WASHINGTON (February 19, 2004) -- Sr. Petra Chavez, RSM, will receive the Year 2004 Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award for her efforts to empower low-income immigrant women through access to computer training. The national award is given annually by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, and will be presented here February 22.
Sr. Petra is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of CAMINOS/Pathways Learning Center in San Francisco. CAMINOS is a computer education and career training program that prepares Latina women from 22 countries to qualify for jobs in the technology field. Courses range from basic typing to common office software, webpage design, E-marketing and computer repair. Students also write resumes, practice job interviews and work in internships. Classes are taught in Spanish, but students are required to study English to enhance their marketability beyond the Spanish-speaking community.
Sister Petra, a Sister of Mercy of the Omaha province, has a background in education and administration and has spent the last 25 years working with refugees and immigrants. During her 12 years with the Central American Resource Center in San Francisco, Sr. Petra saw that the Latina women with whom she worked could not take advantage of the technological boom that buoyed the area. "Seventy percent of the new jobs in this city require computer skills," says Sr. Petra, "but the immigrant Latinas didn't have the time or the opportunity to learn the computer. Most had fled their home countries without finishing grammar school and were working as housecleaners, earning minimum wage or less."
With help from her religious community, Sr. Petra opened CAMINOS/Pathways Learning Center in 1999 and now enrolls more than 200 women each year, filling classrooms to capacity. CAMINOS graduates have taken jobs throughout the Bay area and many have quadrupled their wages, according to Sr. Petra. The CAMINOS board of directors is composed primarily of students and graduates. Already, one graduate, who came to CAMINOS at a neighbor's suggestion, has become the center's computer repair instructor. She continued to support her family as a housecleaner while she took the courses, and encouraged her daughter and daughter-in-law to enroll.
The program's success has spread through word of mouth, says Sr. Petra. "Some of the women are so happy with what they've learned that they carry fliers in their purses and invite women they meet on the bus or in the laundromat to come visit." Sr. Petra says that grant money from CCHD has helped to leverage other donations and fund in-house feasibility studies to examine some of the ideas suggested by the students. "We taught the women how to do the feasibility studies, rather than hiring someone from the outside. One study showed that a computer-repair program would be successful – and it is," she says. "Another helped us see that a childcare center would not work at this time, but we haven't ruled it out for the future."
Sr. Petra was nominated for the award by Melanie Piendak, CCHD Coordinator for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Ms. Piendak says that Sr. Petra's vision includes helping Latina women empower themselves, build community and mold leaders. "She works with a determined grace and is integral to keeping the organization moving forward, "says Ms. Piendak. "CAMINOS is responding to the needs of the times and expanding with the help of networking Sr. Petra has done with businesses in the community."
The Sister Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award, named in memory of the late Presentation Sister who served as executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and a member of the Catholic Bishops' Committee for CCHD, honors an individual whose life exemplifies a commitment to the development of people and the elimination of poverty. Recipients of this award have made significant contributions to human development and have offered heroic responses to the needs of the economically disadvantaged. The award was established in 1987 and was called the Development of People Award until 1997, when it was renamed in Sister Margaret Cafferty's honor.
Fr. Robert Vitillo, CCHD Executive Director, said, "Sr. Petra has devoted 25 years to helping low-income immigrants empower themselves to take their place in the community to which they contribute so much through their hard work and creativity. Her particular commitment to mentorship programs is a striking example of CCHD's mission to offer a hand up to people actively working to break the cycle of poverty. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is proud to include CAMINOS among its grantees, and we look forward to seeing what innovative programs the students, staff and graduates will develop next."
CCHD is the largest private funder of anti-poverty programs controlled by the poor in the United States. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Campaign in 1970 to support self-help efforts of low-income people, to address the root causes of poverty and bring to life both Scripture and the Church's social teaching. Since then, CCHD has distributed more than $260 million in grants to more than 4,000 projects dedicated to helping people overcome their own poverty.
Fr. Vitillo will present the award to Sister Petra on Sunday, February 22, at the opening of the Annual Combined Social Ministry Meeting in Washington, DC.
For additional information or to request a color photo file of Sister Petra via e-mail, contact Barbara Stephenson, CCHD, 202-541-3364, email@example.com.