Friday, September 21, 2012

18 New SLMs + 1 Head to Missions

18 New SLMs + 1
Head to Their Missions

Eighteen newly commissioned Salesian Lay Missioners (see post of Sept. 12: and one veteran SLM returning for more have already arrived at their posts and begun their apostolic ministry, or are about to depart. Here they are, grouped by assignments:

Bolivia - Cochabamba

Christine “Christy” Oberst and Michelle Ross are serving at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora, an orphanage for girls in Cochabamba ages 7-18. The two women will tutor, guide, and generally assist them. Michelle arrived on Sept. 4 and Christy on the 15th.

Michelle, 22, is from Kirkland, Wash. She graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, majoring in psychology. She says, “It has always been my dream to live and work in an orphanage and be a Catholic, loving presence to the youths. There is no better group than the Salesians to work with to achieve these goals. I hope to see Christ in the face of every child, build trusting relationships with the girls, lead them closer to Christ, and make sure they know how much they are worth and loved!” She writes that she goes without any definite expectations but with “an open heart and mind” ready “to surrender all to God” and “let him guide me” so that she can “be his hands, feet, and whole body for those I encounter and serve.” Michelle is blogging at

Christy, 22, is taking some weeks to study Spanish before settling into her mission. She aims to be a “mother figure, friend, teacher, and role model” to the girls at the Hogar. She lives in Timonium, Md., and graduated from Towson University in Maryland with majors in anthropology and psychology. She wants “to be an avenue to provide the Lord’s love to orphaned, abused, and abandoned children who otherwise have heartache or may have never felt true love. I hope to show them how much the Father loves them through care and unconditional acceptance. Children deserve a chance to be children, and I have an opportunity to help them” have that chance. She’s blogging at

Monica Ellebracht, who has been serving in Cochabamba for two years, 2010-2011 at Hogar San Francisco, and 2011-2012 at Hogar Maria Auxiliadora, has welcomed the two new SLMs and is assisting them as they make the adjustment to life in Bolivia. Monica has been blogging about life and work in both orphanages, and about Bolivia in general, at Also helping the two “newbies” adjust is Amber Kraft, who served as an SLM there for three years and was part of the 2012 orientation team; Amber has returned to Cochabamba not as an SLM but an employee for a demographic and psychological study of the general area where the Hogar is situated. Her latest blog post ( comments on what it means to be a volunteer.

Bolivia - Montero

Four of the new SLMs have been posted to Hogar Sagrado Corazon in Montero or its affiliated Centro Sagrado Corazon. The SLMs have participated at the Hogar for about 15 years.

Vivian Soul was the first of the new class of SLMs out of the blocks, departing on Aug. 19. At Centro Sagrado Corazon she’s guiding preschoolers and teaching English and computer skills. She’s blogging at Vivian, 54, is from San Luis Obispo and is the mother of four grown children and grandmother of three. An alumna of Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, she hopes “to be an instrument for God, mentoring by example, to do my best at showing compassion, kindness, and love to all the children, as well as young adults.”

Maggie Fitch arrived on Sept. 4 at Hogar Sagrado Corazon, which is a girls orphanage. Her responsibilities include tutoring, managing the library and the girls’ sponsorship program, organizing various recreational activities, and supervising mealtimes, all the while, she says, “giving them as much love as possible!” She’s blogging at Maggie, 22, is from Tryon, N.C. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with majors in psychology and Spanish and a minor in cognitive science. She “joined the SLMs in order to fulfill what seems to be my calling, to do mission work for an extended period of time caring for children. The joy and laughter of children is energizing and so contagious. I hope to be able to teach them to enjoy learning and pursue an active relationship with God.”

Tania Ozbolt arrived at Hogar Sagrado Corazon on Sept. 3. Her responsibilities involve tutoring, recreational activities, and supervision of meals and chores. Tania, 21, is from Norton, Ohio. She graduated from the College of St. Mary Magdalen in Warner, N.H., with a major in philosophy and theology. She wants “to live out Christ’s Gospel by serving others, especially by bringing love and care to his little children and the unfortunate.”

Elaine “Lainie” Sanker will serve with Vivian at Centro Sagrado Corazon, guiding preschoolers and teaching English and computer skills. She left for Bolivia on Sept. 22, and she is blogging at Lainie, 21, comes from Cincinnati. She graduated from Ohio State University in Columbus, majoring in sociology. She joined the SLMs “to be a part of something bigger than myself. . . . I could not be more ready and excited.”

For a load of information about Hogar Sagrado Corazon in Montero, Bolivia, and the work of the SLMs there, check out the blog of Melia West, who served there in 2010-2011 at and also Andrea Garton’s (2010-2011 as well) at In Montero, new SLMs Maggie and Tania have transitioned with veteran SLMs Aubrey Brewis and Mona Rominger (both 2011-2012). Aubrey returned home to Michigan on Sept. 16. Lainie and Vivian will replace Tom and Laura Kent, two-year volunteers with the FMA VIDES program (who blog at

Bolivia - Okinawa

Stephanie Schaub arrived at Colegio San Francisco Xavier in Okinawa, on Sept. 6, where she’ll teach and help with other projects. One class will be a confirmation prep. She’ll also travel to outlying communities to teach catechism. She has already had a baptism by fire, substituting without advance warning in English classes when the regular teachers didn't show up. She’s blogging at Steph, 22, lives in LaCrosse, Wis., and graduated from St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., majoring in K-8 education. She joined the SLMs “to show everyone I meet the love that God has for them and to be an instrument of God by doing his work. I want to bring a smile to everyone I meet.” Of her first two days in a Bolivian classroom, she blogged: “I helped teach a lesson with the teacher that I am assisting. I just love being in the classroom! My goal is not to just teach English, but I hope to help my students grow and to help them find who they truly are. I did not choose to become a teacher because I wanted to just teach children math, social studies, etc. I became a teacher to show all my students their potential and to help them find who they are. I want to always be present to them. A big thing we learned at orientation is just being present to the people we meet and to show them that we care about what they do and what they say.”

Lorena Zamora also will serve at Colegio San Francisco Xavier, teaching and otherwise attending to the youngsters. She arrived in Bolivia on Sept. 23. Lorena, 26, is from Los Angeles, where she belongs to St. Mary Parish, a Salesian parish. She graduated from California State University-Los Angeles with a major in television and film. She “joined the SLM program because I wanted to share the love of Christ to others, especially children. Being raised Salesian, I experience that love of Christ and the love of Don Bosco through other human beings. I was also taught to share it. Young people must know they are loved, and doing this is just a small way of sharing what I was taught.”

Both Steph and Lorena are being assisted in their transition by SLMs Katie Chandonnet, Judy Mathias, and Marcos Cisneros. Katie has been in Okinawa since summer 2011; Judy moved there from Cochabamba earlier this year; Marcos is starting his third year as a volunteer at the site and was part of the orientation team for this year’s group.

Bolivia – Santa Cruz

Eliana Pichardo is serving at Casa Nuevo Horizonte, a small hostel for women university students from rural areas, in Santa Cruz. Three days a week she goes to Hogar San Lorenzo, which houses 100 boys and girls from newborn to age 10, where she helps coordinate the caregivers with schedules and cleanliness, and prevent abuse of the children. Another two days she goes to Centro Fortaleza, where boys ages 12-16 serve criminal sentences in an educational and religious environment and can play games and do crafts. Eliana, 24, comes from Pomona, N.Y. She belongs to St. Peter Church in Haverstraw. She graduated from SUNY Rockland in Suffern, N.Y., last May, majoring in business administration. She wants “to work with the children in most need, bringing the work and teachings of the Lord to hearts they haven’t reached” and to make “a difference in a rewarding way and answer the call of Jesus to live out his love.”

South Sudan - Juba

Six of the SLMs arrived together in Juba, South Sudan, on Sept. 3, whence they began to split up for their respective missions. One of the six (the “+1” of this article’s title) is veteran Steve Widelski.

Luke Ebener and Thomas Kelly will remain in Juba at the Salesian mission, which includes a school and youth centers. Both are teaching and assisting in the youth center after school and on weekends.

Luke, 25, comes from Davenport, Iowa. He graduated from St. Ambrose University in Davenport with a major in accounting and finance. He “joined the SLMs to help spread the Good News to the children of the world and be a living example of the Gospel.” He hopes “to bring light and hope to all I encounter in South Sudan.” He’s blogging about his mission at

Tom, 22, is also updating the SDB website for Sudan and South Sudan ( His teaching load includes English, good study habits, and good manners with five Salesian prenovices. He’s blogging at Tom, 22, is from Sylvania, Ohio. He graduated from Marquette University last May, having studied accounting and finance. He “joined the SLMs because I want to be a friend to the youth and to share the love of Christ with them. Through the SLM mission, I hope to be the light of Christ to South Sudan, and in turn become stronger in my faith.”

