By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

A joyful glee brightened the youthful face of “Mary,” her expression testament to her excitement.  

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Bishop Michael G. Duca presented checks to the recipients of Works of Mercy grants during a ceremony May 1 at the Catholic Life Center. From left are Michael Manning, Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank; Jena Maughan, Metanoia Manor; Bishop Duca; Gloria Messenger, St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany/St. Thomas Chapel in Springfield; Michael Acaldo, St. Vincent de Paul Society; and Tammy Abshire, stewardship director for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator


For some, an embroidery machine is inconsequential. But for “Mary” (whose real identity is being protected) and two other teen-age girls at Metanoia Manor the machine represents a means of escape from a troublesome past where their innocence has been stripped by the vulgarities of human trafficking.  

“My favorite thing is that I can make and save money while I am here,” said “Mary, who has already shown a penchant for making and designing clothes using one of the three sewing machines at Metanoia. “Maybe in the future I can show others how to do this.”  

“I could start a business,” the teenager added, expressing a buoyancy and enthusiasm that perhaps a few months ago was entombed deep in the ugly scars of a difficult childhood.  

Another girl, her maternal instinct on full display, simply said, “I want to make me and my daughter matching shirts.”  

Jean Maughan, Metanoia’s program director whose passion for her job and love of the girls is evident in her every word and boundless energy, said being able to purchase the embroidery machine is “huge, it’s huge.” 

She said it will provide the girls (currently there are three girls in the house, all in their late teens) a skill once they leave Metanoia and re-enter society, offering hope for a future where previously there was none. 

“My hope is to give them a foundation, that they realize when they leave here there are opportunities,” Maughan added. “They’re such good girls and they are capable of so much but they don’t know it. They’ve never been show (those opportunities) and they don’t know what is inside of them. 

“It’s locked in there.” 

The purchase of the machine, which should be completed by the middle of June, is being made possible through a $7,500 grant from the annual Diocese of Baton Rouge’s Works of Mercy program, which was created in 1991 as a fundraising effort to continue the many good works started by Bishop Stanley J. Ott.

Since 1991, Works of Mercy has awarded nearly $500,000 in grants, all earnings off of the $646,000 endowment, stewardship director Tammy Abshire said. She said a combined $27,000 was awarded to agencies in 2019. 

Abshire said the donations are based strictly off the earnings of the endowment and varies annually, depending on the performance of the investments. She stressed the endowment is never touched. “Every year we award grants to organizations that help improve the lives of others in very tangible ways, and we applaud all of them for their efforts,” Abshire said. “But this year we are especially excited to be able to award Metanoia Manor with a grant. “The work the (Hospitilier Sisters) are doing, helping victims of some of the most heinous crimes imaginable, is nothing short of miraculous. Through this grant, and with the sisters’ dedication, we are providing light where there has been darkness, hope where there was only despair.” 

“There is no tangible way to measure that joy. This is truly God’s work,” Abshire said. 

Maughan said the idea for an embroidery machine was borne out of the proclivity the girls have shown for the crafts, including paint by numbers or just freehand painting on canvas. One of Metanoia’s volunteers helped the girls make crafts to sell at the St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary Christmas bazaar this past year so they could stow away some funds for the day they graduate from Metanoia and are on their own.

They not only made the crafts but also priced the items and manned the booth. The girls were as flabbergasted as appreciative by the enthusiastic response they received. 

One teen, who had been reluctant to display a colorful painting of a lion she had finished, was stunned that it sold so quickly, and to a young girl who talked her mom into buying it. 

“I think embroidery is a skill they can all learn,” Maughan said. “I don’t think (embroidery) would exclude one based on mental capacity or physical capacity.” 

She envisions the girls embroidering logos on handbags and baseball caps, as well as shirts, pillowcases, jackets or even towels to be given away at a golf tournament. She said the machine will have the capability of performing all of those duties. 

“Then they have a product, something to be proud of,” Maughan said. 

Perhaps therein lies the real purpose of purchasing the embroidery machine, and more globally the mission of Metanoia. Maughan said the girls rescued from the streets arrive at Metanoia emotionally bruised, feeling unloved and feeling incapable of being loved. 

“They have no self-confidence, they just don’t even see it in themselves as a possibility.” Maughan, a mother of three, said, her self-confessed “mama bear” going into full protective mode. “So when you tell them ‘I’m really proud of you, you did well on that,’ they just look at you like ‘I don’t even understand what it is you’re saying.’ ” 

She said teaching the girls such skills as embroidery, cooking, table etiquette and other life skills is critical because they will learn there are far healthier options available besides being a sex slave. 

“Learning life skills gives them a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of worth, along with the opportunity to hopefully work one day in a professional environment,” Maughan said. “I am tremendously grateful to Works of Mercy for the grant. Without that, we would not have been able to purchase the machine.” 

Also receiving grants were the Society of St. Vincent de Paul ($5,000) to be used for the construction of a new chapel, the Baton Rouge Food Bank ($7,500) and St. Margaret Queen of Scotland Church in Albany ($7,000) for women’s prison ministry.