By Michael J. Daly, CT Post
(This article originally appeared on the CT Post website. Caroline House is one of our province's sponsored ministries.)
The young mothers come four days a week to the inviting banana-yellow Victorian house at 574 Stillman St., deep in the East Side of Bridgeport.
With them, they bring their children and their dreams for a better life.
The house is just a couple of doors down from Los Muchachos Grocery at the corner of Pembroke Street in a mélange of a neighborhood.
Even on this gray weekday morning, the occasional dogwood flares in flamingo pink; newly sided, well-maintained homes sit on blocks with burned structures, their first-floor windows barricaded with plywood.
Concertina wire laces through the tops of fences. TV satellite dishes prickle off the triple-decker and six-family tenements. And even early on a Friday morning, men stand idly outside the Juncos and bodegas that dot the neighborhood.
School children laugh as they enter Achievement First Bridgeport Academy, down the block at 655 Stillman.
The banana-yellow Victorian is Caroline House, a mission run since 1995 by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
It is a place for immigrant women who need help.
Many of the 60-some women who take classes to learn or improve their English skills, though not all of them, are mothers. A sign hanging on the front door says “Welcome” — in eight languages. The welcome is for all, regardless of their status. It is a place for women to learn the language of their new country and a little about the culture, the way of life.
For those who are mothers, while they attend classes upstairs led by Sisters Kate, Betty, Lorraine and Mary, four teachers, Caroline House runs a preschool program on the first floor, in a tidy classroom and kitchen at the back of the house.
Jean Fredericks, 76, of Stratford, is the director of the preschool program. She retains a bit of the accent of her native Bronx. Her warmth is palpable, and the children gravitate to her like moons circling a comforting planet.
Fredericks, assisted by a corps of volunteers, including students from the University of Bridgeport, Fairfield and Sacred Heart universities, Fairfield Prep and suburban women, works with a current group of 15 youngsters ranging in age from 2 to 6 years old.
They celebrated Mother’s Day at Caroline House on Thursday. When the mothers picked up the children at the end of the day, the kids presented the moms gift bags of toiletries donated by the mothers of Prep students.
These are kids — and mothers — who don’t often see nicely staged presents, particularly the gaily wrapped soaps, body washes and shampoos that would be nearly unthinkable extravagances in their homes.
“Their budgets don’t allow for many treats,” Fredericks said. “These women,” she said, “their children are the foremost things in their lives.
“They have a lot of weight piled on them. Keeping their kids safe, having them learn, providing food, adequate heat, that kind of thing.”
Caroline House encourages kids and mothers to read every night for half an hour.
After classes and working, they may be too tired to read to their children.
“I’ll ask the kids in the morning if they read last night, and they might say ‘Poppy read to me last night,’” she said. “I love it when I hear that, that the father is involved,” she added.
To help with the reading, Caroline House provides a kit that includes a book and a CD version of the book. Spending that half-hour a night with the written version and the oral version helps both mothers and children absorb both the meanings and sounds of the English words.
Mothers are soul, if I may paraphrase Joey “The Lip” Fagan, of The Commitments. And, of course, the good people of Caroline House are doing their bit to support them.
Happy Mother’s Day.