By Tanya Connor
He hadn’t heard of Pernet Family Health Service, although he lived right down the street.
That changed when he was about 15, and was invited to the agency’s Homework Club, he said. He went for the food – not the homework – and gained a lot more.
Tyler Brown, 18, was sharing his story at the gala celebrating Pernet’s 60th anniversary, held April 6 at Wachusett Country Club in West Boylston.
Eric Schultz, president and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, gave the keynote talk about the importance of the family for physical and mental health, said Sheilah H. Dooley, Pernet’s executive director.
“The main point of the event was to celebrate 60 years of Pernet and 125 years of the Little Sisters of the Assumption in the United States,” Mrs. Dooley said. She said the gala raised more than $24,000 for Pernet’s general operating expenses.
The sisters founded Pernet, now a non-profit home health agency. Mrs. Dooley said Assumptionist Father Stephen Pernet, for whom the agency is named, told the sisters years ago, “Take society at its roots – the family – and transform it in the spirit of Christ.”
Five of the sisters attended the gala, she said. Sister Annette Allain, coordinator of their U.S. Territory, accepted an award – a crystal bowl with Pernet’s logo – on behalf of the congregation.
Mrs. Dooley said it was nice to have other members of the Assumption Family – Religious of the Assumption and Augustinians of the Assumption – come to honor them. Assumption College’s president, Francesco Cesareo, and his wife, Filomena, a friend of Pernet, were honorary chairs of the gala.
At the gala, Pernet presented its first Msgr. Edmond T. Tinsley Award, in memory of one of its original incorporators, to Richard Parker. He is a longtime Pernet board member and finance committee member, who helps with the Thanksgiving food basket and Christmas gift programs. Mrs. Dooley said it hasn’t been determined how often this award will be given.
In his prepared talk, the young Mr. Brown seemed inclined to award numerous people.
“If you know anything about Pernet then you know that everyone here works as hard as Kobe Bryant coming out of retirement (but thankfully I don’t see them retiring anytime soon),” he wrote, in reference to the basketball legend. They plan events, educate people and help change living situations with diligence, consistency, and compassion, Mr. Brown said.
He said he comes from a family with a single mother and brothers ages 16 and 3. Coming to Pernet’s Homework Club, he found an important role model in Emily Bonarte (now Emily Linhares, who directs a variety of Pernet’s programs), he said. Mrs. Linhares said Mr. Brown tutored younger students.
Mr. Brown mentioned Pernet’s cookouts, field trips, weekend in Boston to learn about labor laws, and training in resume writing and gardening.
He asked what the odds were “that I’d stumble into a family service that’s generally small but able to accomplish so much for so many.” He said he realized: “It was no coincidence that when food was scarce in my home, the food pantry was able to provide, or my mom had support with early intervention with my baby brother or that I’ve been able to participate in the youth jobs march to make sure there’s enough in the budget so more kids can grasp the experience and work ethic for themselves.…
“I believe in God’s perfect timing and there was no more perfect time in my life to have nothing to do and be hungry than the day I was invited to Pernet,” he concluded. He expressed hope that Pernet will have many more years, and will expand and sculpt more lives as it did his.
Pernet’s youth programs are about promoting responsibility and self-esteem, so young people can see that they have a future; they don’t have to submit to gangs, Mrs. Dooley said. She said Pernet tries to steer them away from teen pregnancy and toward college.
Mrs. Linhares, who runs these programs, told The Catholic Free Press the overall youth program served about 50 young people in the last fiscal year. It consists of the Homework Club, the youth group for social activities and mentoring, the Book Club for summer reading, and the Youth Summer Jobs program.
Mrs. Linhares said she also directs Pernet’s Family and Community Program, which includes a computer lab, nutrition and English as a Second Language classes, summer outings and fun nights for families, and holiday food and gifts. Through this program people have also been helped to have a voice and advocate for themselves, she said. The 300-plus families who receive food or gifts for the holidays also receive services through other Pernet programs, she said.
Mrs. Linhares said she oversees Pernet’s emergency food and infant supplies pantry, which served 10,622 people in the last fiscal year.
She expressed gratitude for the volunteers who have given nearly 3,000 hours this year, and said she welcomes more volunteers and donations of food and infant supplies.
Pernet is supported through donations, grants and the annual Partners in Charity Appeal, she said. Mrs. Dooley said Pernet gets about $30,000 from Partners and really needs it.
She said Pernet contracts with the state Department of Public Health to offer the Early Intervention Program, which annually serves about 337 children who have, or are at risk for having, developmental difficulties.
