[Province of St. Louise, USA] For 15 years, Sister Carol Schumer, Daughter of Charity, Province of St. Louise, USA, has served as a Parenting Skills Specialist with the Fathers’ Support Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Located in a poor area in the north part of the city, the Center’s core program is a six-week down to earth, no nonsense “boot camp” known as The Family Formation. Sister Carol, who does not look much like her students at 65 years of age and five-feet-two inches, dressed in her dark blue. She admits, “I’m white, I’m a woman and I have no children. “ Sister Carol works hard to break down racial barriers right at the start of class. The majority of the men in the class are African-American. She asks them how they feel about a white, Catholic sister teaching them. Most of the male students, more than 1,200 in all during her 15 years at the Center, don’t have a concern about her sex or race. Some wonder, though, about how she can teach them about parenting when she is not a mother. As one of nine children, Sister Carol assures them that her childhood and years of teaching and working in education administration help her to understand the roles fathers have in their children’s lives.
The goal of the class is to give fathers a chance to develop their personal and parenting skills. The program strives to help fathers grow spiritually and emotionally.
Over the course of the program, the fathers learn how to effectively discipline their children, as well as how to manage their own anger and emotions. The dads also discover their personal temperament and the stages of thinking for children. “If you ask a two-year-old if he spilled the milk, he may answer ‘no,’” explains Sister Carol, “even if he actually did. Two-year-olds are too young to understand about lying. But a 10-year-old, on the other hand, knows the difference.”
In her classroom, the tables are set up in a U-shape so that everyone can see each other. The men are there because they want to become more involved in their children’s lives. Some have custody of their children. Some do not. Some of the men struggle with alcohol; some struggle with drugs. Sister Carol started serving at the Center shortly after it opened in 1998. Since its founding, the Center has served more than 9,000 fathers with programs that include employment assistance, mentoring, a legal clinic, and an after-hours program. During the 85-plus classes that Sister Carol has facilitated, she always shares three key elements with the participants: high self-esteem, self-discipline, and social competence. Her influence as a Daughter of Charity cannot be mistaken. “We begin each class with a prayer,” explains Sister. “We talk about how each of us is unique and different. I regularly bring up faith and the Center’s administration is fine with this. I tell the students that God is there to support us.”
“Many of the participants did not have a good childhood,” adds Sister Carol. “They weren’t allowed to be children.” She shares many stories. “If you find two children covered in paint next to an empty paint can, don’t yell at the children. They can’t help it. Children are natural explorers. Anything within their reach is fair game for the exploration. It’s not the children’s fault. An adult left that paint there.”
When Sister Carol ends a session, she always emphasizes to the fathers that they themselves have the power to change the perception of being “no good.” She tells the dads they should never let anyone tell them they aren’t important in the lives of their children!
Link to St. Louis Catholic Review newspaper article: http://stlouisreview.com/article/2013-03-21/daughter-charity
Photo credits: Lisa Johnston/St. Louis Review