Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Seeing Through

Byron's dream was to be a pro football player. He was living in Europe, playing for the semi-pro Spanish team in Madrid. As he tells it, "I was living the black man's dream; football, Europe, looking at the Pros in the States. Then I had my yearly physical."
It was at that physical that Byron failed an eye exam and later learned that he suffers from sarcoidosis, a rare disease in which abnormal collections of inflammatory cells (granulomas) form as nodules in many organs of the body. Within just a few months Byron's eyesight was failing him. In less than two years he was totally blind.
Moving to Maryland so that he could receive medical attention and medication from John Hopkins University, Byron lived with relatives and had to hire people to help him do everyday tasks. A few months ago Byron moved into a small apartment by himself. He says that it isn't in a good neighborhood and he is lonely, but can't afford to live in a safer place.
He speaks about loss, and what it has been like for him, trying to live with the disease. Tears well as he explains that he once had a wife, a budding carrier in football, and the ability to take care of himself and an entire life ahead.  But he is hopeful. The medications have been working, he can make out shapes and sometimes colors. "I wake up everyday and I believe in my heart that the meds are going to work. It is the only way."Byron explains that he has learned to 'see' differently. He 'sees' the energy people give off, by the way they speak, and treat others.
Blindness hasn't taken his ability to laugh and recognize that he still has so much to give. "I have to keep positive. I just keep moving, even if I don't see where I'm going." 
A month ago Byron's wallet was stolen, his account drained and the difficulty replacing an ID brought him to The Franciscan Center.
"This is only my second time here, but I can't tell you how much of a difference you have made in me, just by the kindness and respect everyone has shown me."
"Coming to the Franciscan Center, you see someone you don't know, and it doesn't matter what color you are. You are like family to me, in the kindness that you have shown me."
Taking a moment to wipe the tears and regain composure, Byron explains that he wants to work with sight impaired children. That he thinks maybe he could make a difference and show kids that they can overcome difficulties too. Growing up wasn't easy, his mother an alcoholic and his father a transvestite, then to lose his sight; Byron's personal strength is both inspiring and humbling.
More humbling is what he says about being at the Center, "The work you do here, the people you help... it makes me want to work harder. The kindness and the love that you show everyone who comes here, it makes me see that it is a good day."
Perhaps Byron doesn't see that we feel the same way about him. He makes us want to work harder too.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Economy is down, jobs are few, but persistence still pays off...

Five months ago "John" came into the center for a meal. After his lunch in the dining room he went to the Responsive Services Department on the second floor and asked to speak with someone, anyone.
He didn't want a hand out. He said that what he really needed was a job. And he wondered if he could fill out an application to work here at the Franciscan Center.  John's shoes were worn, his shirt threadbare, but clean. His fingernails were trimmed and neat. Strange what you notice about the people we work with. The details that fill in the blanks surrounding the stories.
Judy, our social worker, took John into her office and explained that we didn't have any job openings, but wondered what he was looking for in a job. She also asked if he lived in the city. John had been living on the streets of Baltimore for over a year. He explained that he lost his apartment when he was let go, due to cut backs. He now gets a shower and sleeps on a friends couch a couple times a week. He also come to the Center to grab a meal.

He also shared with Judy that he had been mugged and most of the things he had were taken. It was then that Judy asked if he had an ID or a birth certificate. Both of which he would need to get an apartment and a job. These he said, were stolen too.
So, Judy went to work obtaining a birth certificate copy and gave him a money order for a Maryland State ID. She also armed him with the knowledge that after he had lunch he could visit our Technology Resource Center and talk to Debbie. She would set him up with an email address,  help him make a resume and teach him to look for jobs.
A few weeks later John came back to the second floor and asked for Judy. He let her know that he had gotten his ID and was back to pick up his birth certificate. He was wearing the same clothing, his nails still trim, but the addition of a smile and small bounce in his step was a welcome change. John explained that he was on his way to the computer area to look for work.
Over the next couple of months John would poke his head in on Judy and give her his updates. Still no job. But working on it.
John's smile didn't diminish as he continued to mine for work. He utilized Debbie's knowledge while using the computer center and the two of them searched together. Weeks would go by and Debbie wouldn't see John. But, every now and again an email would pop up saying that he is still on the hunt, and doing well.
Yesterday John came into the center for lunch. He finished his meal and went to find Debbie. His smile wider than usual. He wanted to let her know that he had found a job. It was with a temporary service, but had potential. He also wanted to thank her for her support and help in looking. He also wanted to make sure Judy knew how thankful he was for her help in getting ID's. He said he would stop by and thank her himself, but he had to catch the bus for work.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Web of Life. From: The Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi

