In honor of National Volunteer Month, we’re shining a light on someone who has exemplified the mission, values, and love of A Place Called Home since the beginning: Sister Patiricia Connor, RSHM, or “Sister Pat”, as she’s lovingly known within the APCH community.
Since 1997, Sister Pat has been involved with APCH, sharing her time to help shape this organization into what it’s become today. Recently, we sat down with Sister Pat to talk about the early days of A Place Called Home, her favorite memories, and the importance of getting involved. Enjoy!
How did you get involved with A Place Called Home?
I was on a sabbatical and had been away from the country for 10 years. During that time, our Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary sisters had visited Debrah Constance at A Place Called Home. When I got the green light to return, my sisters thought that APCH would be a perfect fit for what I was looking for.
When I returned to Los Angeles in February of 1997, I made an appointment to go see Debrah at APCH, and I was captivated by her vision and how she was responding to the great needs at the time. I immediately wanted to get involved. She asked me, “Well, what will you do?”. I had previously been a teacher, so I said, “I can tutor”. She signed me up as a volunteer in the LAUSD AEWC program, and the rest is history!
I was there for a couple months, and Debrah asked me if I could be the Co-Director of Programs, and I said yes. The current building on 29th and Central had just opened up, and it was the perfect time for me. It was a time of creativity and great openness. I was there for six years and then got called away by my RSHM community, so I was leaving APCH. Before I left, I was asked to join the Board of Directors. I did, and I never left.
What’s your favorite memory of being A Place Called Home?
Well, I remember when we were in the warehouse – which we called the center – and in the parking lot that came with the warehouse, there was a very small red trailer. But eventually, with the help of one of our board members, Marshall, we were able to get some modular units, which are still on the campus today. I remember the magic he worked so that we could add a little pathway to the units, and they became the offices for what we called the program area.
Just seeing the sunlight and the pathway to those units – and that moment was really transforming for me. To feel the sun and to know that we had that additional space – that APCH was expanding – was something I could never forget.
If you could share an experience at APCH that exemplifies the mission and significance of this organization what would that be?
Something that I’ll never forget was the day that Linda and David Shaheen came to visit and shared their dreams with us. I remember once we’d started the Shaheen Scholarship Program, we hosted a luncheon where we congratulated those who’d gone off to college and those who were getting ready to go. In particular, it was really significant for us to meet the parents of these young people.
It was a really big deal at the time for kids in our community to go off to school. Now, the young people in the program know that it’s possible to go away to Northern California, or even the east coast. But, back in the day, it was huge. The idea of going away was a life-threatening situation, especially for the parents, and I remember they were very worried about how they were going to communicate with their children.
Together, we coordinated with the scholarship recipients and parents, and made sure that they would be available for phone calls or text messages when the parents came in to use our computers. That was a huge deal for me, and it illustrates the way we were able to adapt. Through the program, the young people were not only given a tremendous opportunity to continue their education, but we also worked to provide additional support for the students and their families.
Can you talk about something or someone at APCH that has inspired you?
Yes, I’d like to share the story of APCH member Cintia. I was very close with Cintia when she was at A Place Called Home. I remember her boyfriend very well, too, he was like a son to me. I remember the pictures they sent me of their prom and of her graduation from Cal State Northridge. We stayed in touch when I first left APCH, but we hadn’t been in touch for years, until one day I was at the center and Al at the front desk said, “Sister Pat, you’ll never guess who came in to see me…Cintia!”
I recalled so many fond memories of Cintia and gave her a call, but unfortunately, because of Covid we weren’t able to get together. Then, in 2022, I opened the fall newsletter, and there was Cintia staring back at me in a photo of her in her LAPD uniform next to a story about her time as an APCH member. We went through some challenging times together while I was at APCH, and we shared a lot. The thing I remember most is how much Cintia inspired my life. She reminds me of the tremendous impact that APCH has on our members.
Just recently, I was in a meeting in which we were discussing all that we do for our members, and I interjected, “and we can’t forget about all that the members do for us.” Debrah would always talk about how volunteers would come to APCH and help the members, but that the volunteers would change, too, after spending time with our young people. That’s how it is for me and Cintia. She was just as big of a part of my life and I was hers.
Why has it been important for you to share your time and give yourself, your spirit, and your heart to connect with the community?
Well, first of all I want to say that I am not just involved in A Place Called Home personally, I’m involved as a member of my religious community: the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. The community has been behind me since I first showed up at A Place Called Home, and it was because our sisters had been down there visiting that I had this opportunity. One of my sisters, Sister Audrey, was also involved with APCH. She was there for a number of years, and she made an incredible difference in the lives of young people. The RSHM community has also been financially supportive of the organization, which I know, having been through everything from the ground up, is so important for the continuation of our programs.
I feel that helping a young person at A Place Called Home is living the mission of my community. That’s a big thing. So, I’m not just there personally, I’m there because of my RSHM community. I’m there because of the partnership with Marymount High School because I believe in it, and I’m there because of the young people and their families. I’m also there now because of the Board of Directors, and I’m very moved by the generosity of time and resources, and the powerful commitment they have to the mission and success of the organization.
I think it’s important for me to share my time because I have a historical memory of the organization. I carry with me the successes we’ve had and the challenges we’ve faced, and I think it’s meaningful for us to remember the past to work toward the future.
What does the idea of leaving a legacy mean to you?
Well, I ask myself “Did I show up for the young people of A Place Called Home?” Over the years I have done that in different ways, especially when I was there on the ground at the center morning, noon, and night. More recently, I have not been able to be there as much as I used to, but I have tried in other ways to be there for the young people. I’ve gotten to know the APCH staff members well and continue to show up on the Board of Directors.
Recently, I’ve been able to show up through the partnership with Marymount High School that has evolved over the years. I have to say it’s far more challenging for me than being with the young people, but it’s what I’m able to do at this point in my life, and I think it’s important that we all do what we can, whatever that looks like for each of us.
And, lastly, I would just say that we all have something to give. Even when we think we don’t, we do. So that’s what leaving a legacy means to me – showing up and doing what you can.