Parties in airplane hangars aren’t common in these parts.
“We had our son’s wedding here last year, and someone must have heard about it and they asked us,” said Peggy Cianchette, of Falmouth. “I told them, it really is just a hangar.”
Transformed with draping strings of white lights and everything else needed for an upscale fundraiser, the Cianchettes’ open hangar was the backdrop for Mercy Auxiliary’s Soar into Silver event, raising upwards of $50,000 for McAuley Residence.
“This is an epic event, that the people with the wind at their backs can help the people with the wind in their faces,” said Dave Langdon, president of the medical staff at Mercy Hospital.
Nearly 25 years ago, the Sisters of Mercy founded McAuley Residence in Portland as a transitional housing program for single women who had fallen on hard times — facing addiction, abuse, mental illness or other trauma. Today McAuley Residence is run by Mercy Hospital.
“It’s wonderful to have an event like this that is so well supported,” said Jessica Sullivan, vice chairman of the Mercy Hospital Auxiliary. “McAuley Residence is unusual because it can accommodate young mothers with their children, and that’s not common. This allows them to have their children and also get the social services they need in a safe environment with a lot of mentors.”
“They’ve had women come in with small children and because of McAuley Residence the children are not taken away,” said Ellen Synder, a member of the Mercy Auxiliary committee. Bob and Ellen Snyder were one of 25 host couples to give $1,000 toward McAuley Residence as part of Soar into Silver.
Last year the Auxiliary gave enough money to put food on the shelves of the McAuley Residence apartments. This year, the Auxiliary chose to make McAuley Residence the focus and recipient of its largest fundraising event.
“We’re looking to heal mind, body, and spirit,” said Melissa Skahan, vice president of Mission for Mercy Health System. “McAuley Residence is my passion, for sure. Women come in homeless, with downcast eyes, thinking they have no potential. And in a relatively short period of time, they leave as strong as you and I. What I love is that we do it over and over again.”
“You can see how just a little bit can help somebody get on their feet and accomplish quite a bit,” said Karen Newton, office manager for the CEO of Mercy Hospital. “Health care, as everybody knows, is really struggling. Basic stuff is being nickeled and dimed, so to have supporters here is huge.”
Much more than housing assistance, McAuley Residence is a place for the women to face things that have held them back. They participate in 12-step programs, counseling, mentoring, financial planning and parenting skills classes. Most of the women are applying for jobs or for college admission. On Wednesdays, a local farmer brings fresh produce, and the women learn how to prepare everything from kale to zucchini.
“Each week there’s a community dinner, and they become supportive of each other, and they have a wonderful support system behind them,” Snyder said.
“The women who come here have serious challenges,” said Pat Purcell, a McAuley Residence volunteer from Scarborough. “They need to experience being in a family unit.”
“It’s one of the most heartwarming things in all of Portland,” said Skip Schirmer, a family practice doctor at Martins Point in Portland. “Women and children live there up to two years. Just living there with the other kids and the other mothers puts you in a family.”
“Tonight I met the very first resident of McAuley Residence, and she is so grateful for what she received there,” said Sister Mary George O’Toole.
“It’s important for the sisters, seeing their mission being embraced by their lay peers,” said Sister Patricia Flynn.
“I’m sure we could not have done any of this work without benefactors,” O’Toole said.
This year, McAuley Residence moved from State Street to a larger building on High Street with 15 apartments plus common areas, and will be able to help more women in the larger space. Over the years, McAuley Residence has given more than 200 women and their children a fresh start. The annual budget of $175,000 is funded by donations and grants, with the women themselves contributing about 6 percent.
“It’s so touching to see how committed they are to make a better life, not only for themselves but for their children,” said WGME 13 news anchor Kim Block. “And it’s incredible to see the growth in the organization.”
“McAuley Residence doesn’t generate any income, so its survival depends on generosity. It’s not a Band-Aid. This is a program that transforms lives,” said Cheryl Libby, a former trustee of Mercy Hospital. “There are certain things that touch you, and people here tonight have a passion for changing lives.”
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at: