Kathleen McCarthy and Meredith Apfelbaum, Junior Ladies of Charity, Diocese of Albany
I had never imagined that days spent waking at seven a.m. to pull weeds in 100-degree weather would add up to the best week of my summer. Under the leadership of Sr. Kay Burton, students of the Academy of the Holy Names have been going to Jonestown, Mississippi to teach summer school, strengthen the mission, and carry on the legacy of Mother Marie Rose. This week spent at the Durocher Mission in Jonestown, Mississippi will be forever remembered by the ten girls who went: Kathleen McCarthy, LanJin Harris, Kierra Moore, Shannon Capozzola and Meredith Apfelbaum from the Holy Names campus in Albany, New York, and JoJo Bromfield, Kathleen Fraese, Kate Whitlock, Meg McKay and Sarah Johnson from the campus in Seattle, Washington.
Sister Kay, a sister of the Holy Name, acts as the principal, umpire, chief woodworker, and pillar of the Jonestown community. She graciously welcomed into her home ten girls, which is no easy feat. Sister Kay provided a portal to the Jonestown community for us; woman of faith, courage, and vision, Sister Kay led us in temperament and in action throughout the week.
Each day was carefully scheduled with little time to stray, beginning at seven a.m. to pull weeds before getting ready for the day. At 8:45 sharp, we found the students waiting for us on Sister Kay’s doorstep with hands eager for a basketball, and teachers and students joined to play basketball and four-square together. Once everyone had arrived, we walked to the Resource Center, where the summer school is conducted, for a morning of teaching.
Each subject was taught by a pair of Holy Name students – one from Albany, and one from Seattle – meeting with two or three of the students at a time to teach them the assigned subject. After 3 hours of experiments, spelling races, and typing, we led the children back to Sister Kay’s house for snacks and popsicles for the students to make the heat bearable. When the snacks were finished and the popsicles were gone, we all headed back to the Resource Center to finish teaching for the day. Once each group of students had attended every subject area it was around 1:45 pm, which meant it was time to pack up the books and go home; the children would go back to their homes and we returned to Sister Kay’s house and to have lunch and take a much needed nap.
Afternoon activities began at three p.m., offering arts and crafts, carpentry, or tennis. Students in arts and crafts painted the side wall of the carpentry building, creating a mural for the “Clutter to Compost” program, a volunteer-community joint effort to clean up Jonestown. In carpentry, each student made a bookcase from scratch, measuring and cutting the boards, drilling them together, and finally painting the finished product, with an endless repetition of “measure twice, cut once” echoing through the workshop. The majority of the students attended tennis where they were taught technique and the rules of the game. When afternoon activities were finished, the students went back to their homes and we went to Sister Kay’s house to prepare dinner, have our daily prayer service, and to do our nightly chores. Once the chores were finished, it was softball time.
In Jonestown, the nightly softball game is no Little League pastime; softball is a congregation of the entire community, central to the social life and unity of Jonestown. Players ages six to twenty-two show up promptly at six o’clock every evening, equipped with enthusiasm and light-hearted competition; softball equipment was provided by Sr. Kay’s collection of gloves and bats. The Holy Names volunteers brave enough to join in on the action grabbed gloves and took the field, while the others led the younger age set in a smaller game.
As we quickly learned, the best way to wash down a long day in Jonestown and a vigorous game of softball is a slushy from Uptown Brown’s, Jonestown’s only convenience store, supplying the community with everything from tee-shirts to watermelons. After a long chat with owner Benny Brown himself about his family, his business, and giving back, we realized the true sense of community that has rooted itself in nearly every aspect of the town.
When we arrived in Jonestown, the girls from Seattle had already spent a week there teaching and getting to know the children. On our first night, we were bombarded with explanations, the in’s and out’s of Jonestown, and the best way to eat a slushy from Uptown Brown’s, each vivid description capped with, “you’ll see what we mean in the morning.” I was shocked by the detailed descriptions of the students individually, doubtful that they could possibly learn all of their habits, strengths, and weaknesses in just one week of teaching. After only one full day, from morning four-square to outfield, I realized that it would be impossible not to know and love every one of those kids; their mark was unmistakable and I knew that a single week would be much too short – and I could not have been more right.