I Am Project HOME: Sister Joanne Whitaker
In 2010, S. Joanne Whitaker might have considered stepping into her golden years of retirement. After all, she had already logged practically a half century as a member of the Sisters of Mercy religious order, first in teaching and later in serving some of the most vulnerable and needy populations.
But her commitment to the values of mercy and compassion at the heart of her vocation meant she wasn’t ready to rest from service. S. Joanne is now in her third year as a vital part of the team that runs Project HOME’s St. Elizabeth’s Wellness Center. The health clinic provides a range of services for our residentsas well as neighbors, including primary medical care, behavioral health care, education on nutrition and healthy lifestyles, and access to medical assistance and insurance.
As clinic coordinator, S. Joanne helps patients with referrals, appointments, and many other aspects of their care. But she attends to other small details such as making coffee and assuring a welcoming atmosphere in the clinic.
“I love it here,” she says. “I’m busy from the minute I set my foot in here to the minute I leave. I love the human contact. I am doing work that I feel is a contribution, first to the patients, but also to the overall mission of Project HOME.” S. Joanne feels her previous years of service prepared her for the Wellness Center. “I’ve had experience with the kinds of people we see regularly: those with histories of homelessness, mental health issues, addiction.”
A one-time professor of microbiology at Gwynedd-Mercy College, Joanne served as Executive Director of Calcutta House from 1991 through 1999, providing services to persons with AIDS.
“At a time in the 1980s when people with HIV/AIDS were feared and shunned by society, S. Joanne stepped up and welcomed people who were suffering into a safe, supportive, healing environment,” says Monica McCurdy, Project HOME’s Vice President of Health Programs, who works closely with S. Joanne. She spent the next several years overseeing refugee services in several African countries. She is sensitive to the difficultyof delivering health services to persons in unstable situations.
“Everybody here really cares about our patients,” S. Joanne says. “We all try to respond to the big picture – the life situations of our patients and this community.” She acknowledges the frustration of persons not able to manage their health situations – but this is exactly the kind of service she chooses to be in. “It’s a gift being able to work with people who are highly vulnerable and face many issues. So many of them don’t have anybody to support them. When I am able to offer some support, it keeps me going.” We hope she keeps going for a long time.