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CARES Catholic Network

About a year ago Cecile Robert of Winooski fell, breaking her pelvis, scapula and a rib, and as part of her rehabilitation at a local nursing home she needed a walker.
 
She remembered reading in the bulletin of her church, St. Francis Xavier, about CARES Catholic Network, a ministry that, among other things, provides a medical equipment exchange.
 
Through CARES, Robert got the needed walker plus a shower bench and a bedside commode – all at no charge.
 
The ministry saved her more than $300.
 
“It would have been difficult without a service like this,” she said.
 
CARES – an acronym for Compassion, Advocacy, Respite, Education and Service – has served scores of people in the three years since it began.
 
A ministry of St. Francis Xavier Church and of St. Mark Church in Burlington, CARES provides a host of services in addition to the medical equipment exchange including sewing lessons, a fellowship/arts and crafts group, handyman services, home and nursing home visitors, repair of four-wheeled walkers with brakes, parish nurse services and a rosary group. In addition, volunteers pick up baked goods and bread twice a week from a local restaurant to distribute to St. Joseph’s Home and Mount St. Mary Convent in Burlington.
 
The Francis Center in the former convent next to St. Mark Church is the activities hub for CARES, a ministry that assists people of all faiths.
 
Sharon Brown, volunteer parish nurse, coordinates the health and wellness ministry. She hopes in the spring to add a beginner sewing class and a knitting group.
 
She delivers medical equipment to people like Robert, 89, and instructs them in the proper use. The elongated shower bench, for example, is safer because it allows the user to sit down and then lift his or her feet into the tub, reducing the risk of falling.
 
Items like shower benches, walkers and commodes are donated to CARES for distribution to those who need them, and when the items are no longer needed, CARES asks for them back to offer to someone else.
 
Donations are accepted but not solicited.
 
Robert said this is just one way the parishes are helping others: “Doing good: Isn’t that what the Church is all about?”
 
For more information about CARES or to volunteer or donate goods or services, contact Sharon Brown at 802-922-2958 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

--Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
  • Published in Parish

Sewing at The Francis Center

A new sewing class at The Francis Center at St. Mark Parish in Burlington is humming along with nine students, all of African heritage.
 
Their reasons for joining the four-Saturday-morning class include making their own clothing, making alterations for themselves and their family members, making gifts and teaching others to sew.
 
One woman, a Muslim, wants to make a hijab for her daughter.
 
“It’s simple” to make the Islamic headscarf, said volunteer sewing teacher Laurie Browne of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski, owner of the Triple Loop costume shop in Essex Junction.
 
“I like to share what I know about sewing,” she continued. “My faith calls me to share those gifts. It’s part of who I am.”
 
The sewing students gather with two teachers and other helpers for two or three hours each week. They speak various languages, and Claudine Nkurinziza of Winooski, one of the sewing students, translates.
 
This is her first time taking a sewing class. “It’s expensive to pay someone to sew your clothes,” she said. “I like the experience of learning and this opportunity to try something new.”
 
Eleven-year-old Jessica Mujawimana, a sixth grader at St. Francis Xavier School in Winooski, is the youngest of the sewing students. “It’s very cool,” she said of her first sewing experience. “I don’t have to ask other people to sew clothes for me.”
 
In some African cultures, men sew as a job, not women.
 
Sharon Brown of St. Francis Xavier Parish, a parish nurse, coordinates CARES Catholic Network, a cooperative health and wellness ministry of St. Francis Xavier Parish and St. Mark Parish with pastors Msgr. Richard Lavalley and Father Dallas St. Peter, respectively. She helps with the class under the CARES umbrella and said some women buy African fabric for $20 for a simple dress then must pay someone about $80 to make it: “The dresses are out of their budget.”
 
At the sewing class, the students work with donated fabric and on donated used sewing machines. Stephen Richer of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish in Burlington, a former Singer Sewing Machine Co. service manager, spent about 30 hours refurbishing the 18 portable machines that were donated in various conditions. “I had the know-how, and they needed someone to do it,” he commented. “If I can help people, I’ll help. It’s how I was brought up in my faith and in my family.”
 