(This is the belief of the Sister's whose hard work is the history and the mission of The Franciscan Center. I thought its voice is universal and uplifting.)

All of creation, from the initial creative event to the arrival of humans, is a single, interconnected and interdependent whole. Over billions of years hydrogen and helium unfurl the shimmering stars and galaxies, the basic elements emerge, and eventually our solar system and life unfold. Each aspect of the creative process is necessary and essential since each mode of being depends on the interactions and transformations that both precede and follow it. This web of relationships makes it impossible to rank or separate creation in a hierarchical or dualistic manner.1 
Creation is the primary revelation and each being reveals something of the Divine. Everything, from the giant sequoia to the tiny wren, to the water in our wells, lakes and streams, to the air we breathe and the soil that grows our food, is sacred. Every person – the child in the womb, the young, the elderly, laborers and unemployed, those who are vulnerable, economically poor, disempowered, or imprisoned – is to be revered and protected. Decisions concerning how we live our private and public lives and acquire and use resources are to reflect our care and concern for the well-being of the whole of creation. In this way we affirm the sacredness of each created being and the diversity, self-identity, and communion that are at the heart of the magnificence, magnitude and mystery of creation.
We believe we are to relate to Earth, to one another, and indeed to the Cosmos, in mutually sustaining ways and that all of our systems of learning, technology, healing, economics, governance, politics, and religion, including our Christian faith and Franciscan charism, must be in harmony with the basic ecology and laws of the Universe. 

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Cooking lessons at The Franciscan Center

Monday, September 27, 2010

Public Health Campaign & Celebrity Chef Help Franciscan Center Serve Dignity With Its Meals

The Franciscan Center of Baltimore, in partnership with The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), kicked off its own Healthy Monday campaign today to promote healthy food choices among its clients.  The goal:  to ensure that everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, has access to safe, nutritious and delicious meals. With the help of celebrity chef Kim O’Donnel and CLF’s two outreach projects, Baltimore Food and Faith and the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, the Franciscan Center wants to show that providing a large variety of high quality foods for Baltimore’s hungry not only promotes dignity among its clients, but may also improve their health.

The Franciscan Center has a long legacy of feeding the poor and homeless in Baltimore. The Center serves as many as 500 meals a day. So far it has served 78 thousand meals this year alone. In an effort to promote personal dignity through healthy and sustainable living, the Franciscan Center has partnered with various local farmers, businesses, groups and organizations like CLF, the Abell Foundation, Campus Kitchens, First Fruit Farms and Wegmans Supermarket to bring healthy, organic produce and vegetables to Baltimore’s most needy in an attempt to increase the personal health of an at risk population.

According to Baltimore’s Food Policy Task Force Final Report, “Many Baltimore City residents are affected by health problems associated with a poor diet.” The Task Force also found that one in every three adults in Baltimore is obese and two out of three is considered overweight. Ed McNally, Franciscan Center Executive Director, believes that, “if we can increase the nutrition content in the food served to the City’s poorest and most disadvantaged citizens -- many with or at risk for contracting disease -- then we will positively impact public health.

Saint Francis of Assisi said, “It is not fitting, when one is in God's service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look.” McNally added today that the Franciscan Center believes, “that you can’t serve an unhealthy meal with a smile. It is the next step; there is nothing more dignified than a nutritious meal.” Rev. Dred Scott, Pastor of St. Matthew United Methodist Church in Turner Station agrees. "At St. Matthew we are always looking at quality of life issues,” says Rev. Scott. He believes that, “if you are what you eat, then eating healthy and having access to healthy, nutritional food is a must. Our community garden has provided fresh produce to a substantial number of people in the community over the past several years at no cost." Rev. Scott and McNally are both members of CLF’s Baltimore Food and Faith advisory board.

