Sister Julie Franchi expressed surprise last month when she was named “2015 Hispanic Community Champion of the Year” by the Metropolitan Savannah Hispanic Chamber Of Commerce.
“I worked extensively with the Hispanic migrant community in and around Statesboro back in the 1990’s,” she said. “But since 2011, I’ve been director of the Social Apostolate of Savannah so I gratefully accept this beautiful award on behalf of all at the Social Apostolate who have reached out to the Hispanic community in Savannah. It is the dedicated staff who serves our Hispanic clients directly who share in this award, especially Latacia Avila. At the Social Apostolate we serve, as much as we are able, each person who comes to us in need without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, legal status, or sexual orientation. So, I accept this award humbly and proudly on behalf of the Social Apostolate, aware of the many people on whose shoulders I have the honor to stand. I also accept this award proudly as a Missionary Franciscan Sister. I am one in a long line of Franciscan
Sisters who for many years have served with and among Hispanics in foreign missions and at home.”
The Catholic Diocese of Savannah established the Social Apostolate nearly 50 years ago. Since its founding it has provided a host of vital services to Savannah’s homeless population, including hot showers and delicious hot lunches. The Apostolate’s crisis intervention office helps people with groceries, prescriptions, birth certificates, Georgia State IDs, baby needs, school uniforms, and work clothing.
“With a staff of only three full-time and four part-time employees and about ninety volunteers we served 4,279 individuals in 2014 with almost 25,000 services,” Sister Julie said. “In some ways, we are unique among faith-based service agencies because we don’t proselytize. When people come here, they are often at their lowest point in life and our primary goal is let them know they are loved.”
Sister Julie was born and raised in New England but has lived in the South long enough to soften the classic “Boston” accent. Before coming to Savannah, she taught Spanish for eight years at a parochial school in Newton, Mass. She is a member of the Missionary Franciscan order, whose vows include a promise to “Identify with the victim, the poor and the marginalized in seeking a peace built on justice”. As a follower of St. Francis of Assisi, it is entirely fitting that she should be recognized for her service to others.
Fluent in Spanish, Sister Julie spent two years ministering to an indigenous community in Bolivia. She began playing the guitar in her late teens and enjoys sharing her love for music in worship services.
“I would like to see more people from our Hispanic communities using the Social Apostolate services and helping us as donors and volunteers,” Sister Julie said.
Bilingual office manager, Latacia Avila, traces her Latino roots to Cuba, where her grandfather spent time as a political prisoner of the Castro regime before making his way to the US. She said Sister Julie was a great person to work with.
“Here at the Social Apostolate, even though our clients are going through some rough times, we try to treat them all with dignity and respect,” Avila said. “That attitude comes from Sister Julie. She just radiates joy and a love for people and it influences all of us who work here with her. At some service agencies, you don’t see a lot of smiles either from the staff or their clients. But here, smiles are easy to find.”
The Social Apostolate is located in downtown Savannah at 502 E. Liberty Street. To find out more about the services they offer or to volunteer your help, please call 912.233.1877, extension 104, or send an email to SAOS@SocialApostolate.org