History of Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza

HISTORY  OF  CENTRO  MUJERES DE LA ESPERANZA,  by Sister Ida Berresheim, CSJ

In 1989, a significant group of sisters, many of whom were native to the border and were missioned back to the border, came together to look into what might be done to help women.  They knew that the oppression of a large segment of the population of women needed attention. Little by little, the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Michigan took hold of the project, after their sisters went back to Michigan and explained to their sisters and the congregational leadership the great need that existed.  In response, the congregation sent one of their General Councilors to El Paso to reflect with the group of sisters who wanted to move forward.  That group was called the Reflection Committee.  Little by little, the Councilor, Sister Jarret De Wyse, O.P., appealed to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the national organization of superiors of women's religious communities of the United States.

Funds came in to start an organization envisioned by the Reflection Committee, and by September of 1993, enough planning had been done, sufficient resources gathered, and the name Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza had been given to the organization.  The doors were opened at 108 East Yandell with a beautiful prayer, ritual, and celebration. Another group of women had gradually become interested in the project.  They were called the Committee at Large.  Many of them were helpful with a variety of projects related to Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza. Sister Angelina Abeyta, O.P., of the Grand Rapids Dominican Community came into the newly opened project as a volunteer. Sister Donna Kustuch, O.P., of the Adrian Dominican Congregation was hired as the director, and Sister Eleanor Stech, O.P., of the same congregation as Donna, also came on as a volunteer.

Sister Angelina, Sister Donna, and Sister Eleanor did a wonderful job of setting up the office and getting to know the leadership and the work of many other non-profit organizations in El Paso which worked with persons in need. They worked with Las Americas, Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services; Opportunity Center for the Homeless; Centro Santa Catalina; Annunciation House, and Casa Vides; some of the shelters in Juarez; La Fe; St. Ann’s Center (now closed);  Mujer Obrera; Women’s Center of Anthony; and city sponsored projects at Sacred Heart gym, to name a few.

By April, Sr. Donna decided that her limited Spanish, along with the fact that she was committed to teach a number of courses at Tepeyac Institute for the Diocese of El Paso, and her desire to be with the newly developing project for the benefit of families living near the garbage dump in Juarez, Mexico, urged her to leave the leadership of Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza. Sisters Donna and Eleanor eventually departed .  Sister Angelina stayed on going out to a number of the not-for-profit institutions mentioned, volunteering her services while getting to know many of the women in the various projects.

An advertisement in the National Catholic Reporter brought applications which Sister Jarret screened together with other members of the Reflection Committee.  After telephone interviews, she invited three sisters for interviews.  Following private interviews with a small group of Reflection Committee members and a wonderful morning of prayer, sharing and enjoying a meal together, Sister Jean Durel, CCVI, and  Sister Ida, CSJ, were hired to begin leadership of Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza on November 1,1994.

Sister Donna did not abandon Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza completely.  During her years of teaching in Michigan at Rosary College of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, she and her students developed an outstanding program to assist women to come into their own, especially through recognizing their value as women. It was called “Values and Life.”  For six weeks, one evening a week, Donna taught the program to a small group of women. Soon we translated the program into Spanish and "Valores y Vida" took flight.

Sisters Jean and Sister Ida took the program to many border groups. After listening sessions, a hallmark of Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza, if it seemed that "Valores y Vida" was what the women were asking for--although not by name! The two Sisters would introduce parts of the program or, in most cases, carry it out one day a week for one hour and a half for six weeks. This program and mini-retreats became a phenomenal success as they were promoted both in-house and through outreach. Many gained a recognition of their personhood, their spirituality, their worth as women, and their leadership skills. Many calls came for us to reach out to to Promotoras studying at the Kellogg Clinics in Socorro and San Elizario, TX, and at clinics, city recreation centers, parishes, and schools, in Juarez, MX, Sunland Park, NM, Anthony, TX, and other centers.  It was necessary for us to hire more personnel.

A year or so following her exit from Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza, Sister Donna started a new center, Centro Santa Catalina, in Juarez, MX. Sister Donna extended the "Valores y Vida" program into a several year program, to great effect with the women of Centro Santa Catalina.


Sister Ida Berresheim, continued to serve with Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza until October 2011, when she returned to St. Louis, Missouri, where she serves at the Congregational Offices of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza presently offers programs and classes in key areas such as education, health & wellness, finances, spirituality, and family & community development.  The classes are offered at no cost to the participants or for a nominal fee that covers class expenses. 

Every year, we provide a safe haven and a vital sense of community for hundreds of women searching for education, support, and a sense of well-being that comes from the sharing of experiences and life struggles in a setting of understanding and empowerment.

We also foster financial independence and security through a variety of “Learn to Earn” classes such as cake decorating, floral arranging, mosaic art, sewing, knitting, and painting.  These “Learn to Earn” classes provide women a holistic approach to economic development by not only teaching them new and marketable skills, but also by teaching them concepts of budget development and money management.  "Learn to Earn" classes are taught by volunteers in 6-week classes with beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes.  Each level includes concepts, methods, and practice as well as budgeting, purchasing, and marketing skills.

For 20 years, Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza has been richly blessed with the grace and good will of caring people. And the future of Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza is promising because of the women and men who give selflessly of themselves today through Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza.

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