In the early 1980s, Sister Jane Morrissey and Sister Cathy Homrok lived in the North End of Springfield. Noticing the increase in poverty and the needs of their neighbors, they dreamed of turning an abandoned home on the next street into a neighborhood center to help those around them who were struggling. With three fellow Sisters of St. Joseph and one lay person, Sister Jane and Sister Cathy bought 22 Sheldon Street and for two years they and countless volunteers renovated the 17 room house.
In 1984, the five Sisters opened The Gray House and began to provide services to meet the civic, social and educational needs of their neighbors.
The Gray House continues to help people meet their immediate needs and address the root causes of poverty by operating the Adult Education Program, Kids’ Club and Food Pantry. With a poverty rate that exceeds 45%, the North End is Springfield’s poorest neighborhood and one of the poorest in the state. As poverty became a city-wide problem, The Gray House stretched its service boundary and now serves people from all neighborhoods in Springfield as well as some surrounding towns.
The Adult Education Program provides educational services to adult learners. This important program offers English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services, basic skills (reading, writing and math) tutoring, beginner English conversation classes, and literacy development for resettled refugees. Services are offered in small group settings, providing students individualized lesson plans appropriate to their learning level.
Kids’ Club provides a safe, supportive environment for children in grades 2–5 who live in the impoverished North End of Springfield. The program helps children with their homework, teaches them the value and fun of learning, and engages them in constructive activities. In addition, there is a focus on peace and community building. Each week the children learn a new character word. They learn words like respect, honesty, collaboration, compassion and leadership. They learn what the word means and how to put it into action. Remembering that these children face hunger and recognizing the effects that this has on their health, they are served a nutritious dinner before their caregivers pick them up.
The Market at Gray House provides food to people in need. Providing food is a life sustaining service. Adequate food and nutrition can reduce the risk of illnesses, behavioral and learning problems in children, and degenerative diseases among the elderly. In 2021, an average of 4,746 individuals received food from The Gray House each month.