Under the Oak Tree

On the side of St. Jude Church in Norfolk stands a large, beautiful oak tree whose far-reaching branches offer shade for the prayerful, the weary, and the sorrowful. But just a few paces away- inside the parish hall- Beth Budny is providing a very similar place of respite.

On the side of St. Jude Church in Norfolk stands a large, beautiful oak tree whose far-reaching branches offer shade for the prayerful, the weary, and the sorrowful. But just a few paces away- inside the parish hall- Beth Budny is providing a very similar place of respite.

“Our iThirst program started small but now we have a mailing list of 99 people,” says this gentle woman who serves as both Parish Nurse and Spiritual Companion. “Our current session is facilitated via Zoom, and we have 31 registrants!” The strong number of participants signals that this program has landed amidst an interested population who sees its mission as important- and needed.

The iThirst Initiative is the brainchild of Keaton Douglas, a New Jersey parishioner and consultant, educator, and counselor in the field of addiction and recovery. Her vision to create a program that enables Christians to accompany individuals who struggle with addiction is being implemented across the Archdiocese of Boston and throughout parishes like St. Jude’s.

The program received its name from Jesus’ last words on the Cross and it focuses on three main areas: education and prevention; support for people who are incarcerated or in treatment facilities; and aftercare and community building for people in recovery and their families. A grant from the Catholic Health Foundation (CHF) helped St. Jude’s launch the program, a program that now sustains itself through participant donations. “CHF got us started but now we offer programs for free because people are giving back. People are being truly generous,” remarks Beth.

The program was initially well received by both the pastor and the parish and people’s awareness of it is growing. “Word of mouth is by far our best marketing tool,” Beth confirms. “Of the 31 virtual participants in the current program,” says Beth, “about one-third of them are new. Participants do not have to have issue with alcohol or drugs. The 8-week program is aimed at helping people live a healthy lifestyle and, therefore, it is relevant to the whole community.”

The Catholic Health Foundation also awarded St. Jude’s a grant to develop a bereavement program. The program is open to anyone who seeks support for their grief in dealing with the death of a loved one. Such grief can be a very lonely and isolating experience. With encouragement and support, participants can tell their story, discover ways to regain a sense of control in their lives, permit themselves to grieve, and find help in adapting to their life without their loved one. Currently, three women participate and meet weekly on Thursday afternoons.

The reach of these CHF grants is wide and extensive, much like the branches of the large oak tree. Just as the tree welcomes people to sit in its shade and rest, so, too, do these parish programs. They help struggling individuals regain balance atop the broken axis of their lives and dig deep to develop healthy roots of restoration.

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