the City of Springfield, feels the best way to get out of a bad situation which is heading towards poverty is to learn how to manage finances with financial literacy. To that end, the Matthew Project provides students with Matthew Dollars as a reward for academic performance and good behavior. Children may earn up to five Matthew Dollars per week to save or to spend on items that are on a reward wall.  Rewards range from clothing to educational books and handheld computers. Some volunteers found it eye-opening when children chose to spend their Matthew Dollars on underwear and socks. “One boy picked out a long sleeve shirt with a sports team logo on it,” Thiele says. “I asked him if he chose the shirt because he liked the team, and he said he got it because ‘it’s going to get cold and he wanted to keep his arms warm.’”

The Springfield Urban League takes the children back to where they sleep at night.  Some go to sleep in a car. One goes to a boarded up trailer home. Some live with multiple families or live in sheds. Other families have an address that changes every week.

“This really shows what a blessing it is that there are so many people that want to help make a difference in this community.” Thiele continued, “Many professional people in the community give their time; like medical students who help the children work on life skills. Doctors and lawyers come in at their lunch hours and give their time. Nurses come off their night shift and tutor. It amazes me, they are so busy. We couldn’t be successful without everyone.”

Thiele has an optimistic outlook for the Matthew Project’s future.  In the spring or fall, they hope to have enough support to take in more children Monday through Friday instead of once a week.

If you would like to learn more about The Matthew Project, donate or volunteer to help, please click here or the large Matthew Project image.

Hilary, Matthew Project volunteer, picks up the warm meal made for the children.
Hilary, Matthew Project volunteer, picks up the warm meal made for the children.

Some of the fresh fruit, juice boxes and snacks for the Matthew Project children.
Some of the fresh fruit, juice boxes and snacks for the Matthew Project children.

 

Helping the local homeless

An example of the many ways the Sisters give to the community of Springfield is by volunteering to make a dinner at the Springfield Overflow Shelter (s.o.s.) emergency shelter during the winter months.  Sisters and Dominican Associate volunteers made a meal to share with around 50 people without homes or means to take care of themselves during the most brutal cold days of winter. The volunteers make stew, set up the serving station (The Salvation Army building at 6th and Carpenter St.), serve the people and clean up the area.  The Sisters enjoy the time talking to the people while they are serving the most.  The volunteers will return to make another meal for the people in need when the intense Midwest winter weather turns into the unforgiving coldness of January that no person should be out in for an extended amount of time.

Matthew Project information

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