Whaling City presents Sister Rose Award to city native
who remains dedicated to the plight of the homeless


By Dave Jolivet
Anchor Editor
davejolivet@anchornews.org

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Sometimes it takes years of life experiences to mold someone into the person they become. Other times it’s evident even in childhood.

Raymond Duarte, manager of Sister Rose House, an emergency shelter in New Bedford, and a lifelong resident of the city took the plight of homeless individuals to heart early on in life.

“I can recall riding my bicycle as a child around the city,” he told The Anchor. “When I ran into a homeless individual I would ride home as fast as I could and make a brown-bag lunch for the homeless person.

“My favorite situation would be to see somebody sleeping and if I could put the brown bag next to the individual without waking them and leave, then it made me feel like Santa Claus.”

It’s that frame of mind that carried Duarte into adulthood and eventually led him to Sister Rose House, named for Mercy Sister Mary Rosellen Gallogly, who was a vital force for many years in serving the needs of the homeless in the Whaling City.

Sister Rose, in 1982, assumed the directorship of Market Ministries Meals and Shelter, which eventually found a home at the former St. Hedwig’s Church under the auspices of the Fall River Diocese’s Catholic Social Services. The home was named in her honor in 2016.

Duarte carries the same spirit, work ethic and dedication that Sister Rose exhibited in her endless efforts to assist those in need.

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Duarte, who has been involved with Catholic Social Services since 2012, was recently recognized for his dedication to the homeless by his hometown. The Whaling City’s Homeless Service Providers Network presented him with the Sister Rose Award, given annually to an individual in the New Bedford area who exemplifies dedication and compassion in all aspects of their lives and carrying out the mission of the HSPN.

“We at Catholic Social Services are so proud of Ray,” Susan Mazzarella, CEO of the diocesan CSS told The Anchor. “He embodies our mission with grace and quiet dignity. Ray is positive and uplifting; he exudes compassion, respect, and deep caring for all who come to the Sister Rose Network for assistance. He honors their journey, supports them to obtain resources, and instills a sense of hope. Ray is most deserving of this award and its recognition of his achievements.”

Rather than talk about receiving the award, Duarte, in an interview with The Anchor, expressed his gratitude to those who have and continue to influence him. “I am blessed to have a loving family that raised me to be a good person,” he said. “Whatever I do to help others is purely from the heart and I do it because I want to. It is needed, and people should help if they’re able to do so.

“If I wasn’t able to understand what blessings are, I still would do everything I have ever done to help others. It is a blessing to feel good and I get that from helping others.

“I would say one of the biggest blessings I experience is the amount of support we receive from volunteers, the donations that just keep coming and the endless amount of good people who want to get involved and do something.”

Duarte, who has been a parishioner of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in New Bedford since childhood, came on board at CSS in 2012 as a direct care staffer. “I merely applied for a job just to supplement my income as my main job at the time was being a barber at a local barbershop,” he told The Anchor.

Several times he was offered a full-time position with CSS but enjoyed his job as a barber.

But as time passed the tugging at his heart led him to work full time with CSS. He worked for two years in a shelter and was approached by then-Karen Ready (now Flashner) to become program manager at Sister Rose House.

Flashner was being offered the position of coordinator of the Sister Rose Network that includes several emergency shelters in the diocese, but was reluctant to leave her role as Sister Rose’s program manager unless Duarte took over for her. “Karen and I worked in the shelter together for some time,” said Duarte. “I guess I gave a good impression which lead to a great partnership working together to serve those in need.”

The position included many administrative duties that are vital to effectively run an emergency shelter. But there is also the human relations element that is so crucial to help someone get back on their feet again.

“Service plans are created to ensure that we have at least a plan on how to transition any individual back to stability and have a place called home within 90 days,” Duarte explained. “For many of our guests, this can be such a huge challenge based on many factors such as extremely low income, mental health and substance abuse issues to say the least.

“Through my time here at Sister Rose House I have developed knowledge of issues related to homelessness, oppressed and traumatized populations and experience with the cultures within a diverse population.”

Duarte told The Anchor that the guests at Sister Rose House and other emergency shelters, deal not only with the homelessness, but the stigmas and prejudices that came come with it.

“Most people do want to be heard and understood and here at Sister Rose House part of staff trainings include development with interaction, patience and understanding,” he said. “Many times homeless individuals will share with us how they have been cursed at, or abused or belittled to say the least. Imagine the feeling of being alone, cold, desperate and feeling worthless. This can be a common understanding within the homeless populations and a great deal of the worthless feeling is tied to the words that are used towards these individuals. Eventually those words can change the outlook, confidence and determination of any individual. 

