A short distance away from the campus of Springfield College lies a place that is unknown to most people of this community. I drove those 3.4 miles on an early morning in September to reach an area and place I had never heard of before.
After about 14 minutes of driving, I arrived at my destination—22 Sheldon Street in the North End of Springfield. I walked up the beautifully redone porch, and through the doors of the grayish colored house. Upon that entry, I realized there was nothing ‘gray’ about it, just a place bursting with color and energy.
It was not until I discovered the Gray House, a nonprofit organization with the motto of “A place where peace is lived and learned, and hope is shared” that I knew my life was going to change forever.
Now, I can go on all day about how amazing the Gray House is, but that would take up the entire last edition of the Springfield Student. I can remember the day everything changed for me.
There is a program for the children in the North End, called Kids’ Club. As soon as I arrived, I noticed an activity that is very common at Springfield College. It is called “Bags of Love.” What these bags do is if you have something you appreciate about someone, or they did something nice and genuine for you, you write them a little note and place it in their bag. This has been one of my favorite parts of our college.
When the children finished the activity, I got a note that said, “I want you to be as happy as you make us.”
Those 11 words hit me in the most eye-opening way. I look at children, and adults who may not have it all, but are just happy to be learning, and around other people. This is community. This is the Gray House grace.
All about the Gray House
The Gray House was developed in the early 1980s when Sister Jane Morrissey and Sister Cathy Homrok wanted to help make a change to the neighborhood. Together, they noticed the increase in poverty, and other needs of their neighbors, and started off with a dream.
They wanted to turn an abandoned house into a place that can help those who were struggling. Finally, with the collaboration with three fellow Sisters of St. Joseph and one lay person, Sister Jane and Sister Cathy bought 22 Sheldon Street, a house with 17 rooms. The Gray House officially opened in 1984, providing services to help meet the civic, social and educational needs of their neighbors.
It has come quite a long way since 1984. With one improvement and advancement after another, The Gray House is now a sanctuary for many people in the North End. The home where Sister Jane and Sister Cathy still reside more than 30 years later now plays host to three vibrant programs, all of which have significant Springfield College connections.
Adult Education is a remarkable program that fields students whose first language is not English. It is one of the most inspirational classes I have ever seen.
You walk into the rooms painted yellow, and you can hear languages and accents from 22 different countries. Glenn Yarnell, the director of the Adult Education class, can adapt, learn and listen from these people, even when he sometimes can’t understand. Yarnell jokes, “I immensely improved my knowledge of world geography.”
Adult Ed at the Gray House offers group classes and one-on-one sessions with a volunteer tutor, including students from Springfield College and other colleges in the area. The classes offer basic reading and writing, and math designed for early English speakers.
“A big part of it is, with all the different groups coming through and the different experiences, the amount that people have gone through and are still able to move forward.” said Yarnell.
Throughout the year, the Gray House holds two sessions, one in the fall running until December, and the other starting back up in January. Several volunteers come and go to serve the students taking classes. This is where Springfield College Occupational Therapy comes in.
Assistant Professor of OT, Elizabeth McAnulty, sends her students to the Gray House to volunteer and teach English.
“Service Learning at the Gray House really helps students to get over their initial discomfort with not being able to communicate easily and to meet people they probably would not in their everyday lives. We are lucky to have a very diverse population in Springfield, and Gray House is one such place,” said McAnulty
Directed by Ryan Carrie, Springfield College class of 2017, this after-school program enrolls 15 students between grades two through five
Day after day, one can walk into the Kids’ Club library and see smiling faces as they complete their homework for the week.
These children, all of whom live at or below the poverty line can be found in their Springfield Public School uniforms of navy blue, powder blue or white, bubbling with excitement and appreciation. “I want you to be as happy as you make us.”
The Club’s goal is to provide a safe, supportive, and encouraging environment where children can learn, grow, and succeed.
“The kids are a positive factor, not only at work, but in my personal life as well,” said Kids’ Club staff member Nori Mercado, a Youth Development major at Springfield College. “They taught me to grow as a leader.”
Although Carrie and Mercado display their teamwork as co-workers and friends, that energy and friendship is directed straight to the children, where they can see what friendship really means.
Thursday night at the Kids’ Club is “Spanish Night” where the Gray House chef Maida Quintero cooks an authentic rice and bean dish. The kids sit around the tables, sharing laughs and stories, asking for more “bean juice”. As dinner concludes, I see them file out to their parents or guardians one by one. After spending a few hours at the Gray House, I can tell the potential each of these children have. Whether it be sharing a book, or finally getting that math problem they have been stuck on, or just giving their parent or guardian a welcoming hug, I see it – and so do the Kids’ Club staff.
“It wasn’t too long before the Gray House felt like home.” said Carrie.
In the season of giving, the Gray House is a prime example. Throughout the year, the Gray House holds an emergency food pantry that the people in the Greater Springfield area can use up to four times a year.
The first time I walked into the food pantry, held on Thursdays, I was at loss for words. The line formed out the door as I was trying to communicate in another language (using my limited Spanish, and many hand motions). Everyone was excited to get bags of groceries, filled with items such as canned vegetables, pastas and soup.
Men’s basketball head coach Charlie Brock has encountered the Gray House firsthand with his team through the years. The team’s relationship with the Gray House started during one of the staples of Springfield College—Humanics in Action Day.
“We always look for an organization that we can target and can use some help,” said Brock. “It’s an opportunity for our guys to get involved with a particular organization that they can relate to.”
Off the court, the basketball team has helped the Gray House with holding food drives during home games, in which all the food collected is donated. “It’s just what we do…It’s the Springfield way of doing things,” Brock said.
The Gray House is a place of hope; it is a place where people can go to learn, and grow and really come together as a community. When I decided to do my internship there, I knew I would be comparing it to the place I call my home—Springfield College.
Luckily enough, the Gray House, to me, is a mirror image of what the campus of Springfield College embodies, through Humanics and educating the whole person – in spirit, mind, and body—for the leadership in service to others.
With this connection I have made, I realized many groups around campus, varying from athletics to occupational therapy, have utilized the Gray House in ways that will better the futures of those who attend.
After three months there, and that first initial contact with the beautiful people that work there, my life has changed forever and I have this place to thank.
I see a community-based house, moving forward and advancing in the right direction. I see people from different backgrounds and cultures come together, and ultimately become friends.