Through other programs Pernet teaches child care, parenting and household management and provides homemakers for adults with disabilities.
Mrs. Dooley said that overall Pernet serves about 10,000 different individuals a year in one or more of its programs.
Pernet’s website lists 30 staff members, whose jobs range from program coordination and office work to working in homes.
“The main thing that I’d like to get across – all families need support,” if not from their extended family, then from agencies like Pernet, Mrs. Dooley said. “It’s not just low income (families) or recent immigrants.”
Little Sisters share their mission with urban poor
By William T. Clew
It can be said that the Little Sisters of the Assumption, who founded Pernet Family Health Service, washed into Worcester about 60 years ago by a flood.
In 1955, the Little Sisters had a mission in Woonsocket, R.I. Bishop John J. Wright, first Bishop of Worcester, had been discussing the possibility of the Little Sisters coming to Worcester, according to a Catholic Free Press story marking the 30th anniversary of their arrival in the area.
In August 1955, a hurricane, followed about a week later by a tropical storm, deluged Southern New England. Flash floods did tremendous damage along the banks of rivers and streams in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
One place hard-hit was Woonsocket, where the Little Sisters’ mission was destroyed.
“The Little Sisters needed a place to live,” the Catholic Free Press story said. “Then Bishop Wright telephoned Rev. Hugh M. Curran, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Jefferson, and asked him to show the Little Sisters the house which the parish owned in the center of Princeton – the house which had been acquired with the founding of a new parish in that town in mind. The house was later to become the first rectory and church of Prince of Peace Parish.”
The Little Sisters moved in and stayed for a while.
“The Princeton house was considered a transitional home from the very beginning,” the Catholic Free Press article said. “The Little Sisters knew that their destination was the city of Worcester and that their ministry would be to its urban poor. Father Pernet had inspired them with his words: ‘the Little Sister is missionary – she is even more so in that she must live in the midst of the poor.’”
(Assumptionist Father Stephen Pernet, along with Antoinette Fage, co-founded the Little Sisters of the Assumption in the 19th century in Paris to work with poor families during the Industrial Revolution. The Little Sisters came to the United States in 1891, establishing a mission in New York City).
In December 1955 the Little Sisters moved from Princeton to Claremont Street in Worcester. For the next 12 years the Little Sisters themselves provided all the health care services they offered.
But demand eventually exceeded their ability to meet it. They needed help, according to the Catholic Free Press story.
“To expand their services meant additional staff,” the story said. “It exacted the employment of lay personnel and the funds to support them. This called for the legal incorporation of their program.”
They incorporated as the Pernet Family Health Service in 1968. Pernet provided nursing care, home health aid, parent aid, and food, clothing medical care and crisis intervention service.
The Little Sisters started on Claremont Street, but in the 1970s they sold that property and bought new quarters at 237 Millbury St. They had to vacate the Claremont Street location before the Millbury Street building was ready for occupation, according to the Catholic Free Press story. So they moved to 48 High St., which had been a Catholic Charities residence for homeless alcoholics. After nine months, in 1978, they were able to move into their Millbury Street property.
With the opening of Pernet’s early intervention program, the Little Sisters left their convent at 241 Millbury St. and bought two buildings on Endicott Street.
They used 137 Endicott St. as their convent. They opened a house at 133 Endicott St., called Eugenie House, as a residence for people who joined the LSA Volunteer program. Those volunteers came from around the country and from overseas and usually stayed for a year, according to Sheilah Dooley, Pernet’s executive director. That program closed about two years ago, she said, because the number of those volunteers dropped off.
But Pernet does not lack for volunteers to help with their programs. In addition to the 30-person staff, 17 of whom are full-time employees, there are anywhere from 100 to 200 volunteers, depending on the time of year.
Those volunteers include students from local schools, among them Holy Name Central Catholic Junior/Senior High, Doherty and St. Mary’s high schools, and the College of the Holy Cross, Assumption, Clark and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
After the Little Sisters moved to Endicott Street, Pernet was able to expand with a three-story addition to 273 Millbury St. and into the former convent at 241 Millbury St. In 2009, the Little Sisters gave both buildings to Pernet.
The Little Sisters have not had a full-time presence at Pernet for the last four years. But Sister Jean McCormack, who splits her time between New York and Worcester, is beginning to offer Family in Mission gatherings here occasionally, Mrs. Dooley said. They may include prayer services and potluck suppers; the idea is to see what people want.
Pernet is a private, non-profit organization. It receives financial support from the annual Partners in Charity diocesan appeal, from grants from such organizations as United Way and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation and others and from donations. She said Pernet also can bill insurance companies for some programs.