It’s easy to forget that South Boston was not always upscale. Especially not the D street housing project when Jean Sullivan and Louise Kearns moved in during the 1970’s school-busing crisis.  Sisters Jean and Louise, nuns with the Sisters of Notre Dame, have dedicated their lives to living and working among the poor. The young nuns worked as teachers and saw first hand the impact of poverty, violence and addiction on children.

“I felt uncomfortable over time sending back a child to a family that wasn’t able to support what we were doing in the classroom,” Sister Louise says. So Louise and Jean began working with those families, single mothers who not only lacked money, but also basic parenting skills. These women wanted a better life for their children, but lacked the resources and know how to provide such a life. Until Sisters Jean and Louise founded Julie’s Family Learning Program.

What began as a support group for single mothers in the projects has evolved into a comprehensive program, serving women from across the city. Julie’s Family Learning Program provides a safe space for mothers to share insights and hold one another accountable. They work on everything from better becoming parents to getting a high school diploma and, ultimately, landing a job. Julie’s also provides help for legal, health and addiction issues.

The women commit to a three-year program, four days a week. And so do their children, starting as young as six months and staying through kindergarten. The children leave the program testing above grade level. “When they go to first grade, they’re all reading , they’ve all done the math ­ they know their tens and hundreds," Sister Louise says, "It’s amazing.”

At the end of each day Sisters Jean and Louise say goodbye to the mothers and children who come to Julie’s. For many, just getting here is a victory. The first step in a path that for the past 40 years has enabled thousands of families to build a better life.

To learn more about Julie's Family Learning Program, visit their website

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