For 5 years the Quinn Center was the most important part of the Golden Apple Scholars summer. You welcomed 30 pre-service young teachers into your Summer Program. They were able to teach every class that was offered--from science to music, math, reading--and included every age of the campus. Our scholars grew in all the areas of teacher preparation and learned the real definition of diversity and acceptance. For many, this was their first experience working with children of diverse ethnicity, economic backgrounds, and English language learners. They planned their lessons each day and truly looked forward to working with their “kids.” They grew to love them and respect them. This opportunity also gave our Scholars the time to learn about the amazing Monsignor Quinn and all he stood for. His story inspired these young people to embrace the differences, be strong and stand up, be the voice for those who do not have one.
Even today, as these Scholars look back, they all agree that their experiences at the Quinn Center were the very best of all their Summer Institutes. The Quinn Center is a very, very special place.
Thank you Quinn Center for your trust, cooperation, and the love we all felt. May you continue this journey.
Former Director, Golden Apple Institute
For me, there is no "magic moment" that I remember more than others that I experienced during my years of volunteering at the Quinn Center. The whole concept of forming a gathering place for the residents of Maywood/Broadview in the vacant St. Eulalia school was "magical"! My commitment started at the very beginning, in the fall of 2010, when our pastor at that time, Fr. Carmelo Mendez, envisioned a community center for the parish's neighbors, the residents of Maywood and Broadview, in the St. Eulalia school building and spoke to the parish council about the possibilities that could come to fruition in education, sports, fellowship and
community involvement. Having grown up in poor immigrant neighborhoods and public housing at a time when there weren't many options available for community engagement and constructive activities for kids, I could relate to Fr. Carmelo's proposal and immediately connected to it.
His ideas came alive and the school building became the Quinn Community Center, named to honor Msgr. Bill Quinn and his passionate involvement throughout his religious life with the poor and disadvantaged and the many social injustices they faced in their lives. As a member of the parish Human Concerns committee and as site coordinator for the West Suburban PADS program, I, along with other parish and committee members, were asked to meet with the newly hired, part-time director of the center, Gabriel Lara, to plan a calendar of programs, activities and other functions for the center to offer to the community. While those more structured programs were being formed, we immediately began after school tutoring programs, ESL classes, dance classes, music lessons and expanded food pantry and soup kitchen programs, all staffed and organized by volunteers.
One of the "magic" memories for me is that Gabriel was the only paid staff member of the Quinn Center. All the programs and activities that became part of the Center were conceived and managed by volunteers! I taught ESL to a group of mostly Latina women and some of their spouses and other family members. This first core group of women were about to begin a journey of much growth and independence through programs that were developed specifically for women as the Center grew. I really enjoyed getting to know those wonderful women through that class; however, my real commitment of volunteering at the Center began with the formation of the first summer program for kids the following July.
I was asked to work with the little ones, ages 5-8, finding something fun, yet meaningful, for them to do. I facilitated an art program for them, having absolutely no art talent myself. I came up with the idea of making greeting cards from the limited supplies we had that first year – construction paper, markers and glitter! We created the cards, sent them to shut-ins and disabled veterans at Hines hospital nearby and prayed for those receiving our cards. Those kids, young as they were, "got it". The enthusiasm, kindness and understanding they showed in doing something that they understood would make someone else feel loved and appreciated really sealed the deal for me in my desire to be involved. How could you not fall in love with these innocent little ones in their simple act of caring for others, as the Gospels tells us we all must live ! The summer program has grown and remained a valuable option for the community and their families over the past ten years and I still remember with fondness and gratitude the opportunity I had to be part of those early, formative years.
The "magic moments" continued as I began spending more time at the Center. Gabriel had his hands full juggling program planning, administrative tasks, building a donor base, recording and thanking donors and sponsors, seeking grants and establishing relationships with donors, community and corporate sponsors. I had plenty of free time in the evening after my work day ended, so I began to help him with some of those responsibilities. I never saw them as tasks; for me, it was more a labor of love for the Quinn Center and all who entered its doors to help it prosper and that gave back to me much more than I ever gave to the Center. New cherished and enduring friendships; so many opportunities to expand and embrace peoples of other cultures, their traditions, their dreams , their struggles and fears, their family lives, all enriched my life and helped me to grow; the opportunity to use my business skills and implement my justice oriented value system to cultivate like-minded donors and sponsors and the opportunity to welcome other faith congregations and community organizations to share our space in spreading their voice – interaction upon interaction – all empowered and solidified my Catholic beliefs – enabling me to continue choosing to live my life as God asks of us. (Matthew 25:40).
