Franciscan Peacemakers—Helping and Serving Women
By Kathy Gaillard Deacon Steve Przedpelski, Executive Director, and Mary Leach-Sumlin, Associate Director of Franciscan Peacemakers have followed their passion in life—working with women to help them on […]
By Kathy Gaillard
Deacon Steve Przedpelski, Executive Director, and Mary Leach-Sumlin, Associate Director of Franciscan Peacemakers have followed their passion in life—working with women to help them on a pathway to sustainable, healthy and safe lives.
Franciscan Peacemakers was founded almost thirty years ago by Fr. Bob Wheelock, pastor of St. Elizabeth Church, and Fr. Mike Sullivan, pastor of St. Ben’s Church. Deacon Przedpelski later joined them. Franciscan Peacemeakers connects women survivors of sexual exploitation and trauma to safe housing, meaningful work, and a healing network of support. The overarching goal is to end human sex trafficking through service and advocacy.
“I worked in corporate for several years and I did not feel that I was making a difference in anyone’s life. I wanted to do something that was helpful for others. If we can help one woman succeed and go on to change her life, it makes it all worthwhile,” said Leach-Sumlin.
Deacon Przedpelski agrees.
“I’ve been doing this work for 28 years now and I’ve experienced the loss of some of the women; women who have died trying to turn their lives around. But when women see the potential in themselves, it just confirms that every person is worth the investment. Some of these women work for us now. That keeps me going. That becomes a motivator or me to continue, even in the face of some of the destruction that we see,” he said.
Franciscan Peacemakers operates on a ‘no-judgment’ premise. The outreach team goes into neighborhoods where street prostitution actively occurs, passing out bag lunches and personal care items, and offering a listening ear and hugs. They sometimes provide referrals to agencies able to address the complexity of women’s needs given some of their histories of trauma and abuse, serving them all the time with the goal of building their trust.
In addition Franciscan Peacemakers operates a residential facility for women who want to turn their lives around. Called Clare Community, the facility provides a two-year, spiritually based program that provides rent-free housing to women who live in the facility full-time during their recovery and healing. The program enables women to transform their lives while helping them build employment skills, confidence, and a strong network of support.
“Sometimes the women relapse so trying to help someone or talk someone into believing that they deserve help or convincing them to come back can be challenging. We always tell them that just because you fall, you don’t have to wallow. We want them to succeed and thrive,” said Leach-Sumlin.
Franciscan Peacemakers also operates a social enterprise where they sell soaps, lotions, and candles to support their programming, while simultaneously providing job training skills to the women.
“We teach women how to make the bath products and sell them at various events such as craft fairs and farmers’ markets, but only to their level of comfort. They are paid for working and required to save a portion of their earnings so that when they complete the program, they have funds to start living independently,” said Leach-Sumlin.
“I challenge people to get involved in their immediate neighborhood and stay involved. Individuals who work together can foster change. When everyone does their part and keeps pushing change does happen,” said Deacon Przedpelski.
Franciscan Peacemakers and staff are doing their part to facilitate that change and they can use volunteers and donations to help ensure they continue positively changing the trajectory of the women they serve. They are diamonds, helping, serving and showing women the pathway to a better and brighter future.
For more information about Franciscan Peacemakers or to purchase their bath items, visit their website at www.franciscanpeacemakers.org/