On a recent weekend, after a Spanish-language Mass at St. Ann Church in Flushing, about 70 parishioners stayed around to learn about identifying and preventing dangerous work conditions.
This was but one of many informational workshops offered at the church – which is part of Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann parish – that brings together small groups of parishioners with experts to share resources about issues affecting the community.
The Spanish-language workshops usually take place every three months and touch on topics like home safety, domestic violence, health and elderly care, emergency preparedness, immigration law and workplace harassment.
“We come to church to pray to God and hear His voice and then we go downstairs (to the basement) to hear some other words about how are we going to put all that into practice,” said Father Peter Mahoney, weekend assistant at the parish. “These are issues that can affect everybody. The little workshops are increasing awareness.”
The educational sessions started three years ago when, after Mass, a woman asked parishioner Luzdary Giraldo a question about domestic violence. Realizing that many parishioners may have similar questions, Giraldo spoke with Father Mahoney to coordinate a workshop.
“We used interactive education, including games and questions to engage everybody: children, youths, adults and senior citizens,” she said. “Afterwards, I was asked to replicate the workshop in English.”
Now, Giraldo and about a dozen volunteers are in charge of presenting topics that can benefit the Hispanic community that attends Mass at St. Ann.
“It’s an effort to create a sense of community and be able to talk about problems that they are faced with,” Father Mahoney said.
Parishioners are grateful that the parish provides a safe space for these informational sessions.
“It is because we are in the house of God and we are a faith community that people can break barriers and reach out,” Giraldo said in Spanish. “We know that we are at a safe place when at church. That is why somebody can say ‘I’m a victim of domestic violence, help me,’ or ‘my employer stole my paycheck, help me.’”
Rosa Trujillo, who has been a parishioner of St. Ann for more than 40 years, said that she has not missed a workshop. “It has helped the community a lot,” she said. “It is very informative.”
On one Sunday, attendees heard about salary theft and immigration from a representative from the New York Labor Department, about workers’ rights from a job compensation lawyer, and about safety in the workplace from representatives of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. Sunday Mass was dedicated to 30 U.S. workers who tragically died at their jobs.
“We had commemoration prayers for years,” Father Mahoney said. “Now, we are trying to help people become aware of dangerous situations. The amount of injuries among construction workers is frightening. Many times it’s because the employers try to cut costs. It’s a social issue that we are addressing.”
Adrian Argudo, 18, one of the volunteers who set up the basement for the workshop, said that the organizers’ effort to help the community inspires others.
“The educational talks help the community because many don’t have the time to go and ask for help,” he said. “Events like these provide refreshments and an information session to help people know their rights.”
Father Mahoney said the events run smoothly because of a community mindset instilled among those who come.
“It takes everybody’s collaboration,” said Betulia Ballack, who volunteers to clean the church’s basement after the workshops. “We all do something to help without being asked to. We rely on each other because we are like family.”
Fredy Llanos, Giraldo’s husband and an occupational safety instructor, said the sessions have strengthened the ties among members of the Hispanic community, with people opening up about their needs. Parishioners also bring information to share, such as free English or GED classes, lists of resources or job leads for youths.
“I love the solidarity and fellowship that we have at church,” Trujillo said.
The group at St. Ann plans to host a health fair with organizations offering low-cost medical exams and other services in July.