Some of my favorite memories revolve around that first group of Latina women in my ESL class and their families. These families and their commitment to the programs and activities provided to them through the Quinn Center, remain a fond memory for me to this day. I smile when I think back to what a typical evening at the Center was like. The kids were in tutoring, music, dance, art or sports programs; the hallways and gym and lower level were filled with their laughter and presence. The hallway walls became showcases for their art, of which they were so proud. Meanwhile their moms were also in the building, participating in English classes, teaching each other sewing and cooking skills, or attending programs presented by community and advocacy groups on empowerment, domestic violence, leadership skills, business skills, childcare and faith formation. Some of their husbands were often around the premises as well, learning English or computer skills, cleaning and repairing the building, acting as a security presence when the building was occupied and at community events. It was a joy to witness this once empty, decaying building come alive day after day, moment by moment, in this now vital community formed by so many who were living their lives in joy and gratitude for the opportunities presented to them.
On Tuesday evenings, many of those families would eat supper at the soup kitchen, facilitated by Martha Minnich and her dedicated team of volunteers and then move upstairs to the programs and activities waiting for them, once again staffed by the most dedicated volunteers from within the parish, within the Maywood/Broadview communities and other parishes and community organizations. We experienced many "magic moments" in that once darkened building on 8th avenue that was now a gathering place of peace, love, friendship and encouragement for all who entered. We were witness to Fr. Carmelo Mendez's vision, and Fr. Bill Quinn's legacy, coming to fulfillment at the Quinn Center. I feel all of us, the participants and the volunteers, came away from those experiences with so much richness, growth and fulfillment in our lives by being part of the evolvement of the Center.
Congratulations and blessings to Kristen and all the current volunteers and community participants and prayers of thanksgiving for the passion and foresight of Msgr. Bill Quinn, Fr. Carmelo Mendez and Gabriel Lara in making the "magic moments" come to life for so many at the Quinn Center of St. Eulalia parish in Maywood Illinois.
Mary Ellen O'Donnell
former parishioner, volunteer and founding board member of the Quinn Center
Visit this website and scroll to the right for beautiful photos of the Quinn Center's opening mass, dedication, and open house.
I am Tom Fuechtmann, a member of St. Eulalia parish for over 17 years. I do not live within the typical parish boundaries of Broadview-Maywood, but I was attracted to the parish because of the strong sense of welcoming community that has always been its hallmark. In the liturgy at St. Eulalia, divisions of race, ethnicity, gender faded away, modeling the kind of united, sharing community that Jesus calls us to be. It has often been said that 10:00 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America – except at St. Eulalia. That is why it became my spiritual home. For about 7 years, I was privileged to work with Gabriel Lara and some remarkable people in growing the Quinn Center out of the empty classrooms of a shutdown school building.
This week, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Quinn Center, I would like to reflect briefly on two of its foundational elements: its name, honoring Msgr. William Quinn, and its logo, the loaves and fishes
The Quinn Center was conceived and nourished in the experience of St. Eulalia. I feel that very strongly, since I was there at the Quinn Center’s origin.
Ten years ago in 2010, the school building was largely empty and unused except for occasional parish functions and the once a week soup kitchen and food pantry. The pastor, Father Carmelo, took the courageous step of re-thinking the building’s function as a community center for an outreach toward the social needs of the neighboring community. He hired Gabriel Lara, at first on a very part-time basis, to make something happen. And that is quite simply how the Quinn Center started. There was no strategic plan, no over-arching vision; just the mandate to “do something.” And that’s where I got involved.
Gabriel was looking for a connecting link to the parish. I was chairing the parish council’s Human Concerns Committee. Gabriel welcomed the invitation to join our committee for someone to talk with about creating and shaping this new parish enterprise. Over the next 7 years I partnered with Gabriel by creating successive committees to build an organizational structure for the Quinn Center to support its sustainability.
The Quinn Center may have started without a plan, but it did already have a name. And that name contributed significantly toward shaping the vision and the goals for the new center. Naming the center after Fr. Bill Quinn, the almost legendary pastor from 1967 to 1984, gave the center a legacy from the past and a mission for the future.
