St. Borromeo’s ministry offers freedom to women inmates

Sara Lyons, a mental health counselor and certified Yoga instructor, working with female inmates at Nelson Coleman Correction Center.

It takes time to build trust and openness with people who have struggled hard in life, but the volunteers with the Peace & Justice Ministry of St. Charles Borromeo Church have faith.

For many of the women inmates at Nelson Coleman Correctional Center, it comes with faith and help.

Ministry member Karen Parquet equates the ministry as God answering her prayers, too.

Parquet has long wanted to help these women see their worth, which came about with the founding of the church’s ministry. It was Father Tom McCann’s request to establish the group in his desire to promote peace and social justice in St. Charles Parish.

The ministry also includes its Labor of Love group that helps upgrade homes for low-income residents, as well as inmate counseling.

“We provide opportunities for the women inmates to learn additional coping strategies to deal with their emotional concerns and gain knowledge about the culture of the work environment,” said Ministry Coordinator Carolyn Boyd. “They can expect to become empowered to pursue educational-employment goals while improving in the area of general life skills, mental health issues and spiritual development.”

Boyd said funding from the United Way of St. Charles and Creative Family Solutions helped make the ministry possible.

“Typically, these women feel beaten down. It takes a while for them to trust us and open up but those seeking help do.” – Pam Shepard

This funding made it possible to bring in Sara Lyons, a professional mental health counselor and certified Yoga instructor, to provide counseling in anger and stress management, substance abuse, and mental health disorders and trauma. She teaches coping strategies that include yoga.

Ministry member Pam Shepard said they chose to work with women inmates to help them become financially independent, as well as to believe in God and in themselves with the church willing to guide them in taking steps to improve their lives.

The ministry provides a “Mercy Package” to inmates upon their release from jail that includes food, clothing, a gift card and help with reentry, to society.

Boyd also thanked the St. Charles Women’s Club for financial grants to support their Prison and Labor of Love Ministries; the Arc of St. Charles for providing vouchers for the women to shop, for clothing, at the Cajun Village, as well as United Way and Creative Family Solutions.

Shepard said they also work with inmates on financial matters.

“Typically, these women feel beaten down,” she said. “It takes a while for them to trust us and open up but those seeking help do.”

The ministry treats them as equals, discussing God in their daily lives, she said. Discussions are lively and non-judgmental.

“They have lost their way, their hopes and in some cases their ability to turn to God and trust him to show them how to turn their lives around,” Shepard said. “We help them find hope, using scripture to see they haven’t been abounded by God.”

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