Local girl scout gives women hope through website built for Gold Award

Mary’s Home of Hope has become a safe haven for women struggling with various life situations such as single motherhood and homelessness. Through this ministry, Lynn Reid, along with many volunteers, has helped spread the kingdom of God. The ministry was mostly known by word of mouth and never had a website where people could find more information and contact them. That is until recently, when Ciara Marie Leal, a girl scout, decided to take on the project for her Gold Award.

Leal, who has been a girl scout since she was in kindergarten, has since helped serve her community. The young girl scout worked on various community service projects. When she was working on her Bronze Award, she met Reid, who was working for Gabriel House at the time. When it came time to choose a project for her Gold Award, she was not sure what to do. Leal, who has an older sister that is a single mother, had observed her struggles and wanted to help women that were also in similar situations.

“I have a sister…she has two younger girls,” Leal said. “I noticed that she was always struggling financially and trying to be stable throughout her life…So I realized that I want to be able to help other women like her who are single mothers or just women in general because I realize that a lot of women face these kinds of struggles.”

That is when she contacted Reid to ask how she could help Mary’s Homes of Hope. Like with many projects and events when COVID hit, there was no assurance when they could be resumed again. Leal began by educating her parish, St. Bernadette, and her community on the struggles of single mothers and about how Mary’s Homes of Hope helps. She held donation drives but it was not possible to hold such events when the lockdown restrictions were placed. So Reid suggested that a website be made.

For her Girl Scout Gold Award, Ciara Marie Leal built a website for Mary’s Homes of Hope, which helps single mothers in need to connect with the women’s home, see residential openings and allows donations to be made, which go directly to women and mothers in need.

“The website is a way for us to communicate with the community about Mary’s Homes of Hope and about single mothers and women and all the struggles that they face” said Leal. “This website also allows people to be able to get in contact with Mary’s Homes of Hope if they are the ones that are struggling. So I think that even though COVID was a big struggle and everything, I think it was also a good thing that happened so I could do this website for Mary’s Homes of Hope so I can educate the community about single mothers and women.”

The website brings a lot of exposure to the ministry to help women who are looking for a place to live and pick themselves up with the help of God and great people who are willing to help. On the website, people can see if there are any residential openings as well as donate to the ministry.

The way Leal sees it is that sometimes, people just need a little help to get back on their feet, just as she has experienced with her older sister. People need the necessities, a home, and a job to keep going in their life. That is what Mary’s Homes of Hope is doing by providing these women a home so that they have one less thing to worry about and they can focus on getting a job or being a mother and helping their family.

For this young girl scout and soon-to-be college student, it was important that the project be faith-based. Leal explains that as she has gotten older, she has drifted away from her faith; however, she saw the opportunity of her Gold Award as a chance to serve God and his children. She saw this as another chance to stay connected to God and her parish and to continue what the girl scouts have taught her about serving.

Leal is very happy with her project and the impact the website has had. Educating people about this issue and seeing the response is rewarding not only for her but for Lynn Reid. During a recent donation drive, parishioners of St. Bernadette donated about 200 different household and baby supplies. St. Mary’s Parish in Greeley had contacted Reid about how great the website was.

“It was great to see that the website was not only reaching people in Lakewood but also other communities,” Leal said.

This is a project that will continue to bear fruit even though Leal won’t continue to work on it. She leaves it to Reid and her staff who will take over her website and who will continue to update it and manage it. St. Bernadette Parish and Mary’s Homes of Hope will maintain a partnership so the website will continue to be a gift that keeps on giving.

Click here to visit maryshomesofhope.com.

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”