South Sudan - Maridi

Grace Loeffler and Caitlin Seymour both remained for a short time in Juba before heading out to Maridi, where the Salesians staff a parish, school, and minor seminary; they had to wait for a confrere who was away on retreat to accompany them. They took advantage of the wait to start learning Arabic, the main local language, so as to communicate better with the younger children; they’ve also contributed their presence to the hundreds of children in the youth center.

Gracie, 23, will serve as a nurse in Maridi’s health clinic. In Juba she has already been getting lessons in tropical diseases. She comes from Perkasie, Pa., and majored in nursing at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. She hopes “to offer the light of Christ to the poor, sick, and needy children of Africa.” She adds, “I know that I can do no great things, only small things with great love.” She’s blogging at

While in Juba, Caitlin fell in love immediately with her new community of Salesians and young people. She’s blogging at Caitlin, 24, lives in Rochelle Park, N.J. She graduated from Loyola University of Maryland in Baltimore, majoring in philosophy and political science. She “joined the SLMs to answer a call in my heart to serve God’s children. I hope to be a vessel for God’s love and to make a positive impact on the world, one child at a time.”

South Sudan - Tonj

Stephen Widelski, 37, from Huntington, Ind., will serve at the Salesian mission in Tonj, which consists of a parish, youth center, health clinic, and elementary and middle schools. He has served five years with the SLMs in Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Sierra Leone. He has also completed three non-Salesian volunteer stints in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and, last year, in Gros Morne, Haiti, helping with a water project. Steve loves Don Bosco and the Salesian charism best, and has eagerly returned for more of it. In fact, in 2008 he and another SLM veteran produced a promotional video about the program. In his experience he has found, as almost all the young missionaries do, that one receives as much from the people among whom they serve as one contributes to them.

South Sudan - Wau

Daniel Glass will serve as a teacher, youth minister, and assistant in a project for street children at the Salesian mission in Wau. Dan, 23, comes from Malvern, Pa. He attended Georgia Tech and graduated from Elon University (Elon, N.C.), majoring in civil engineering and engineering physics. He “chose to join the SLMs because I want to live as an example of the peace and love that Christ intended for all humans to encounter.” He hopes to bring a lot of smiles to children’s faces.

Ethiopia – Addis Ababa

Marcy Mueller will depart on Sept. 26 to serve in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, teaching and assisting with various projects alongside continuing SLM Marie Prosser (blogging at Marcy, 22, lives in DeWitt, Iowa, and graduated from St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., majoring in youth ministry and human services. She “chose to join the SLMs because I want to bring Christ’s love to the youth of the world. I also want to help make the world a more peaceful and loving place … by teaching and working with young people.” Marcy is blogging at

Ethiopia - Soddo

Paula Rondon arrived on Sept. 5 at the Salesian school in Soddo. She and fellow SLM Jenna Simonton will be teachers there and help out in the youth center (which draws hundreds of youngsters after school and on weekends). A weekly English class for adults is an additional possibility.

Paula, 25, is blogging at, where she posts that she's teaching spoken English and giving tutorials to grades 3-6 and co-teaching a music class. Paula is from Charlottesville, Va. She graduated from the University of Virginia in her home town with a major in Latin and was teaching that subject until she volunteered. She “joined the SLM program in order to encounter Jesus Christ in young people.”

After a luggage misadventure in Europe that necessitated a return there from Africa, Jenna finally arrived at Soddo on Sept. 7. She’ll teach spoken English, give tutorials, and help out in the youth center. She’ll also offer a math tutorial. She’s blogging at Jenna turned 25 this week; no word yet on Ethiopian birthday traditions!. She's originally from Denver but more recently has lived in Colorado Springs. She graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, majoring in math with secondary teaching emphasis. She joined the SLMs “to shine God’s light to the world.”

Paula and Jenna replace two-year SLM Stephen Lilly, who after returning home a few months ago, entered the pre-theology program at St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Chicago and asks for the prayers of the Salesian Family as he continues to discern his vocation.

Cambodia – Phnom Penh

Agnieszka Charymska will serve at the Don Bosco Training School for Girls in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, run by the FMAs. She’ll teach business classes, including English, joining continuing SLM Kaitlin Darnell (who blogs at Agnieszka is a native of Radom, Poland, who after earning an MBA at Bloomsburg University (Bloomsburg, Pa.), lived and worked in Brooklyn in 2012. She “joined the SLM program to share my knowledge and experiences with young people.” She “believes that education is the solution to poverty because it creates wealth not only for the individual but also for the society where he/she lives [and] brings prosperity to the whole country. I would like to bring to their lives not only education but also LOVE for God [and] values that arise from HIM.”

For more information about the Salesian Lay Missioners, go to

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