O’Donnel, a trained chef and author of the newly released “Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook,” took time off from her book tour to share recipes and some cooking tips with the Franciscan Center’s two full-time cooks today. O’Donnel says, “I was proud to take part in today’s event. Food is such an integral part of everyone’s life.  Helping to promote the idea that everyone deserves access to healthy delicious food is very important to me.”

“Launching Healthy Monday has been a challenge,” says Kim Greggory, Franciscan Center cook. “But by bringing in experts, like Chef O’Donnel, to teach us how to prepare healthier balanced lunches, I’ve been able to not only better prepare fresh vegetables, but I take that knowledge home and feed my own family better,” added Greggory.

O’Donnel has long supported Healthy Monday and Meatless Monday through her columns at the Washington Post and several popular blogs. Healthy Monday is a public health initiative whose goal is to prevent chronic diseases by offering people weekly prompts to start and sustain healthy behaviors, such as making healthy food choices. The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, serves as technical and scientific advisor for Healthy Monday and its sister campaign Meatless Monday. McNally says Meatless Monday is just the first of many Healthy Monday programs the Franciscan Center plans to promote throughout the year.

Additional information can be found on the following web pages:

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future: http://www.jhsph.edu/clf

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Providing The Hungry With Healthy Food: Celebrity Chef Helps Baltimore Center Serve Dignity With Its Meals

On Monday, September 27th, The Franciscan Center of Baltimore, in association the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), will launch its own Healthy Monday campaign to promote healthy food choices among its clients and the goal to make sure that everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, has access to safe, nutritious and delicious meals. With the help of CLF’s two outreach projects, Baltimore Food and Faith and the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, the Franciscan Center wants to show that providing a large variety of high quality foods for Baltimore’s hungry not only promotes dignity among its clients but it could also improve their health.
On Monday, The Franciscan Center’s executive director Ed McNally will welcome Kim O’Donnel, trained chef and food writer, and Rev. Dred Scott, pastor of St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Turner Station and member of the Baltimore Food and Faith advisory board to help introduce Meatless Monday, the first of many Healthy Monday programs the Franciscan Center will promote.

O’Donnel is the author of the “The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour.”  She has been invited by the Franciscan Center’s cooks to share recipes from her cookbook and help them serve more than 500 people.

What:              Public Health Campaign Launch for Baltimore’s Hungry
When:              Monday, September 27
Time:              10:00 AM
Where:             101 W. 23rd Street, Baltimore, MD 21218
Parking:           Gated lot off of Maryland Ave.

Additional information can be found on the following web pages:

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future: http://www.jhsph.edu/clf

Monday, September 20, 2010

Field Trip to the Heart

The Franciscan Center's older sister is St. Elizabeth School, an outreach of the Sister's of Saint Francis of Assisi who is turning 50 next year. As our sister and partner in serving the needs of Baltimore I want to take you on a little field trip.

St. Elizabeth School is located over by John Hopkins University in North Baltimore, on Argonne Drive. It began as an orphanage to African-American children, and then began meeting the needs of another forgotten population: disabled children. Today the school along with its long history is teaching children with intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, emotional disturbances, and the entire spectrum of autism disorders.  They welcome students from across the state, and caters to each child's educational needs.

"We are so thankful that our grandson..is a student at St. E's. Everyone is so loving and caring - and no task seems to be so strange or difficult for you if it meets a student's needs."

The stories are remarkable. And the process of bringing a child through the programs, outstanding. Peeking into an art therapy class I see an array of children with markedly different disability and levels. But I also see an art teacher, a social worker, a speech pathologist, and volunteers.  All utilizing their separate expertise and training toward one goal. To provide a student-centered approach that integrates social and emotional development, academic growth and functional life skills.

