By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
Ursuline Sister of Louisville Ruth Ann Haunz, manager of the Francis Center’s Dare to Care Kid’s Café, said the program is about more than feeding hungry children — it’s about ministering to families and building a “new model of parish.”
The Francis Center is a ministry of St. John Paul II Church on Hikes Lane that serves the Hikes Point and Buechel areas with health, education and recreational programs.
It opened the Kid’s Café, one of the center’s newest programs, in September. The café serves hot meals to 50 children every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. The kids — from six schools, including John Paul II Academy — also receive help with homework before they eat, said Sister Haunz during an interview last month.
The food, delivered by Dare to Care, is kept warm while the children study and then is served by volunteers.
While the focus of the Kid’s Café is on the kids, the ministry is bigger than that, said Sister Haunz.
It’s a way to minister to volunteers and parents, parishioners and neighbors alike — whether it’s a comforting word to someone who has lost a loved one or is dealing with illness in their family or listening to the struggles of a single parent. It’s about
building relationships, she said.
And that’s what the Francis Center is about.
The center’s other programs include a community garden, farmed mostly by immigrant and refugee families; a “Golden Fitness” class for senior citizens and, one of its newest offerings, “Rock Steady Boxing,” designed for individuals diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Sister Haunz said that she’s been “dreaming of a new model of parish,” where the parish serves the community it’s part of and not just its “registered members.”
The parish “is bigger than Mass on Sunday and a Catholic school, though those are very important,” said Sister Haunz. “The whole neighborhood is the people of God. That’s who we want to reach out to.”
Donna Kenney, executive director of the Francis Center, said need is high in the neighborhoods the center serves.
The neighborhoods are composed of many immigrant families and many are facing economic challenges, said Kenney.
She and Sister Haunz said they’d like to see other parishes adopt similar outreach programs.
They noted that the definition of outreach will vary from parish to parish. Each parish needs to ask itself a question, Sister Haunz said: “How do we as Catholics minister to the people of God in our neighborhoods?”
It’s what Pope Francis has called on the faithful to do, she noted. To go out of their comfort zone to reach the neediest.
Kenney said, “I’d love to see other parishes follow this model.”
She and Sister Haunz said they are willing to mentor other parishes interested in creating outreach ministries.
The center could not operate without the volunteers, they noted. Seventy adults and about 40 high school students provide the center’s many offerings.
“I cannot praise our volunteers enough — their generosity and commitment,” said Sister Haunz, adding that said she’d like to eventually have enough volunteers for one-on-one tutoring of students in the Kid’s Café.
Kenney’s dream, she said, is to serve up to 100 children in the café. She came to the center in 2014 and knew right away she wanted to start a Kid’s Café.
The Francis Center recently received a “glowing report” on its state inspection of the Kid’s Café, noted Kenney.
“I’d worked with Kid’s Café before and I know what they can accomplish,” said Kenney. “My greatest hope is for a bond to develop between the volunteers and the children. They don’t always have that at home.”
To learn more about the Francis Center, visit franciscenter.org.