September 15, 2015

Foundation and outreach ministries in South Carolina featured on front page of The State

The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, published a front page feature on Sunday, September 12th, about the impact and continuing mission of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, Healthy Learners, and the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families. All three of these nonprofit entities carry forward a commitment to serving unmet needs of individuals, families and communities as established by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine as part of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

Read The State's full story below or at

Despite hospital sale, Catholic sisters’ presence
remains strong in SC


• The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine is selling Providence hospitals to for-profit company

• Sisters’ mission work continues through three ministries: children’s health, fatherhood and grant-making

• Meeting needs of poverty will be sisterhood’s lasting legacy in SC



SEPTEMBER 12, 2015

As appears at


LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC – The men and women sit facing one another in a circle of chairs, eating submarine sandwiches and drinking sodas while they talk about their kids, kindly tease one man for his child support drama, praise another for his recent joint custody victory.

The evening’s slideshow and discussion topics include successful work habits, earning, planning and managing money. It’s about work – but it’s not about work. Every lesson they learn is a lesson on how to be a better parent, how to have a better impact on their children’s lives.

“You want to attack everything with your best effort,” says Jermaine Johnson, an intervention specialist who leads the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition’s weekly fatherhood peer group in Lexington. “We don’t want to just do enough to get by. We don’t want to be mediocre. We want to excel.”

In many ways, from parenting and relationship skills to financial literacy to personal healthcare, the program is guiding them to bettering themselves and their families.

The story of this group – and dozens other family-building, health-caring, poverty-fighting initiatives like it across the state – started nearly 80 years ago with a group of nuns who saw a need and made a sacrifice to meet it.

The Catholic Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine are most well known in Columbia and across South Carolina for founding Providence Hospital in 1938 by mortgaging their Cleveland, Ohio, motherhouse. But they have since stamped a footprint far outside the bounds of the Providence hospital system.

The pending sale of Providence to for-profit hospital company LifePoint Health is not at all a sign the sisters are abandoning South Carolina. Their mission of fighting poverty will continue through a wide-reaching network of charity and nonprofit work throughout the state, which includes supporting one of the largest charitable grant-making organizations in South Carolina.

“Our mission is motivated by the healing mission of Jesus Christ. That’s who we are,” said Sister Judith Ann Karam, CSA, the congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, an order of nuns consisting of 36 sisters based in Ohio. “Health is defined in the broadest term, if you’re healing individuals, families and communities. That’s really what our mission is, is one of healing.”

The sisters have three continuing ministries in South Carolina – Healthy Learners, the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina, all operating under the umbrella of the Sisters of Charity Health System.

Only one sister lives full-time in South Carolina – the nuns have entrusted to laypeople the work of sustaining their mission in the Palmetto State. But that doesn’t diminish their drive.

“We find out what the needs are and what the unmet needs are by partnering with the community,” Sister Karam said. “If you’re attentive and you’re there to understand the community, you can’t help but see these unmet needs.”

S.C. Center for Fathers and Families

There were plenty of nights when Wayne Duncan cried himself to sleep over his son, whom he did not get to see for about three months because of a dispute with the boy’s mother, he said.

Just a couple weeks ago, Duncan won joint custody of 6-year-old Elijah, thanks in part to the support and encouragement of the Lexington fatherhood peer group led by the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition.

The group, a collection of roughly a dozen fathers and noncustodial mothers, come together each week because they want to or because they have to, required by the Department of Social Services or court order. What they have in common is a need and desire to be a positive presence in their children’s lives.

“We’re all in here together,” Duncan said. “We miss our children for one reason or another, whatever it is. But our children are still a part of our lives. ... I’m not alone here.”

Like the others in Duncan’s peer group, he wants and needs to be a part of his child’s life.

Absent fathers are no good for anyone, the sisters believe, and are one of the root issues behind generational poverty. That’s why, in 2002, the sisters founded the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families, an umbrella nonprofit that organizes and oversees other programs around the state, including the Midlands Fatherhood Coalition.

“The vast majority of fathers that we work with are not deadbeat,” said Pat Littlejohn of Columbia, executive director of the Center. “They’re really dead broke and have nowhere to turn. They’ve reached the end of their rope, and they deeply love their children and really want to do the right thing. So that’s where we come in.”

Through one-on-one training, group programs and statewide policy advocacy, the Center works to abolish absent fatherhood by teaching men – and noncustodial mothers, too – responsible parenting, spiritual development, job readiness, healthy relationships and personal health.

Its “Jobs Not Jail” initiative, for example, offers an alternative to incarceration for parents who fail to meet child support obligations, instead giving them the opportunity to receive personal and parental training.

“We respect this position of fatherhood,” Littlejohn said. “I believe every dad has it in him to be a good dad. And a lot of dads don’t see their own value. That’s part of what we have to say is, ‘Dude, do you have any idea how valuable you are?’”

