WHAT'S WORKING: 'Sisters of the Poor' have their feet on the str - Cincinnati News, Weather, Sports from FOX19 NOW-WXIX

WHAT'S WORKING: 'Sisters of the Poor' have their feet on the streets of Cincinnati


The Franciscan Sisters of the Poor was founded in 1845 in Germany. At that time, many immigrants arriving here in Cincinnati were poor and sick. A wealthy convert asked the Archbishop if she could come here and help. Long story short, she got her way, and the sisters have been here working hard here in the Tri-State ever since.

They work closely with the people who need the help the most. One of those ministries is Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart. The organization is housed in a building at the corner of Elder and Logan in Over the Rhine.

Sister Bonnie Steinlage helps run the place. She said her mission is to help all men, women and children become their best selves.

"We serve a segment of society that cannot afford to pay $10 for simple haircuts," said Sr. Bonnie.

She has a habit of not wearing one, and telling it like it is, but above all, she offers hope to the homeless and those close to it.

"About 23 years ago, I heard the scripture passage 'fast and pray, wash your face, and groom your hair,'" said Sr. Bonnie. "I decided to take that literally so I went to a salon to get a perm."

She then attended beauty school, and pledged to help anyone who wants to help him or herself. She began by giving haircuts to homeless men in the bathroom of the Mary Magdalene House. Over the course of her time there, she gave more than 10,000 haircuts to men in need.

Years later, she created the Hair Care Voucher Program to serve needy clients throughout the city. Clients can receive hair care vouchers from a participating school or social service agency and redeem it at a partner salon. Haircuts from the Heart reimburses the salon for their services at no cost to the client or social service agency.

Sr. Bonnie's clients pay with crushed cans, vouchers, and elbow grease; Each person must sweep up his or her own hair.

The good news about the organization is spreading.

"I said how did you hear about us?" said Sr. Bonnie. "He told me some dude had told {him.} I said did they tell me I was a white woman? He said no they left that part out! And then I said, did they tell you I was a nun? He said no they left that part out, too! "

But clients can't leave out the joy she gives them.

Sr. Bonnie and volunteers have given more than 70-thousand haircuts over the years.

She relies on donations. The day FOX19 stopped by, a woman walked into the salon and gave Sr. Bonnie money for the organization.

Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart is a sponsored ministry of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. Estelle McNair is that link between Sr. Bonnie and the non-profit. McNair is the executive director of Franciscan Haircuts for the Heart.

"There's a real commitment between the Foundation and the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor," said McNair.

Founded in 1845 by Blessed Frances Schervier, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor is an international, multi-cultural, religious organization whose life work is to heal the ongoing suffering of the poor with programs and services located in four countries on four continents. For over 150 years with the utmost dedication and care, the Sisters have had their "feet on the street", working and living with the people they serve, developing promising solutions that best fit a population's greatest need.

Franciscan Haircuts from the Heart is just one of many ministries. Many of the Sisters live in St. Claire's Convent in Hartwell. It's also home to several other programs, including: the Centennial Barn and Our Lady of the Woods.

The Centennial Barn is a historic place that houses programs devoted to nurturing spirituality, and mind/body wellness classes in addition to educational opportunities in community health, ecology and self development. It also offers a community garden and a number of holistic therapies, as well as meeting, retreat and reception facilities.

Our Lady of the Woods is a senior independent living community for low-income, elderly people.

McNair also planted the seeds for another much-needed ministry: Tamar's Place. Sister Grace Miriam Pleiman runs the program.

"Our leadership picked it up immediately because women prostituting on the streets was the first mission of our Foundress when we were founded in Germany in 1845," said Sr. Pleiman.

She speaks softly, but stands strongly.

She's focused on helping girls who may not realize they need it. They are working girls who are still working in an illegal business. Many are hooked on drugs.

Sr. Grace says girls can come in here and catch their breath. No questions are asked; no answers are forced. Sr. Grace said they need a safe quiet place to sleep, to eat, clean-up, and warm up, and then, she said, if they decide to ask for help, Sr. Grace is ready. She has referred 12 women to programs that help them quit prostituting.

"At first they came in always high," said Sr. Grace. "They wanted to know why we would be having this for them. They wanted to know if we were ex-prostitutes, if we were lesbian or were we drug addicts? The only thing I could say is 'No' to all of it. And they said, well why? I said, well, I'm a Franciscan sister, and I care about you."

Sr. Grace said nearly 90-percent of the working girls in Over the Rhine have come to Tamar's Place in the last year and a half. About three or four women drop in on an average day. 

Art student Sarah Hellmann volunteers at Tamar's Place once a week. She paints pictures of happier days.

"It's so great to watch them paint," said Hellmann. "It's like their children again before their addiction set in."

The Foundation is planning a major fundraising event. All proceeds from the event will directly support programs here in Cincinnati.

The event will take place on March 23, 2012 at Great American BallPark, and will be a chance for members of the community to tour the Stadium, the Dugout, the Hall of Fame and the Press Box. They will also get to see their names on the scoreboard. Guests will also "wine and dine" in the Riverfront Club, and have a chance to mix and mingle with celebrities and professional athletes.

Call 212-818-1987 for more information and to purchase tickets.


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