When Dorothy Bennett died, her friends knew immediately that she had to be memorialized in some way. A catechist in St. Lucy-St. Patrick’s parish, Fort Greene, Dorothy Bennett was one of the first Associates of the Brooklyn Sisters of Mercy in the 1980s. She volunteered as a Girl Scout leader and worked at the Mercy Motherhouse on Willoughby Ave.
In 1995, Sister Kathleen Quinn, R.S.M., was starting up an after-school center for children from the neighborhood. It was a no-brainer. The center would be called the Dorothy Bennett Mercy Center.
That program is an oasis in the middle of another refuge in the ever-changing Brooklyn neighborhood that surrounds it. It operates out of a free-standing building in the beautifully peaceful garden of the historic motherhouse.
When I recently visited, about 30 mostly Hispanic youngsters were preparing for a field trip to the Hall of Science in Flushing Meadow. (See photo on Page 2.) “The summer is an activities-based program. We want to keep the kids busy,” said Damian Gracia, a trained social worker who runs the center.
The schedule emphasizes literacy in a fun way. There are readings and activities that emphasize the theme of each week. Prior to the Hall of Science visit, campers spent time learning about physics and the planets in fun ways. On another week, they made their own puppets in anticipation of visiting Park Slope Puppet Works.
The year-round after-school program involves 50 children from kindergarten to fifth grade. As the children have gotten older, Gracia has been finding new ways to keep them involved as tutors and role models.“The place has evolved so wonderfully as a place where kids come after-school,” says Adina Jackson, vice chair of the board of directors, who was a personal friend of Dorothy Bennett. “There are a lot of parents who need help with their children after-school.”
The after-school services have expanded over the years to include a six-week summer program as well an array of adult offerings that offers languages and vocational training.
Maria Cuevas, programs director, adds that there are also immigration and housing services and she is particularly proud of the ladies’ crocheting club.
Patrick Morgan, a member of St. Francis de Sales parish, Belle Harbor, and a retired account executive for AT&T, is chairman of the board. He feels the center’s staff has done such a great job that it would like to offer its services and/or expertise to other parishes.
“We’ve been doing this well and there are other places that could use these services. We’re trying to connect the dots and see how we can expand,” says Morgan.
As children lined up beneath a framed photo of Dorothy Bennett, they prepared for the walk to the subway that would take them out of Fort Greene to the Hall of Science. Well-behaved and orderly, they listened as the volunteer teenage counselors gave them their instructions for the day. They were learning basic lessons in life that all young people need to know, which is what they provide all year round at the Dorothy Bennett Center.
I was impressed by what I saw happening. So, it was easy for me to lend my name to the center’s fund-raiser that will take place on Friday, Sept. 29, at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club. I and Sister Caroline Tweedy, R.S.M., will be the honorees at the event which I hope my friends and colleagues will attend. For more information, visit dbmcenter.org or call 718-622-7448.