Reporting in from the East Side Heart & Home Family Center, Lara Peterson and Sister Mary Ann Buhr reveal some exciting developments. The new main building is well on the way to completion and should be opened by summer! Serving as a beacon of hope, the Family Center will benefit from their new, larger and improved home. Many staff, program participants, local residents and community partners have worked hard to make this dream come true. Here is the link for a walk-about in the new building. https://fb.watch/iZWuLzTdDS/
Secondly, Lara and Sister Mary Ann shared an overview of the immersion retreat known as Pilgrimage, which they had to stop during COVID, but are now offering again. Created by volunteer, Sarah Nash, this program is designed to help create opportunities for people to make new connections in East St. Louis. Lara summarizes, “By inviting people to take an honest second look at East St. Louis—the history and current reality—we are able to see a beacon of hope for a beloved neighborhood of people and programs whose legacy of faith lives on.”
Participants arrive and are welcomed with an opening prayer and a brainstorming session to answer the question, “What do we think we know about East St. Louis?” Then they discuss, “Where did some of those messages come from?” Next there is a directed, silent meditation walk around the neighborhood. Then members of the local community join the participants to share their story of what it is like growing up in East St. Louis, why they chose to buy (a house) there, why they stay, and their hopes for their neighborhood. Lara believes this storytelling is the most powerful and inspiring part of Pilgrimage, which is followed by art expressions and group dialogue that culminates in evening prayer and a call to action.
Lara reflects on several benefits of Pilgrimage. It helps to shift the narrative about East St. Louis through the eyes of faith and also helps people understand what the Family Center is doing and to see how others can be part of the Mission. Many participants said, “We didn’t even know you were here.”
The Mississippi River although narrow in this area, is like an ocean with two completely separate worlds on each side.
A neighborhood here could have been a neighborhood in any city.
Most were surprised to hear about the history of East St. Louis and its effect on poverty. At the same time, some were surprised to discover that not all those who lived in East St. Louis were poor. They were grateful to meet homeowners who chose to live there.
Lara, “To shift our world towards inclusive communities, there needs to be time for study, storytelling, and prayer together, which Pilgrimage provides.”