April 20, 2021 | Press Release
General Press Release from Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage
Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage Progress on Goals and Projects
A group of people committed to helping to end child abuse such as they experienced at the former St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington has made progress on several fronts. Members of the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage report momentum in their effort to obtain atonement for past abuse, and to prevent the same in the future.
In the Vermont Senate, the chamber’s Judiciary Committee has passed legislation, S. 99, Removal of the Statute of Limitations for Physical Abuse. Members of the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage have worked for months with legislators on this bill, and are grateful to its chief sponsors, Senator Chris Pearson and Senator Kesha Ram, and all who cosponsored or otherwise supported it. The Judiciary Committee Chair, Senator Dick Sears, made devoted and swift progress on the bill. Now also approved by the Senate Rules Committee, S. 99 will be voted on by the full Senate on the morning of Tuesday, April 20. The legislation will then head to the House Judiciary Committee.
In other exciting news, the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services will honor the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage Group on Monday, April 19, with its Survivor/Activist Award. The award is given to the person or group that has fought through unimaginable odds and turned a personal struggle into systematic change to benefit crime victims. In a second award, Marc Wennberg of the Restorative Justice Center, who has continually worked with the former orphanage residents to foster change, will be honored with the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services Ally Award.
Members of the Voices of St. Joseph’s Orphanage have also been actively working with the Vermont Department of Children and Families as part of the group’s restorative inquiry. In two meetings held this year with DCF staff, the former orphanage residents shared their experiences while living at St. Joseph’s and their “Hopes and Aspirations for Children Currently in State Care.” DCF staff also updated the Voices group members on how social work practices, oversight and policies have changed since their time at the orphanage. The group will continue to meet with DCF, with the next meeting in May dedicated to brainstorming ways that Restorative Inquiry participants’ experiences can contribute to DCF practices and policies to ensure that no child ever again experiences the harm that occurred at St. Joseph’s Orphanage. Group members deeply appreciate DCF’s continued commitment to working with them, and have also joined with the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership and other agencies to raise awareness about the Adverse Childhood Experience study.
In Burlington with the support of Mayor Miro Weinberger, the Parks and Recreation Department has embraced the group’s goal of creating a monument/memorial honoring the many children who lived at the St. Joseph’s Orphanage during its operation from 1854-1974 (the State of Vermont continued to operate the orphanage until 1979). Land Steward Dan Cahill and Burlington Parks and Recreation leadership staff have engaged with the group in a truly collaborative spirit to create this memorial, and the group is grateful for their support. The department will meet again with a subcommittee of the Voices group this month to make further plans for this exciting project, which will mark an important chapter in Burlington history.
There are also other endeavors aimed at ensuring that the calamity that was the St. Joseph’s Orphanage is never forgotten. In response to Restorative Inquiry participants’ work together in a facilitated writer’s workshop, the Voices contracted the services of writer Carol Adinolfi, co-founder of Dovetail Arts, an educational project bringing together writing and visual art, to coordinate a series of writing sessions. Current written work is available on the project website. The Voices Writer’s Group, which is currently sponsored by the University of Vermont Medical Center, is preparing to publish its first anthology of work, which will be available for sale to the public later this spring. New public readings are also being planned.
In addition to a written record of the orphanage, the Voices group is also partnering with the Vermont Folklife Center to record oral histories from former St. Joseph’s Orphanage residents. The recording sessions, starting this month, will take place on line. Participants will determine how recordings are shared with the public. In addition to the full recording, to be archived at the Vermont Folklife Center, full interviews or excerpts may also be used, with the participants’ permission, in exhibitions and on the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Inquiry website.
The Voices Group has also established a Go Fund Me page to support its efforts to hold institutions accountable, protect present and future children, and share stories with the public. Donations will be passed through the City of Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO). The Voices of St. Josephs’ Orphanage Group will make consensus-based decisions on using the funds to support specific goals. All donations will go directly to this effort, as CEDO is not charging any overhead to administer the fund. The Go Fund Me link is https://gofund.me/270a641f
The group is still waiting and hoping that the Vermont Catholic Diocese of Burlington and Vermont Catholic Charities will engage in the release of records, and support healing therapies needed by members. There has been no progress on this goal.
Group member Debi Gevry Ellsworth best summed up the work of the orphanage survivors. ” It has been a blessing to be part of the St. Joseph’s Restorative Justice Group and to have connected with such talented, kind and compassionate people. The group has worked diligently towards our goals and together we have made much progress. Though it has been extremely tough at times, the healing and the bonds that have emerged from participating in this group have far outweigh the challenges.”