"My son has begun to make great progress in reading and math for the first time in his educational history. After years of resistance, he now wants to go to school."

I encourage you to take a moment and check out the school's website. I am both inspired and awed by the amount of love and joy radiating from St. Elizabeth's School. In our own back yard, our neighbors taking care of our community. Helping us, as we help them, to continue building a sustainable city. A city where  entire populations, such as ours; the homeless and financially disenfranchised, and St. Elizabeth's; children with disabilities, can have a voice and can find assistance to provide futures and lives that are balanced, productive and sustainable.

written by Heather Newman
quotes from St. Elizabeth School website.

St. Elizabeth School

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy Birthday to us! a note from our Executive Director


The Franciscan Center opened on September 10, 1968. Sister Irene Marshiano was the first director. Of the early days, she recalled, “There were just two of us [Sisters], plus Third Order members and lay volunteers. The first month, we served 30 people.”  Wow, and just today, September 9th, 2011, the Franciscan Center served 399 people in our dining room. 
What a good work God began through the efforts of two Sisters and a few dedicated volunteers.  A good and necessary work that is still needed in Baltimore City.  A work that, please God, will still reach out to the poor and fulfill our mission: “to provide emergency assistance and supportive outreach to persons who are economically disenfranchised in an effort to assist them in realizing their self-worth and dignity as people of God.” 
Over the past forty two years the Franciscan Center has grown and changed, had ups and downs, faced challenges and celebrated blessings – it has a life.  A real, vital and purposeful life.  The Center’s life has not always been easy, but it has always been appreciated because the life of the Franciscan Center has touched and transformed the lives of thousands of human beings.  With a kind hand, a gentle smile, a warm meal, a bus token or a voucher, the life of the Center has always been a life for others.  A Franciscan life.
Today, at 42, the Center is very much alive.  Alive and well, and getting better every day.  Our mission is being fulfilled in the same familiar and important ways, but also with new partnerships.  Our kitchen staff and volunteers are working with the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future to provide more fresh, organic produce to be served in our dining room. 
We’re working with the Baltimore Community Foundation and their BG&E Community Initiative to provide even more utility assistance to those in need.  We have received support from the Legg Mason Foundation, the Abell Foundation and others to provide more comprehensive assistance through our dedicated staff and volunteers in our Responsive Services (formerly Emergency Services).  We even have students from the University of Maryland School of Social Work learning from our own social workers the art of caring.  And speaking of art, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) will soon be sending students to work with our clients to express their own creativity, through MICA’s Community Arts Program.  Yes, we are very much alive. 

God is good. We have been richly blessed in the wake of a difficult and challenging year.  I invite you to celebrate with me the gift of life that is the Franciscan Center, brought forth on September 10, 1968 in a row home on Maryland Avenue.  Who would have thought it.  Happy Birthday Franciscan Center!  And many, many more.

Yours truly,                  

Edward F. McNally
Executive Director

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

The cool winds of Sustainability

Fall is in the air. I can smell it. The crisp cool breezes that whisper in my ears as they race past my shoulders. Long summer days, winding down and making way for afternoon walks that are actually enjoyable. And moments with friends and family as we look forward to the months ahead.

It is with the happy thoughts of pumpkins, spices, and sweaters that I think about sustainability. As buzz words go, the word, 'sustainability' seems to be attached to the backs of swarms of bees. It gets our attention and perhaps makes us feel like we are in some way helping our planet. Just thinking about sustainability makes me feel good.

But what does it mean? How does living a sustainable life translate outside of taking reusable bags to the market, or putting our plastic in the recycle bin?

One of the goals here at The Franciscan Center is to help our clients grow in dignity and build a life that is sustainable. We want to address the needs of the whole person. It starts, as with so many of the people who come here for help, with a meal in our dining room.

Through partnerships with our community we have been blessed to be able to serve locally grown, organic fruits and vegetable to our clients, helping them get the right kinds of calories and nutrients they need to stay healthy. That promotes sustainable personal health.

