Associate of the Blessed Sacrament, Dan Johannes (right) and his son Kyle prepare rooms to be updated at Pathways to Care. The St. Stephen’s Parish associates work on giving Pathways’ rooms makeovers throughout the year. 

CASSELBERRY | “Nothing smells better than fresh paint,” remarked one of the residents at Pathways to Care. The assisted living facility is in the middle of an extreme makeover thanks to dedicated servants from St. Stephen Parish in Winter Springs.

The Associates of the Blessed Sacrament respond to the reality of God’s love in the Eucharist by a “gift of self” to God and others. They have been working for the past two and a half years to refurbish and refresh rooms for our sisters in brothers in need. Their most recent effort took place Aug. 16 and 17. The faithful group stripped and waxed floors, painted walls, installed reading lights over the beds, then added hooks and a bulletin board to each room.

Zeynep Portway manages the project for the associates. “These makeovers are how we are what we call ‘Being Eucharist’ to others and showing them Christ’s love,” she said. “The rooms become more welcoming and more like a home someone took care to decorate for the guests.”

Pathways to Care (PTC) in Casselberry provides quality healthcare, housing and hope to Central Florida’s vulnerable homeless in need of a safe place to heal from serious illness or injury. Director Dawn Zinger says the residents appreciate the devotion. “It tells me things can be renewed,” she said. “If a current resident gets moved into a renovated room, they seem to take better care of their new environment.”

It is Portway’s vision of Eucharist that drew her to the association, and consequently the project at PTC.  In a recent information session at her parish, she shared, “We are all broken by our own failures (sin), challenges, life circumstances (sadness, sorrow, heartbreak) and the Eucharist has the power to put us back together even stronger and more beautiful than before, if we are open and we let it.” She emphasized, “Bread broken and shared makes us one community. That broken piece of host along with bread and wine we receive as communion is what unites us and makes us one body in Christ, which is the most beautiful expression of His love and of His request of us.”

Associates are called to live by the Rule of Life, guidelines to which they commit to living in a particular way. According to Rule of Life, 43, “Associates of the Blessed Sacrament (members of the Aggregation of the Blessed Sacrament) share in the charism of Saint Peter Julian Eymard by centering their lives on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist… They commit themselves to be disciples and apostles of the Eucharist, participating fully in the liturgy of the Eucharist, personal prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, and engaging in a variety of ministries, to manifest the fruit of worship and prayer.”

These “extreme makeovers”, as the team has dubbed their outreach project, is fruit borne of this commitment. Portway and 18 others were part of the first cohort to become associates at St. Stephen, under the direction of Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament priest, Father George Dunne.

Since the beginning of their involvement in the PTC project, the associates have donated $2,000 in materials and approximately 625 volunteer hours to complete more than 30 resident rooms. They will now focus on 10 PTC rooms for Step 2 transitional housing receiving inspiration and strength from Christ, who offers himself totally to us in the Eucharist. “Even though the residents see us come and go and don’t really know who we are, we are still making a difference,” she said. “More than anything else, I think the joy we all get and the love we all pour into this project shows in the final product.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic August 15, 2019