Having a milestone anniversary is always cause for celebration, and celebrating 30 years for an organization is an even better reason. In 1986, Sr. Dorothy Gallant, a Sister of Charity of New York, and Sr. Teresa Skehan, a Religious Sister of Mercy, literally started walking the streets in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Manhattan. They had sandwiches to distribute, but more importantly, they offered their gift of listening—hearing the needs of those sleeping on the street, in the parks, in the shelters. The sisters knew there were organizations that could provide information on shelters, food pantries, and other social services, but they recognized a different need: the need to listen to, to pray with, or just to “be” with someone in such despair and hopelessness, treating each one with respect and dignity. That is how “Life Experience and Faith Sharing Associates” (LEFSA) was born.
These sisters had no strategic plan, no budget, no executive board. They saw a need and went about making it happen. Over the years, they rented small “office” spaces in apartment buildings, churches, or halls, whatever could be fashioned into something that was inexpensive and serviceable.
Fast forward 30 years and today, LEFSA has grown to include an executive director, Karolina May, who with a team of seven, continues the ministry that Sisters Dorothy and Teresa began. LEFSA follows a Base Christian Community Model. This model allows for faith-based community gatherings within city-sponsored shelters, as well as a weekly street ministry. The gatherings are interdenominational, voluntary in nature, and based on an empowerment model. Participants help to plan and assist in facilitating the gatherings.
These gatherings provide a forum wherein people who are homeless come together to share life and faith experiences, talk about problems related to homelessness, and work within a supportive faith community toward emerging from their situation. LEFSA now serves approximately 3,000 New Yorkers in shelters and on the streets each year.
Although Sr. Dorothy and Sr. Teresa have both gone home to God, we can only imagine how pleased they would be to see such growth and success. Through the generosity of one supporter, LEFSA moved into their permanent home this summer. This timely gift arrived when office space was available in a Sisters of Charity Housing Development Corporation (www.sistersofcharityhousing.org) building. This organization promotes social justice by providing affordable supportive housing for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Help us celebrate with LEFSA at an event we will be hosting on September 22, 2016 at Helen Mills Event Space and Theater. For more information, please visit LEFSA’s website at www.scny-lefsa.org. Reservations may also be made by clicking here.