From there you can go to our clothing counter and get a warm jacket for the coming cool nights. Improving your comfort and health. But it goes deeper than that. The jackets, pants, shirts, new undergarments, and business attire have all been donated. Most lightly worn and now recycled.

Turning from the clothing counter you can then walk to our Technical Resource Center (TRC). Where you are welcomed, and given a computer to use, an email address, and taught the skills that will help you mine for jobs, create resumes, and how to improve your interview process. Helping you grow your independence and security. Promoting sustainability within your financial life.

As you leave the TRC you go upstairs to the second floor where you can get your mail, a bus token to make it across town to a doctors appointment, or see one of our social workers about housing assistance and to learn about other programs offered in our community.  You can also sign up for an art class headed up by MICA student volunteers.

Leaving the center, wrapped in warmth, you realize that you have just had your body, mind and soul fed. And perhaps learned that sustainability comes in many many different forms. One of which we often times forget is simply to be kind to those around you.

written by, Heather Newman

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Lunch Time Serenades

It is about nine-thirty in the morning when they start to gather. Men and women, mostly men in the earlier hours. The doors open soon, and the line is already around the building. The air is moist, but cool; it helps maintain the subdued mood, and keeps the waiting masses from losing patience. Conversations bounce back and forth along the line. Stories from the weekend, and the coming days. Ideas about job openings, school starting, and the weather. It is a beautiful day, an easy day to wait outside to get a meal.

There is currently a man outside the Center. Sitting on a bench near the sidewalk just across from the crowd, (numbering nearly two hundred at this point), of hungry people lined up to receive lunch. The light in his eyes is proud and warm, his brown drab suit seems a bit dusty, the black scuffed shoes on his feet are clean, but worn; they have seen a lot of miles. His practiced hands stretch over the keys of an old alto saxophone, he puts his lips to the reed and inhales deeply through his nose. The air instantly fills with thick sounds of jazz, it blankets the crowd, enveloping them in the vagaries of hypnotic notes.

The man plays with his eyes closed, brow bent in concentration and lips pursed. One after another the tunes ring out over the growing crowd. Calming the conversations to quiet whispers as the waiting people drink in the moment. Some seem to allow themselves to forget that they are waiting for the only meal they may get today. Instead, for a few moments, they are listening to a concert, played only for them. The appreciation is palpable.

All too soon it is time. The doors are unlocked and The Franciscan Center opens for the day. The crowd begins to shuffle in, forming a line to the cafeteria style kitchen; where spaghetti with marinara made from organic fresh veggies, and garden salad waits for them.

The musician too follows the crowd. He carefully places his reed in a container and tucks it into the instrument case. Lowering his saxophone into the case he wipes the brass with a red handkerchief and snaps the lid shut. Standing and gathering a backpack, and his sax he joins the growing crowd and files into the center, looking forward to filling his stomach and quieting the hunger that rings in his ears too loudly sometimes.

The Franciscan Center feeds between 350 and 500 men, woman and children nutritious lunches Monday through Thursday. Each day our cooks prepare meals, knowing that they may be the only meal that our guests have. We feed everyone who comes to the door, and is in need. Be it this homeless musician, or families who's parents are out of work, the underemployed, and elderly who can's seem to make the monthly budget cover medications and food. If you are hungry we welcome you. Here you will find respect, kindness, and people who genuinely care about your needs, and who believe in the dignity of every human being.

- written by Heather L. Newman

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Food + Dignity = Healthy Mondays

There is a long legacy here at The Franciscan Center. We serve our community, meeting the needs as they come through our doors. Our doors seem to always be revolving, and the needs seems to never end. 

The word Dignity is painted across the lips of everyone who works and volunteers here. The hallways, kitchen, dining rooms, classrooms and meeting spaces are impregnated with a deep belief in the inherent and inviolable rights that all individuals deserve respect and ethical treatment. What has always set us apart in the minds of the community in which we serve, is that we treat them with dignity and respect. In every effort, every conversation, every act of kindness; it is delivered with dignity.