In 2010, many parishioners still remembered Bill Quinn. He came to St. Eulalia after years of working at the upper echelons of the Catholic Church organization. For 11 years, he served as the American bishops contact person with the bishops of Latin America. He attended 2 sessions of Vatican II, and provided a critically important link between the bishops of North and South America, in a period when there was little connection. And then in 1967 he was posted to St. Eulalia as pastor. It was a very different world—ground level, so to speak--to which Quinn brought his wide experience of working on larger issues affecting the national and global church.
Quinn came to the parish at a critical point. Maywood was experiencing dramatic demographic change, as White residents moved out and Black residents moved in. Quinn strongly supported housing integration as a principle of justice. One anecdote is illustrative: a parishioner told the pastor that he had a gun with 2 bullets—one for the Black that would move in next door, and one for the real estate agent that sold him the property. Quinn made it clear that such an attitude no place within St. Eulalia. Quinn’s firm position on integration within the parish was echoed by his participation at the national level. He marched several times with Martin Luther King, and was a close friend and advisor to Cesar Chavez, who stayed at the parish when he visited Chicago.
Quinn could be firm, but he was also open. His strategy for effecting change was not to build walls, but to generate dialogue. He was a consummate people person who talked to everyone. Parish staff remember that there was always someone waiting to talk with him at the parish office. And if no one was there, he would call someone to go have coffee or lunch. His strategy for healing division was to get people talking– with him, and across the parish. It took time, but the result was a unified parish community.
Quinn wanted the parish to be generous in helping with people’s needs. He formed the program ECHO – Eulalia Community Helping Others, providing a food pantry, secondhand clothing exchange, cribs for expectant mothers, job search support. He wanted Eulalia to be a caring community. He himself was a model of selfless generosity. An oft-told story provides an example. He never spent money on himself, getting his clothes second-hand. One winter, his coat was so frayed that a parishioner bought him a new one. A week later he was back to wearing the old one. When asked about it, he admitted he had given the new one to a homeless man who came to the door and needed a coat.
Many people who knew Bill Quinn personally have said that the Quinn Center is the only thing he would be happy to have his name on. As a start-up strategy, the name provided direction. Ten years later, the operational model of the Center has become much more articulated. His name and his active presence remain no less an inspiration.
The logo the Center has adopted and now formalized in a graphic design is in the spirit of Quinn as well. In the early years, the Center had no funding independent from the parish budget. But people working in the Center gradually came to recognize a pattern: even when there was no money, program goals somehow were accomplished with unexpected resources. We began to understand it as a “loaves and fishes” phenomenon, after the Gospel story in Luke & Mathew. When Jesus, after teaching a large crowd on a hillside, told the disciples to give the people something to eat, all they could come up with was 5 loaves of bread and two fish, in the hands of a young boy. Jesus blessed the food, and had the disciples distribute it. Thousands were fed, and much was left over.
Many stories over the last ten years fit this pattern from the Gospel. A favorite story of mine: One Tuesday, an outside group that had volunteered to provide food for the Soup Kitchen called late in the afternoon to say they would be unable to fulfill their commitment. While staff were worriedly trying to come up with an alternative, the phone rang. It was the director of catering at Buona Beef saying they had just had a catering order cancelled, and asking if the Center could use the food. A “coincidence”? Hardly. I have to believe that so much of the success of the Quinn Center is doing what the Lord asks, and having faith in Him to multiply our few loaves and fishes. I would say that the Center’s current distribution of over 400 food baskets every Tuesday demonstrates the power of faith pictured in that logo.
Remember -- The name is the mission. The logo is the strategy. And the miracle we have all been part of is the Quinn Center 10 years later.
Congratulations and a big Thank You to Gabriel Lara and Kristen Mighty and everyone whose hands and heart have made the Quinn Center what it is today.
My journey with the Quinn Center began with an ask from Gabriel to donate supplies for the children and be a tutor on Thursday nights. We did more than homework. The children were offered classes in computer, music, art, dance, photography and robotics. We also encouraged them through writing. They kept journals. The writing exercises strengthen and gave them a voice. We also taught the children to give back to the community. They made get well cards for the sick and Christmas cards for the homeless who ride the trains all night.
Many of the children continue to come to the Quinn Center. They have worked with the Summer Camp as teen counselors.
In June 2013, we printed a year book style booklet for the children. The book was titled We Have A Dream. We read and made selections from their stories, letters and poems. I have attached the last chapter from the booklet, Letters to Father Carmelo.
As we continue on our journey, we must remember to pray for the children, their families and their community.
It has been a true blessing to watch the Quinn Center grow in these 10 years.
-Vivian Harris, current Board member