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