By Miranda Ericksen
Mount Saint Vincent, located at 4159 Lowell Blvd., will be celebrating 140 years of operation in 2023. The staff and volunteers support children and families through an early learning center, outpatient therapy, in-home therapy, day treatment, and a foster care program.
Throughout their long tenure, Mount Saint Vincent has weathered the storms of legislative challenges, the ever-changing landscape of mental health research, and the everlasting critical need for certified foster families to help provide safe spaces for the many children.
One staff member turned volunteer, Sister Michael Delores Allegri, has been a cornerstone of Mount Saint Vincent since 1997 and celebrated three significant milestones in 2022. Not only did she celebrate her 80th birthday and 60th jubilee anniversary of becoming a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth, she also gained her 100th foster child through the Mount Saint Vincent foster program.
Sister Michael said she felt called to foster children 23 years ago after living with two fellow Sisters of Charity in Kansas City, Missouri, who were actively fostering children. Since age 10, she wanted to own an orphanage so she could “play with kids all day.”
Fostering was in alignment with this childhood dream and with the Sisters of Charity missions of education, healthcare, and orphanage support. Her journey to Mount Saint Vincent began with a job offer to manage a group home, which was unfortunately terminated due to legislative decisions to eliminate orphanages and replace them with Residential Treatment Centers or RTCs.
Not missing a beat, Sister Michael instead became the supervisor of housekeeping and kitchen services at Mount Saint Vincent. She underwent almost a yearlong process to become certified to foster children. As a foster parent, Sister Michael coordinates the logistics of the children’s lives, ensuring they get to appointments, school, or work. She provides stability, love, and care for little ones whose lives have been tumultuous at best, extremely traumatic at worst. Her goal is to be the bridge between the child and their future family.
Whether that is through reunification with kin, or with an adoptive family, Sister Michael stresses the importance of preparing the child to transition into the next phase. The children who enter into Sister Michael’s care are met with established boundaries, age-appropriate requirements to help out around the house, and freedom to just exist as children.
The opportunity to play, relax, and simply enjoy being a child is an invaluable gift that Sister Michael emphasizes as a key component of her fulfillment as a foster parent. She fondly remembered one child who was obsessed with trains and how she was able to cultivate that interest on a daily basis. She took him to the Train Museum in Golden, to Georgetown to ride the train, and to the library to read books about trains. Not only do the children benefit positively from their opportunities and their relationship with Sister Michael, they establish strong bonds with each other.
Sister Michael facilitates get-togethers with previous foster siblings, giving children opportunities to reconnect after they leave her care.
Sister Michael stated that the challenges with foster parenting range from the mental or physical setbacks the children experienced prior to joining her, to quick transitions between her home and others, all the way to large-scale legislative guidance that may not always be in alignment with the daily realities the children face. She finds the most fulfillment knowing that although some children may be too young to consciously remember being in her care, somewhere in their subconscious mind they will know they were “loved, safe, and nurtured.”
In order to preserve these cherished moments, Sister Michael takes as many photos as possible. In the early years, she would create memory books for the children to take upon their departure.
As society has entered the digital age, she transitioned to USB sticks filled with photos to give to the children and has amassed six large physical scrapbooks for her personal enjoyment. Staff at Mount Saint Vincent indicate that the need for certified foster parents has reached emergency levels. They offer free online training programs and additional information for the fostering process can be found at msvhome.org.
Editor’s note: The original photo caption for the second picture misidentified the woman on the far right. She is his adoptive mother.