National Catholic Sisters Week – Sister Phylis Peters and Proyecto Juan Diego

Sister Phylis Peters (image courtesy of the Diocese of Brownsville, TX)

Sister Phylis Peters (image courtesy of the Diocese of Brownsville, TX)

For National Catholic Sisters’ week, we have been featuring the work of individual Daughters of Charity. We close our series with a story on a current ministry of the Province of St. Louise, Proyecto Juan Diego, in Brownsville, Texas. The story below originally appeared in the newspaper of the Diocese of Brownsville, TX.

Cameron Park programs offer families a hand up
The Valley Catholic

BROWNSVILLE – Minerva Zamorano, 33, who relocated to this country from Matamoros, Mexico a year ago, is taking GED classes at Proyecto Juan Diego in Cameron Park.

Having a high school equivalency certificate means a better life for her and her two children, ages 10 and 16, she said.

“I want to earn my GED and then pursue an education in the medical field,” Zamorano said in Spanish. “All of the schools require that you have a high school diploma or a GED, so this is the first step.”

For the last 11 years, Proyecto Juan Diego has given families like the Zamoranos a hand up in life.

Proyecto Juan Diego, a non-profit organization, was established in 2003 by Sister Phylis Peters of the Daughters of Charity. The mission of the organization is to educate and empower low-income families to make healthy choices and become socially responsible members of society. This is done through various programs that promote health care, families, education, social and civic engagement.

Proyecto Juan Diego is located at 2216 Eduardo Ave. in the heart of Cameron Park, one the largest and poorest colonias in the United States. The latest census figures estimate the neighborhood has a population of 6,963 with about 40 percent under the age of 18.

The need for an organization like Proyecto Juan Diego in Cameron Park became evident when Sister Peters, a registered nurse, completed a medical survey of 755 homes in the neighborhood.

“We noticed that health care and family social issues were major areas of concerns for the residents of Cameron Park,” Sister Peters said.

One of the oldest and “most successful” programs, according to Sister Peters, at Proyecto Juan Diego has been the family program. Staff and trained volunteers make regular home visits and assist families for an extended period of time to help meet their health and social needs with the goal of improved outcomes for children and families.

The home visitors serve as a link between the family and the services available through Proyecto Juan Diego, government programs and other resources.

Programs include afterschool tutoring, health screenings, citizenship classes, English as a Second Language classes, stress management activities and more.

Although Proyecto Juan Diego serves families of all faiths, some Catholic programs, such as a summer Bible program, are offered in partnership with San Felipe de Jesus Church. The parish is located a few blocks from the center.

Residents and community leaders have also advocated for better public safety in Cameron Park. Street lights have been installed throughout the neighborhood, more roads have been paved and there is increased presence of law enforcement. Voter turnout has also increased by almost 20 percent, thanks to several outreach programs.

Brownsville resident Carolina Herrera has been volunteering or working with Proyecto Juan Diego since its first days. The Reynosa, Mexico native is now a supervisor with the organization, overseeing several parenting classes, the summer Bible program and other programs.

Several volunteers and even some clients have gone on to earn paid positions at Proyecto Juan Diego, Herrera noted.

“Proyecto Juan Diego not only helps the community but its workers as well,” she said. “I have earned several certifications since I began serving here. I have a job that allows me to work in ministry while taking care of my family. I couldn’t be happier.”

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