Caroline Center gives hope, training to the needy Nuns bless, dedicate renovated building


Desiree Jackson needs more than a job. She needs a career.

The 41-year-old single mother of four says she can't make ends )) meet with the meager wages she earns as a companion for the elderly, so she has enrolled in a job training program at the Caroline Center in East Baltimore.

The Caroline Center is run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, an order of Roman Catholic nuns. They held a blessing and dedication ceremony at the center at 900 Somerset St. yesterday to celebrate its long-awaited opening.

Twenty-five women attend free classes in the three-story structure, honing their typing and computer skills and improving their knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic.

"I made a commitment to come here because I want my children to see me as a positive role model," said Jackson, who was one of the first people to join the center. "I don't want them to think it's OK to settle for an entry-level position if they're able to achieve more."

Membership at the Caroline Center has its privileges -- members may do laundry at the center free, and day care is provided for their children -- but the program is designed to teach responsibility.

"We ask every member to volunteer one hour of service to the center for every eight hours she attends classes," said Sister Kathleen Feeley, the center's executive director. "It helps us run the center and gives the women some job experience."

It took more than two years of planning and prayer to create the Caroline Center. The building, once a novitiate -- the quarters assigned to young women being trained for religious life -- was abandoned by the School Sisters of Notre Dame 23 years ago and fell into disrepair. The Caroline Center opened Nov. 4, after new heating, plumbing and electrical systems were installed.

Construction costs were covered by a $400,000 challenge grant from the state of Maryland, $200,000 in community bond funds from the city of Baltimore and $725,000 in private donations. The funds raised also will help pay operating expenses for two years.

"We felt it was a shame to let the building stand vacant in an area with so many needs," said Feeley, who retired four years ago as president of the College of Notre Dame.

Inspired by the work of its founder, Mother Caroline Friess, who established the Institute of Notre Dame more than 100 years ago, the School Sisters of Notre Dame decided to transform the decaying building into a women's job-training center.

"Our mission is to educate women so that they are able to attain jobs that pay a living wage, have benefits and offer an opportunity for advancement," said Feeley, who divides her time between the Caroline Center and her part-time position as the city's special education chief. "We are working to help women fulfill their potential and improve the lives of their children."

The classes already have paid off for Jackson, who was hired Monday to work in the center's day care facility. "I'm really excited about starting my new job," Jackson said. "I hope to one day own my own day care center. This is the first step toward that goal."

Pub Date: 12/06/96

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