- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Years before Patuxent Habitat for Humanity asked Colleen Malebranche to help them revitalize neighborhoods in St. Mary’s and Calvert counties, she felt a calling to be a nun.
And she didn’t envision living out her days just meditating and praying. Her dream was to travel the world, “serving the poorest of the poor,” following the example set by Mother Teresa.
She’d gone to New York’s South Bronx, in obedience to this calling, working alongside her sisters in faith. She walked urban neighborhoods, past drug deals, with hunger and homelessness in sight, praying over the sound of gunfire.
After serving meals in soup kitchens, cleaning the homeless and helping youth enroll in summer camp, it was time for the sisters to decide if Malebranche should join The Missionaries of Charity.
The nuns spent months praying about it and Malebranche “waited and waited” for that letter of acceptance. Their answer was no.
“As much as they wanted me to be a part of The Missionaries of Charity,” she said, “they felt that God had another call for me.”
Now, Malebranche is on different a mission. “If you believe there is a calling to do something great with your life,” she said, “you don’t have to wear a habit to do it.”
Patuxent Habitat for Humanity hired Malebranche as its neighborhood revitalization initiative coordinator in August. “I think we need to be a voice,” Malebranche said.
Top on her list is improving existing homes for families. A large part of this effort will include a search for qualified veterans and their families in need of home repairs.
It’s a job she “feels especially privileged” to do, inspired, in part, because of her husband’s military career and, she said, because of the sacrifices servicemen and servicewomen make.
On Oct. 1, for World Habitat Day, Patuxent Habitat plans to organize repairs to decking and roofing, and have mold removed from a veteran’s private Calvert County home. It will be the second military home they have renovated this year, after volunteers built a handicapped-accessible addition to the Chaptico home of Lance Cpl. Caleb Getscher, a Marine and triple amputee.
Habitat’s work, assisting qualified families regardless of military affiliation, will include anything from painting and landscaping to plumbing and electrical work.
To qualify, families must meet income requirements. In St. Mary’s County, a family of four can earn up to $54,360. In Calvert County, a four-member family can earn up to $64,500, said Pamela Shubert, executive director of Patuxent Habitat for Humanity. “This is not a handout,” she said. Habitat families work hard and can repay the organization through volunteering and affordable loans.
Don King, commander of the Chapter 26 branch of the Disabled Veterans of America in St. Mary’s County, came to Habitat on Tuesday to talk more about veterans in Southern Maryland.
Chapter 26 has about 400 members. And, King said, there have been a few requests for assistance around their homes. The partnership with Habitat “could be fruitful,” he said, since the organization might have resources DAV does not.
That’s the perfect opportunity for Malebranche. Her call to serve veterans and the community around her is like a call “burning inside,” she said.
This job with Habitat “is a huge door opening for me,” Malebranche said. “It’s a prayer answered.”