By Dr. Eileen Doll
The women were happy to see one another, but they were uncertain what we were doing at the Family Justice Center on December 2. Blanca Thibodeaux, their Case Manager, had told them in Spanish that the weekly counseling session should include their children, for a little party. The children were excited to see what looked like treats for them, but they were polite and well behaved. They ranged in age from a few months old to about 16. We brought in chips, drinks, cookies, Christmas stockings for the children, and then we waited for things to begin. “We” were 3 students from Loyola University New Orleans’ Spanish honor society (Sigma Delta Pi, Mu Kappa Chapter) – Stephanie MacClellan, Sean McLaughlin, and Rowan Oliversen – their advisor and Spanish professor Dr. Eileen Doll, and two representatives of Misión Mesa Abierta, a bilingual mission start – Brenda Bastone and David Fos. How did this combination of people get together?
It started with Loyola Service Learning. Stephanie MacClellan did her volunteer service as part of Dr. Doll’s “Immigration” class, an advanced Spanish class at the Family Justice Center. Blanca Thibodeaux came as a guest speaker to that class as well. So when the officers of the honor society were discussing activities for the academic year in September, they decided this was a good idea, to bring some joy to these Hispanic women and children who had suffered from trauma and domestic violence.
The students starting collecting money by emailing the Spanish professors and visiting every Spanish class at Loyola. Dr. Doll was worried there would not be enough money to provide a meaningful Christmas party for these survivors, so she presented the project to Pastora Rachel Ringlaben, pastor and mission developer of Misión Mesa Abierta, and the ministry´s launch team, of which she is a member. Pastora Rachel decided to talk to the other area Lutheran pastors about this, to recruit their support. And they gave us tremendous support! In particular, three local churches contributed to the event, with monetary donations as well as material and volunteer support.
After the snacks, the pizza and Fanta drinks, each family received gifts from this Loyola/Lutheran group. The children were adorable, as they received a stocking, coloring book, and more. There were plenty of hugs as well. It was a very rewarding experience for everyone involved, and the staff at the Family Justice Center thanked us over and over. We all hope this new community engagement and shared ministry will continue with future projects. There are already a few ideas being explored and a strong desire for collaboration. But for now, the biggest reward for all was seeing the smiles on the faces of the children.