Sister Sharon Rambin and the sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows founded the Renzi Education and Art Center more than three years ago when they took an old, dilapidated house in a low-income neighborhood and turned it into a much needed center for after-school programs. The center serves youths in first through 12th grades. The service is free and open to up to 60 students on a first-come, first-served basis.
Sister Sharon led Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower on a tour of one run-down street, pointing out the homes as they walked past. “These children sleep on a filthy mattress on a floor covered with roaches. The little boy has asthma and none have food to eat. In this house, the mother has a chicken in the freezer to show the child services lady when she comes. They can’t eat the chicken, even though they have nothing else. She has to keep it there to prove they have food so the children won’t be taken away,” says Sister Sharon.
Sister Sharon enthusiastically took on a job few would want and moved into a neighborhood most are trying to escape. Her work in the Caddo Heights area gave rise to her desire for safe havens so children would be able to escape these conditions – if only for a few hours – and have a meal, get academic tutoring, paint, work with computers and be surrounded by positive adult role models. She literally started her campaign with a dream and a prayer. Throughout the months that she worked to get her first safe haven in place – the Renzi Art and Education Center – Sister Sharon begged, borrowed, cajoled, asked and demanded. And piece by piece, the Renzi Center was completed with no monetary help from the government. The $60,000 renovation cost was supported by in-kind donations of time and other resources.
“Our children have so many stories that they bring to the center. Some of them are heartbreaking and some of them will devastate anyone who hears them,” Sister Sharon says. “The stories are something that I think we should all listen to and do as much as we can for them to help them know that they are worth caring about. We are giving people hope that maybe they are not able to find anywhere else.”
At Shreveport’s Loyola College Prep, Sister Sharon has also had the opportunity to refocus the thoughts of middle-to-upper class teenagers from typical teen concerns to concerns about how to help families that are less fortunate. Her students volunteer their time and spend their money to fill and deliver food baskets for the poor, and work with low-income children at the Renzi Center.
Due to Sister Sharon’s efforts, a neighbor donated a vacant lot that sits next to the Renzi Center so that she and her helpers could begin a garden and plant flowers to beautify the neighborhood.
Sister Sharon’s tireless efforts in spearheading this project have transformed a drug-dealing area into a rejuvenated neighborhood filled with hope and peace.