Personal dignity is something that I have always been keenly aware of.  It does not escape me that dignity is closely related to concepts like virtuerespectself-respectautonomyhuman rights, and enlightened reason. Translated into feeding the urban hungry means that it is our duty to provide meals with dignity. To us that means nutritious, balanced, seasonal, and delicious. 

A few weeks back I met with a Ralph Loglisci from  The Center for a Livable Future. He heads up the Meatless Monday and Healthy Monday initiative for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The reason for our meeting, of course, is to continue our course here at the Franciscan Center; to provide the healthiest meals we can to our clients. Partnering with the Center for a Livable Future is a natural progression.

Ralph's love of nutrition is infectious. It mirrors my own. In speaking with him about our clients, and the nutritional needs we are trying to meet, he shares some deep insights into why he is working toward Healthy Mondays. As American's we usually don't eat well. As a whole, we don't pay attention to what goes into our bodies, where it comes from, or how it is effecting  not only who we are, our health, but the world around us.

Healthy Monday's isn't just about decreasing the meat intake. In fact, we believe our clients need the protein and calories. It is about being mindful about what we put in our bodies. It is about setting our intentions for the coming week. Taking a moment to meditate on the meal we are about to eat, and what benefits it will have to our minds, our physical bodies, and our spirits. It is also about understanding that the food we take in are the calories that we need to exist, and that those calories should mirror the people we want to be.

Healthy Mondays is ultimately a way to treat ourselves with dignity. Bringing the idea to The Franciscan Center means taking some time to educate our clients about the nutritional needs they have, and how being mindful about food can translate into being mindful about the other aspects of their lives. It is a way to enhance the self awareness, and to grow self-dignity within a population that is forgotten, ignored, and undervalued.

We would encourage you to bring Healthy Monday into your life. Take a moment at the beginning of your week to set your intentions. Look at the choices you make for the week and how they effect your body, mind and spirit: then choose to create a healthy balanced world around you.

Written by Heather L. Newman

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Mother, A Sister, and A Nurse.

Some time ago a Sister from St. Francis came to The Franciscan Center and met with Judy, the director of Responsive Services. The tiny woman held a crisp white envelope out for Judy. On the front, in small shaky block letting it said, "For a mother with child/children."

Tucked inside was fifty dollars. A heartfelt gift, for someone to come. Judy took the envelope and placed it into her desk, and into the back of her mind. Saving the envelope for just the right moment.

Months later a woman entered the center, and found herself sitting at Judy's desk, answering questions from the Social Worker. "What is it that you need?" asked Judy.

The woman's only request was for help paying for a Maryland ID. The Responsive Services had a few funds to help her with her only expressed need. It was when Judy looked into her eyes and listened to her tell her story, that she learned of the woman's true needs.

She and her two small children had just moved to Baltimore from Virginia, they were barely making ends meet. Her only income, a small disability benefit for one of the little girls. Emotion rose in her face as she explained that rent eats up most of those funds. When Judy asked why the mother hadn't found work she went on to explain that she has a LPN license in the state of Virginia, but it doesn't transfer to Maryland, and thus isn't able to find work in her new home.

Judy looked across her desk at this mother, trying so diligently to take care of her little ones. Striving to build a life in our city: trying to live with dignity.  And she asked the question, "How much does it cost to get your license here?"  The mother told her it was only a hundred dollars, but that she just couldn't afford it.

And that is when the moment arrived.

She reached into her desk and pulled out the crisp envelope with block lettering. Leaning slightly over the desk Judy explained to the mother that she had $50.00 dollars to get her started, and that with another $50.00 from The Franciscan Center's Emergency Services Funds, we would be able to help her get her Maryland nursing license.

The mother's eyes welled up with tears, as she looked at the funds that would help her on her way to a self-sufficient life. One where she could take care of her two children. She hugged Judy, wrapping her arms around the woman that had a white envelope of hope.

That small heartfelt gift changed a family. It is the gifts small and large, and the love with which we give them, that enables The Franciscan Center to impact the lives within our community. And, it is the genuine care, that you find in the Social Workers, Volunteers, and Staff that make this place like no other.

Written by: Heather L. Newman

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