Duncan knows how valuable.

Elijah has already given his dad orders that, the next weekend they spend together, they’ll visit the zoo and go fishing.

“Because I’m his daddy, he knows I love him,” Duncan said. “I work hard, and I’ve got some good attributes to give him. I don’t lie. I don’t steal. I don’t cheat nobody. I don’t do dope ... and keep God first no matter what. ... That’s the qualities I have in my life, and that’s what I want my son to have in him no matter what.”

Healthy Learners

“Algebra is hard enough without a toothache,” says Jo Pauling-Jones.

Health problems can be a major barrier to education, especially for children living in poverty, said Jones, executive director of the Columbia-based Healthy Learners.

Twenty-three years ago, the ministry was founded by the Sisters of Charity to help break down that education barrier that obstructs the path out of poverty.

“The impact of not having (eye)glasses, of being in a classroom and you can’t breathe because you don’t have asthma medication and your parents can’t afford to get that prescription filled – that’s what prevents you from learning,” Pauling-Jones said. “Our vision is that every child is able to reach their full potential. And you can reach your full potential if you’re healthy enough to do it.”

Healthy Learners is the oldest of the sisters’ ministries in South Carolina, with a goal of addressing what it believes is a root issue related to poverty in the state.

The ministry addresses a broad range of children’s health needs, including vision, dental, hearing and general practice medical care. Children in need from kindergarten to 12th grade who are identified by school nurses receive transportation to and from medical appointments and can get their prescriptions filled at no cost to their families, all while minimizing the amount of time they lose outside the classroom.

As a second-grader at Hopkins Elementary School in lower Richland County, Tyrell Singletary might not have been headed down a road of educational success.

He had trouble reading what was written on the whiteboards in class, and he struggled with headaches from squinting and straining his eyes.

Living with a single mother and two siblings at the time, Singletary, now 24, knows that prescription eyeglasses would have been a financial burden on his family.

In stepped Healthy Learners to get him a professional eye exam. A new pair of glasses proved to be the new outlook on education Singletary needed.

”It was a very good experience for me. It solved a very simple problem,” said Singletary, who lives in Columbia and is now considering pursuing medical school or a master’s degree in health administration. “My confidence in school increased. ... I started to get better grades. I was just doing all around better in school.”

Healthy Learners now partners with about 145 schools in 10 school districts across six counties – Richland, Lexington, Allendale, Dillon, Georgetown and Greenwood – serving some 1,500 children each year.

“What we do as a ministry of the sisters really is meeting an unmet healthcare need for children,” Pauling-Jones said. “(The sisters) set for us the example of making sure that we put others before ourselves, that our ministry is truly about the healing ministry of Jesus, making sure that we are providing to others what they cannot provide for themselves.”

Sisters of Charity Foundation of S.C.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina is a key funding mechanism for the sisters’ two other South Carolina ministries as well as dozens upon dozens of independent charities around the state each year.

Created in 1996 through funds from the sale of 50 percent of Providence (the sisters later bought back full ownership), the foundation has grown its principle to some $97 million that generates annual grant funds.

“We had an opportunity to really respond to the needs of the materially poor,” Sister Karam said. “We set up our foundation ... to really understand the needs of the community we serve and to be able to have systemic change related to the poor in South Carolina.”

One of the largest grant-making organizations in the state, the foundation has in 20 years awarded some $57 million through more than 2,000 grants to organizations that have included Harvest Hope Food Bank, Midlands Housing Alliance, Pawmetto Lifeline, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia and the Columbia Free Medical Clinic. The foundation also helps fund Healthy Learners and the Center for Fathers and Families.

In 2014, the foundation gave $1.8 million in grants to 155 organizations, the highest number of grants awarded in any year since the foundation’s inception.

“It’s a real economic engine in our nonprofit, faith-based community,” foundation president Tom Keith said.

For some of those organizations funded by the foundation, the goal is meeting situational needs caused by poverty, such as the work of Columbia’s Oliver Gospel Mission, which shelters, feeds and clothes homeless men. For others, the mission is carried out through programs that address root issues of poverty, such as education, kinship care and struggles of immigrant families.

In all of the work that’s done in their name, Keith said, the sisters have laid the foundation for a legacy of healing care that will continue beyond the sisters’ physical presence in the state.

“We’re all about social justice, and the sisters are all about social justice,” Keith said.

“Whatever we do, whether it’s meeting immediate needs or looking at generational poverty, it’s all about making sure that those living below the poverty line are recognized and valued and given opportunities that they deserve.”





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From its Cleveland headquarters, the Sisters of Charity Health System provides oversight, leadership and strategic direction to more than 20 organizations responding to community needs in Canton and Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina.

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