About GH

The idea for Gardenia House originated when Neil Shister and Catherine Clarke Shister began going to visit Sister Rosa Alvarez in Georgetown, Delaware. Sister Rosa and her Carmelite Sisters of Charity peers serve the immigrant community in Georgetown, largely Guatemalan laborers working in chicken processing plants in this rural area. Sister Rosa’s specific charge is women in the community, mothers—many of whom are barely older than teen-agers— and their children. Helping care for them can mean driving them to pre-natal and medical care, assisting with school enrollment, addressing immigration problems and—in dire circumstances—finding housing.

It is not uncommon for a woman—-abandoned, abused, on her own—to find herself and her children without shelter. In such instances, Sister Rosa intercedes to help.

As a law student Catherine had volunteered in a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. run by Sister Rosa who had recently come to the United States from Spain. Sister Rosa had a lasting impact on Catherine, inspiring her commitment to social justice and serving as a role model. After Sister Rosa moved to Georgetown they remained in contact.

On periodic visits to Georgetown, Catherine would learn about the urgent need for housing for mothers with young children. There is little rental housing available in the area, that which exists is often both expensive on the wages of a chicken-worker and in deteriorating condition.

The support that Neil and Catherine felt with Sister Rosa’s mission grew in 2002 when they adopted a baby from the community and became more fully involved with the work of the Sisters. They began investigating the possibility of purchasing a house in Georgetown to be used by Sister Rosa to provide accommodations to mothers with children. After several years of exploration, they were able to purchase in October, 2006 a newly constructed house for approximately $200,000 (half of which was mortgaged). It is located at 101 Pepper Street, a five minute walk from Sister Rosa’s office at L’Esperanza, the Spanish community social services center.

The house is ideally suited for the purposes of a communal residence, with four bedrooms and two baths, and two open eaves which were subsequently rennovated to provide additional bedrooms. The grounds are now surrounded by a six-foot high wooden fence built to afford security. There is a safe, lawned backyard with a sturdy playscape for the children. A small vegetable garden (corn, peppers, tomatoes, celentro) is also maintained by the residents.

The house is fully furnished with a washer-dryer on the premises. All untilies including telephone and internet service are provided as well as Direct TV so the residents have access to Spanish-language programming.

On the day the property closed Sister Rosa moved a mother and her three young children into the house (they had all been sleeping on a couch in a living room from which they were about to be evicted). Within several months, four mothers and a total of seven children ranging in ages from new-born to eight years old were living in Gardenia House.

Since then, Gardenia House has been fully occupied. Residents can stay as long as they want. Most stay, on average, between six months and one year although one family with two sons has remained at Gardenia House since its first days.

Residents are expected to pay nominal rent as able, this being one of Sister Rosa’s fundamental principles to encourage responsibility. If circumstances make it impossible for them to pay rent, however, they are still free to continue living at Gardenia House.

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