By TIM BULLARD
KINGSTREE — Young people gathered on Thorn Avenue last Sunday as the work of the Felician Sisters from the St. Ann Outreach Center came to fruition with the Safe Place dedication.
Sister M. Susanne Dziedzic and Sister M. Johnna Ciezobka, co-directors of the center, were happy to see the work completed and dedicated. The Safe Place area includes a basketball court, a large concrete playground and a covered gathering space.
Sister Susanne welcomed the group and gave a history of the project, and Father Jerry Ward, sacramental priest of St. Ann Church, gave the opening prayer as the March sunshine illuminated the center’s new accommodations. Father Ward blessed the Safe Place area along with Deacon John Kiely, pastor administrator of St. Ann Church.
Onlookers from the street watched as those gathered celebrated a metamorphosis in what has been in the past a drug haven where crime in the street has been cleaned up due to community participation. Children were dressed up in their Sunday best and sang “Clap De Hands” and “Thanks Be To God” as the ribbon cutting was done by Sister Johnna, Sister Susanne and Sister Mary Jacob of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. The Sisters of Charity Foundation provided a grant for the Good Samaritan Project which helped start construction on the $25,000 effort last November.
Sister Mary Jacob talked about the address Jesus gave after the Sermon on the Mount, the story about an honest man, a foolish man and the need for a solid foundation.
“The wise man built his house on rock,” she said. “The foolish man built his house on sand. And when the storms came the winds blew hard, and the house blew over, and he had to start all over again. You should have a foundation of faith to live a good life and a life truly dedicated to God,” she said.
Sister M. Cabrini, provincial minister for the Felician Sisters, also spoke.
“Oh, it’s just wonderful. I can’t say enough. I’m thrilled that the sisters have been involved in providing a safe place for the children, especially when you see so much that is happening that endangers the lives of children. I remember August of 1992. There were young people already gathered. The word had spread the sisters were coming back. They wanted to know how soon the center was going to be open. We arrived here at 7:30 at night. And nothing, of course, was ready. And then the next day we picked up Sister Mary Susanne, who was coming from the Buffalo Province,” she said.
She then asked: “I guess my thoughts are, would both of you have ever dreamed on the day you arrived here that this mission would expand to this magnitude? The dedication really comes at a wonderful moment. I think it comes when the safety of children is almost paramount on our minds.” Sister M. Cabrini then pulled out a copy of the Parade magazine from the Sunday paper which focused on children as “Our Endangered Species.”
“The children are our best resource and the only hope that we have to work for the future. I say continue to dream. Continue the project. We’ll never know what we’ll be gathered here to dedicate five years from now or 10 years from now,” she stated.
In his remarks, Kingstree Mayor Russell Kellahan said, “It just kind of does something for you because in a community like ours that all these years we considered to be a safe place, the way the world has gone and things have happened, we all know that things aren’t just quite right. We know that efforts have to be made to rectify those problems and turn the situation around.”
Thanking the sisters, the mayor continued, “In city government, sometimes you feel like you have your hands tied. You feel so helpless at times. I really applaud your effort in making this area and this program a safe haven for young people. It is very noticed and very appreciated.”
“What a grand day this is,” said Richard Treme, Williamsburg County supervisor and former Kingstree police chief. “I can remember working with the Sheriff’s Department up and down Thorn Avenue trying to do something about the problems that we had. Now I am absolutely delighted to be here, and I can see the hand of the Lord is moving. The sisters have been working. Things have been moving.”
It’s like Russell said, Treme emphasized, “… Government cannot step in and do everything. We can’t do it. People are looking to us for everything…. We cannot be fathers and mothers. We can support programs. We can even put money in the programs sometimes. But it’s people that are going to make the difference. We thank the sisters for being down here. We thank you for the work you are doing.”
“I’m just really happy about it all. The kids are wonderful, and the people came out to support us. It’s a wonderful occasion,” said Sister Johnna. “Thorn Avenue still has a history of being a violent, drug-ridden street. If you travel down the road a bit, they actually come out on the road and stop you and ask if you want to buy drugs. Many of the kids live down in that area.”