Helen Barnett credits Fatima Family Center with more than just getting her off welfare. She traces her confidence, self-esteem, and improvements in her relationship with her son back to the day when she discovered Fatima through a work experience program offered in her Cleveland neighborhood. Little did she know that just four years later, she’d still be coming to Fatima to work – although by this time, Fatima had a new building and Barnett had become a new person. Barnett now works full-time for Fatima overseeing the after-school program. A single mother, Barnett also noticed changes in her teenage son, Christopher. Christopher also became involved at Fatima through the Maximum Youth program, which helps teenagers who hold down jobs keep up with their schoolwork.
According to Fatima Director LaJean Ray-McNair, the Barnetts are examples of how the right support and services can transform a family. Established in 1973 under the leadership of the Missionary Servents of the Most Holy Trinity as an outreach ministry of Our Lady of Fatima Church, the Family Center, now a part of Catholic Charities, serves a neighborhood known as Hough. Like many urban neighborhoods, Hough experienced great transitions during the 1970s and 1980s. Shifting populations, out-migration, unemployment, and disinvestment adversely impacted the neighborhood. Ray-McNair, who lives in Hough, says “This is an incredibly asset-rich community. We’re right across the street from League Park, where the Cleveland Indians and, historically, the Negro League, played. The city’s African-American Museum is here. The neighborhood has a long history of home ownership. There are 25 other agencies here to share resources with, to coordinate programs, and collaborate initiatives.”
The new complex offers an array of practical help and serves as a gathering spot for the neighborhood. Services include; afterschool sessions; tutoring; athletics; summer camp; college tours; emergency and transitional services; health counseling; pre-employment initiatives; and health, education, and recreational activities for older adults.
“Families told us that they had difficulty doing their banking because they did not have access to an automated teller machine (ATM),” says Ray-McNair. “We installed an ATM in the center. It’s the only one in the neighborhood.”
Reflecting on the contributions that Fatima has made to the families of Hough, LaJean Ray-McNair remembers loaning the center’s van to a mother who was taking her daughter off to college. And then there was the woman – a grandmother – who passed her GED at age 70 with help she received at Fatima. “Whether we were working out of a four-room place or a $4 million facility, there’s a spirit and an energy here that comes from the people we serve,” she says.
Helen Barnett agrees. “Fatima made a huge difference in my life,” she says. “Now I feel that I have a purpose and that I can make a difference in someone else’s life.”
Fatima Family Center is a 2002 Honoree of Families Count, the national honor program that recognizes organizations that are making a difference in the lives of families struggling to survive in tough neighborhoods.