Shifting Foundation

Two decades ago, the Burkitt Foundation saved the historic enclave of Hyde Park. But now the foundation is pulling out, and Hyde Park -- as well as many of the social service agencies it houses -- may really become a thing of the past.

"Look at that!" the nun exclaims, pointing at a wooden carving of a woman from the back. "Isn't that powerful? One of our residents made that." She stops again at a sculpture of a woman's head in the living room. "That's the symbol of woman emerging, coming into her own." Looking around the living room, she cracks, "The Lord brought us donated furniture, but He made sure it all matched!"

Joseph Ryan says his brother William's statements about Wellsprings's "problems" are unfounded. After all, Joseph points out, the nuns have refurbished each of their houses. "They are a highly efficient organization, very effective," Joseph says. "They're a model program."

Continuing her tour, Sister Rita introduces Wellsprings's program director and co-founder Sister Justin Farinella, a spry, 75-year-old, salt-and-pepper-haired woman in slacks who leaps to her feet, brandishing a sheaf of newly compiled figures for a grant proposal. Asked if Wellsprings had prepared for the possibility that they could lose their location, she answers no. "We wanted all the money to go into programming," she says, "job training, education, computers." As for the Castle Court property offered up by the Burkitt Foundation, Sister Rita says it lacks a crucial feature for Wellsprings residents: proximity to a bus route.

When the nuns heard that the Burkitt Foundation planned to sell the property they consider their home, they made an appeal for help on Channel 2 that brought them a scant $3,000. Wellsprings's board is now busy scrounging up emergency capital. But the organization has yet to find a suitable new location.

Neither nun wants to talk much about the Burkitt Foundation, except to say that they "woke up when they were told" that the properties would be sold. "They're legitimate in what they're doing," Sister Rita says. She admits that Wellsprings's homey, non-institutional living situation couldn't be more ideal.

But then she places one hand atop the other to indicate a crossroads. "I think this is an opportunity for us," she says, grinning convincingly. "Every change is an opportunity. I don't know what's going to happen. That's our question.

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