Peaces of Art auction to benefit Padua CenterWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
It takes “a special kind of person” to run a central city ministry like the Padua Center, but Sister Virginia Welsh is up to the task, according to her staff.
“She’s grounded, she’s direct. She gets things done and would do anything for anybody in this community,” said Toledo native Terry Crosby, educational director of the Nebraska Avenue nonprofit. “With her being kind of slight in stature and size, she has big respect in an inner city community. I’ve seen people run up to her saying, ‘Sister, you need anything? What can I do for you, sister?’ Everybody knows her and she’s got a real positive level of respect in this community. ”
The area surrounding the Padua Center, which operates alternative suspension and after-school programs and more, is a neighborhood in transition.
Known as Kuschwantz by its original Polish residents, the square mile encompassed by Brown Avenue and Hawley, Campbell and Dorr streets is now predominantly African-American and known as Kwanzaa Park. Many residents are religious, Welsh said, but most of its Catholic population has moved away.
After the Catholic Diocese of Toledo closed St. Anthony Church in 2005, the diocese asked Welsh to start a social outreach program in the church’s rectory.
“They did not particularly give me any direction about what they wanted to see happen here, but I am a former teacher so I thought, ‘I don’t care what else we’re doing, we’re educating kids because whatever you want to change in the world, you’re got to start with kids,’” said Welsh, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis in Tiffin. “I felt it was important we have someplace where people can go that offers engagement in terms of empowering them to do their best.”
The Padua Center’s signature program is Padua Possibilities, an alternative to suspension for kindergarten through sixth grade students from Martin Luther King Jr. Academy for Boys, Pickett Academy and Robinson Elementary.
“It’s hard. These kids are just so, so disruptive. It’s like crisis intervention on a daily basis,” Crosby said. “But you get to know them personally and build that camaraderie up and then they really start to engage positively. Ultimately what we’re trying to do is make a difference by creating some change in individuals’ lives.”
Rather than stay home, the students come to Padua Center where they do homework, discuss behavior modification and participate in sessions called Peace Education. The students are evaluated on conduct and progress, with daily reports sent to the schools.
The program served about 35 kids from one school when it started in 2008. Last year, it served 166 children from three schools and 76 percent of those students were not suspended again, Welsh said.
“We had a 180 percent increase in the number of children, but a 5 percent decrease in days served, which means more children were coming but staying fewer days and not returning, so we think it’s working,” Welsh said.
The Padua Center also operates an after-school program on Tuesdays and Thursdays that will feature enrichment activities in addition to tutoring, Crosby said.
“It hasn’t really gotten off the ground yet, but I want to really push it out there that we’re doing something different perhaps than any other central city community,” Crosby said. “I want to make this building a hub of services.”
In the works are etiquette classes, chess lessons, exercise activities, cooking classes using produce from the center’s own garden and more, Crosby said.
The Padua Center, which also operates summer camps and a program for girls called Emerging Young Ladies. strives to recognize and instill the seven principles of Kwanzaa — unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith — into the children as well as into the neighborhood it serves, Welsh said.
“I know we’ve made a difference to these kids,” Welsh said. “We’ve offered education, fun times, opportunities and we’re doing it in a very safe, loving environment. We’re trying to be a resource to empower people through education and community involvement.”
Peaces of Art
The Padua Center’s second annual Peaces of Art fundraiser is set for 5-8 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Gesu Roman Catholic Parish’s Sullivan Center, 2049 Parkside Blvd.
The event will include a live auction of framed artwork made by neighborhood children, a silent auction, live music, banquet and more. Kaye Patten Wallace, vice president for the student experience at the University of Toledo, will speak. Keith Jordan, director of JLJ Vision Outreach, will MC. Tickets are $35 per person or $280 per table of eight.
Efforts to unite Kwanzaa Park residents have not been as successful as Welsh would like, but she is encouraged by Brighten Up, a group dedicated to neighborhood improvement and unity that meets monthly. Toledo City Councilwoman Paula Hicks-Hudson often attends the meetings and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur is also a supporter of Padua Center, Welsh said.
Sister Simone Campbell and the “Nuns on the Bus” tour stopped at the Padua Center this summer as part of their national tour highlighting sisters working in areas of poverty and social justice. Campbell later mentioned the nonprofit in her speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September.
“Sometimes in a neighborhood like this, where there are a number of vacant homes and empty lots, we tend to see only the negatives,” Welsh said. “There are so many positive events taking place in this neighborhood and we just want to contribute to that and coordinate and help.”
Although hard work remains, Padua Center staff and volunteers are excited about the possibilities.
“Rome was not built in a day,” Crosby said. “It’s going to take time. But I love it.”
For more information, visit paduacenter.org.
Tags: Catholic Diocese, JLJ Vision Outreach, Kaye Patten Wallace, Keith Jordan, Kuschwantz, Kwanzaa City, Padua Center, Peaces of Art, Sarah Ottney, Sister Virginia Welsh, Terry Crosby, University of Toledo