“Words do carry a vibration and we have to choose our words wisely as those very words can also bring about a lot of good. Those words can strengthen and rebuild one’s confidence and belief that everybody is special as God created us. Everybody has a story and is unique in their own special way. If we can realize that, and use that outlook through communication to build character, then our very words became like medicine and remedy the Spirit or soul.”

The guests are also assisted in other ways, including learning life skills they may have forgotten or never learned such as washing clothes, good hygiene practices and helping out with chores.

Duarte takes great pride in the fact that Sister Rose House is fortunate enough to have raised beds for gardening. “We have become a nation that wants things fast and forgot the wonderful things that happen when we let Mother Nature take her time and be patient,” Duarte said. “Here at Sister Rose House we let Mother Nature take her time and produce organic, highly-nutritious fruits and vegetables. Our guests are able to go into our raised beds, pick some veggies and incorporate those veggies into the nightly dinner that is planned.”

When folks are ready to transition into the mainstream, Duarte and his staff help individuals look for jobs and apartments. At times they even provide suits for interviews and Duarte offers haircuts at a local barbershop where he works.

Duarte told The Anchor that those who transition back into society are often very thankful and appreciative of what was done for them.

“Some guests also don’t know how to accept good in their life because of all the bad that has happened,” he said. “It usually takes more time and many more returns to shelter before there is progress and change of outlook. 

“Some individuals come back to visit and tell us how good they are doing. Many over the years have also come back and applied for a job so they give back what was given to them. A lot of times, the best staff are those who have similar experiences or been homeless themselves.”

Since he began with CSS, Duarte has seen a change in some of the trends of homelessness. He has seen a decline in the number of veterans who are homeless, but an increase in the number of elderly victims. “With changes in cost of living, medical setbacks, loss of spouses or no family, the numbers have been increasing over the years,” he explained. “It would be nice to have a medically fragile shelter for our elders as the needs are exceeding the scope of services at the shelter level. In some cases elders are being sent to shelter when they actually might have needed a rehabilitation facility and that’s a disservice to our elders.”

He has also seen an increase of victims of the opioid crisis and also an increase in youth homelessness. “Catholic Social Services is fortunate to have the St. Kilian’s youth program for males from ages 18 to 25.”

Another major problem not to be overlooked is the havoc inclement weather can cause on those who live on the streets.

“The rough estimate is that there are between 48 and 53 individuals who are not accessing shelter at any given time,” said Duarte. “So to meet the needs of those individuals on the coldest nights, we are fortunate to have what is called the ‘Overflow.’ The overflow shelter is our inclement shelter that opens when the temperature is expected to be at 28 degrees or below. The overflow is in the soup kitchen area of Sister Rose House and we are able to take in an additional 30 guests on any given night.”

This is the third year of the overflow availability at Sister Rose House. The first year it was open for 43 nights, and 73 nights during the second season. So far this year, so early in the season the doors have been opened several times. “The more nights we open the better and it sits well in our hearts to know that nobody is perishing outside in the frigid temperatures,” said Duarte. “I would definitely say it is a blessing to have the overflow and we truly are hopeful to keep it open.”

Duarte is proud to be part of Catholic Social Services and all it accomplishes for so many who are in need in so many different ways. 

“We have a new CEO, Susan Mazzarella, and vice president, Mateus Barbosa, who are working diligently to expand, develop and fulfill our mission which is to continue to reach out and save lives,” said Duarte.

He added, “All I would ask of the readers is take time in your daily lives and appreciate all the good that is before you. Don’t focus on the bad. Really think of all the blessings God has given to you and if you can give back in any way, it doesn’t always have to be money, sometimes it’s just a moment of your time. Then thank you for that and God will take care of the rest.”

The overflow feature at Sister Rose House is funded by the city of New Bedford and Rise Up For Homes that was created by HSPN, created by Sister Rose herself. Overflow is dependent on donations that can be sent to Rise Up For Homes, Sister Rose House, 71 Division Street, New Bedford, Mass. 02744.

Volunteers who would like to get involved are encouraged to call Duarte at Sister Rose House at 508-997-3202.

For more information on all the works Catholic Social Services does, visit cssdioc.org or call 508-674-4681.


© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts