In 2004 Transfiguration parish entered into a twinning relationship with a parish in Soyapango, El Salvador, Reina de la Paz (Queen of Peace). This program has continued to be a strong and inspiring one to all who have participated during the past 8 years.
At right, Francisca, Principal and scholarship recipients entertaining visitors from Transfiguration.
The main objective of “twinning” is to form and develop a connection with a parish in a third world country, to grow in faith, communion and solidarity with the church in another part of
the world. This objective has continued to be realized every year. In the United States, there are over 300 parishes in a twinning relationship.
Both in El Salvador and here in Tarrytown, an active twinning committee has been in place. We have 20 members on our committee, including Fr. Mark Zittle, O. Carm., which meets monthly at Transfiguration. The details of contributions and distribution of funds collected are all handled by the committee. Most of the aid to our twinned parish is in the form of tuition for scholarships so that very poor children can attend grade school and high school. Our scholarships represent the average cost to attend school for a year. Even though these amounts are small, many parents and guardians cannot afford them and their children are kept out of school. Since this program began, we have made it possible for hundreds of children to attend school. The committee in El Salvador consists of about 10 members as well as the pastor. These people have been working with us closely since the project began. The parish committee in El Salvador selects the students for scholarships, oversees the program and has monthly meetings for families and scholarship recipients.
Once a year, in mid-November and early December, we conduct a fundraising appeal in the parish to raise money for these scholarships and other specific projects. In addition to this appeal, we have a door collection on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12) and during Advent we ask the children of the parish to save their loose change to help the
children in Soyapango.
[blockquote class=blue]Most of the aid to our twinned parish is in the form of tuition for scholarships so that very poor children can attend grade school and high school.[/blockquote]
During the general fundraising appeal, people can contribute to one of the scholarship programs, to a program of medical assistance for students with severe medical problems, or to a fund we call “Unrestricted.” By giving to the “Unrestricted” fund people allow us to use their contribution wherever the committee feels it is needed the most. Sometimes it is used to help fund a project where contributions fall short of our commitment. For example, last year we committed to 30 high school scholarships, but only 19 people specifically gave high school scholarships, so we used money from this fund to make up the difference. The “Unrestricted” fund is also there for special needs which come up during the year. Last October we responded to a request from Francisca, the principal of St. Joseph the Worker School in Soyapango, for $400 to help buy roofing material for families of scholarship children who were displaced by flooding. Francisca conveyed their gratitude: “Sister Maria gave them the material in your names, and these people, who were crying yesterday became happy because of your support and they send their gratitude”… This is a beautiful example of the use of our “Unrestricted” fund.
St. Joseph the Worker School is in the Santa Clara sector of the parish (one of three sectors). It is a slum and the base of much gang activity and violence. About 300 children from this slum area attend St. Joseph the Worker School. Transfiguration parishioners support 140 of these children in the amount of $40 a year. Besides this “Padrino” program, we support 30 lower and middle school children from the other two sectors of the parish, also living in poverty.
These are $80 scholarships. Also, we support a study center in the parish where students can do their homework. In addition, 30 annual high school scholarships of $250 are given to children drawn from all three sectors.
One of the great successes of our program is that a number of graduates of the high school scholarship program are now attending college and are studying engineering, accounting, tourism, graphic design, law, and English. Others are working to support their families. Without our high school scholarship program, most of these young people would have left school after the ninth grade and gone to work in very low level jobs. A few of those going to college have studied for a special scholarship exam; others have received help from extended family members or are working and going to university, and still others are being supported by members of our parish community.
Exchange visits between our two parishes began in 2005. Representatives from here have visited El Salvador six times, and clergy and members of their parish have come to Tarrytown three times. This has been one of the most rewarding parts of the program and has allowed us to form close relationships and learn about each others’ circumstances and way of life. Last February nine people from Transfiguration visited El Salvador. In the past we have supported their visits to Tarrytown by providing air miles for the purchase of tickets. Parish families and parish organizations have served meals and offered hospitality in their homes. We are planning to have representatives from El Salvador come again in Fall 2014.
Parishioners participate in the Twinning program in a variety of ways: through prayer, through a contribution, by working on the committee, and by visiting El Salvador. The last of these, while taking the biggest commitment, is probably most gratifying, as parishioners get to experience firsthand the warmth and gratitude of the people in El Salvador.
If you wish to know more about the Parish Twinning Program, feel free to call Ted Sohn at (914) 631-4596 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations are welcome from anyone, whether a parishioner or not. The committee meets on the first Tuesday of the month in the Church hall. Visitors and new members are always welcome.
Pictures, visit reports and more detailed information are available on the Transfiguration website: www.transfiguration-church.org. Select “Community Service Groups” and then “Transfiguration Parish Twinning.”