Richer said a new machine would cost more than $100; but the sewing class participants will receive a class sewing machine at the successful completion of the program (one per household).
 
One of the sewing teachers, Marie Boisvert of Christ the King-St. Anthony Parish in Burlington, is an experienced seamstress. “God gave me that talent,” she said. “I give of myself wherever I can.”
 
Jessica, the 11-year-old student, likes the sewing teachers, describing them as helpful, patient and experienced.
 
“It’s nice they are helping everyone no matter our race or religion or background,” Nkurinziza said. “They see us all as people wanting to learn.”
 
Students and volunteers, Brown said, are learning more about what they have in common, not focusing on their differences. “Muslim women are working with Catholic women, holding each other’s children and talking about their shared interest in sewing.” (Childcare is provided.)
 
They are all stitching together friendships and realizing, as Brown said, “We are women. We sew. This is our bond.”
 
For more information or to donate materials or funds, contact Brown at 802-922-2958 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
 
 
 

A community that CARES

This is a faith community that CARES.
 
CARES Catholic Network, a cooperative health and wellness ministry of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski and the Burlington parishes of St. Mark, St. Joseph Co-Cathedral and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, is all about Compassion, Advocacy, Respite, Education and Service.
 
Housed at the former convent at St. Mark’s on North Avenue in Burlington, CARES Catholic Network is a Christ-centered, parish-based ministry dedicated to the holistic health and wellness of the community. Through assessment of people’s needs, planning and implementing health and wellness activities and reflecting on the Gospel mission of health and wholeness, CARES promotes the integration of body, mind and spirit both in volunteers and in those they serve.
 
Services and activities include transportation, home visits, a durable medical goods exchange (canes, shower chairs, commodes etc.), advocacy for immigrants, handyman services, right-to-life advocacy, blood pressure screenings and a caregiver support group.
 
CARES has a full-time parish nurse, Sharon Brown, who makes home and hospital visits, coordinates CARES services and is a liaison with other service providers.
 
The Francis Center at St. Mark Parish provides physical space and is the hub of the CARES Catholic Network. It consists of a chapel, two medium-sized multi-purpose rooms, two smaller conference rooms and a residential kitchen.
 
It is a place for community, serving others and spiritual growth.
 
At the center there is space for meetings, trainings and spiritual formation for volunteers; community prayer groups and faith formation activities; cultural/educational activities; education/support group meetings; and storage/collection space for durable medical and household goods.
 
“We are excited we can use this space to reach out to minister to the community, following our faith and doing works of mercy,” said Father Dallas St. Peter, administrator of St. Mark Parish. “The reason [for the center] is to extend the Church’s mission of mercy in this area.”
 
Services are available to everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.
 
Two of the approximately 60 people who volunteer in the CARES ministry as their time allows are Claudine Nkurunziza and her mother, Merida Ntirampeba, natives of Burundi now living in Winooski and attending St. Francis Xavier Church. “My life is to help somebody,” Ntirampeba said.
 
She and her daughter escaped the genocide in their homeland and thank God for the help they received to do so. “They were doing it [helping the mother and child] for the love of God, and I want to repay God,” she said.
 
“Many people would have just saved themselves,” Nkurunziza added.
 
St. Francis CARES – which began three years ago -- brought the family food and clothing when needed and provided transportation and nursing assistance. “Without them, I don’t know where we’d be. They really have helped,” Ntirampeba said.
 
St. Mark Parish joined the CARES Catholic Network in 2015, and the cathedral and co-cathedral parishes joined in September. “We have absolute support from the pastors and administrative assistants,” Brown said.
 
Volunteers will spend the winter identifying programs needed for the spring and summer. Already fabric and sewing machines have been donated for a spring sewing class for refugee women.
 
Marie Forcier of St. Mark’s plans to be an instructor. “I love helping out,” she said.
 
“Pope Francis tells us to take care of each other,” Brown said. “By caring for others, we show the heart of Jesus.”
 
  • Published in Diocesan
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