Iris Sankey-Lewis

Iris-1

Living is giving

If you can envision two white nuns, neatly dressed with religious pins on the fronts of their blouses, wearing sneakers, and pulling shopping carts through the streets of Harlem, those were Sr. Dorothy Gallant and Sr. Teresa Skehan. They began to give of their time, and were devoted for over fifty years to doing the Lord’s work. It was at “Harlem Two” that these faithful women not only wanted to pass out food; they started to take along shopping carts loaded with Bibles and song hymnals, and nutritious snacks.

I feel fortunate to have met the late Sr. Dorothy Gallant, while I resided at New Providence Women’s Facility. There, each Wednesday, I looked forward to enjoying songs and praise led by Sr. Dorothy and her faithful group, which I still call “My Life and Faith Family.”

I also have fond memories of the Leadership Study Day, The Women’s Group Meetings, and Anne Quintano’s Art Group. In addition, I can recall our Women’s Retreat in Poughkeepsie, NY, and also at Mariondale Retreat Center with serene grounds and a picturesque view along the Hudson.

One of my fondest memories was etched on the screen of my mind while we were driven to those retreats. All along the way, we each volunteered to come up with a song, and the group of us filled the atmosphere with songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and “Standing in the Need of Prayer.” Of course, prayer always preceded our departure.

The late Sr. Dorothy Gallant and her group of volunteer lobbyists rolled up to the State Capitol in Albany, New York at the height of winter. We were armed with a ferocious plan. It was the start of the year 2002. The grand opening commenced with prayers. More than a thousand folks were gathered together. We had a catered lunch while Governor George Pataki gave the State of the State address. We heard, “I can’t think of a criminal justice strategy that has been more unsuccessful than the Rockefeller Drug Laws.”

Busloads converged at the State Capitol. That afternoon, with script in hand, we who were members of LEFSA scattered to various offices of our choice.

I, along with the late Sr. Dorothy (I always chose to follow her around) and Elizabeth, Eve, and Eve’s husband, the late Brother Ralph, went to the office of State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV. He didn’t hesitate to summon his secretary, who was told to fetch his photographer. He signed a document given him by Sr. Dorothy, after we read him our script.

In a nutshell, we were lobbying for the Rockefeller Laws to be dropped. Our script was entitled “Drop the Rock.” Mr. Powell then began reminiscences of his past. Someone asked about a small yellow cab parked on his heavy antique mahogany desk. “Would you believe there’s a story behind it?” he said. But our time was short.

Later on that day, we braved snow and ice and wind and rain, and hurried to join the demonstrating crowd. We occupied the wide expanse of the stairs leading to the State Building. We were spread out beyond that spot, and a resounding “Drop the Rock” could be heard far and near. The Rockefeller Drug Laws mandated extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Fifteen years to life was indeed harsh; about the same for second degree murder. We volunteered to lobby right when Russell Simmons, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon did. In 2004, Governor Pataki signed the Drug Laws Reform Act, which significantly changed the sentencing guidelines.

Distance cannot sever my affiliation with LEFSA. Over the years, I have always found my way back to its Harlem office to see those I’ve shared fond memories with. LEFSA nurtured my hungry soul with spiritual food enough to share. I have learned that living is giving, and the late Sr. Dorothy Gallant gave me priceless insights. One is that of volunteering, and of sharing.

MY EXPERIENCE WITH LEFSA AS FAMILY
by Iris Sankey-Lewis, 1/18/16

Related Stories

Read what LEFSA participants, team members, and volunteers have to say.

Mario - Finding Faith Again
Let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Mario and I’m a 54 year old Dominican raised in West Harlem. I met LEFSA while living in the Boulevard Men’s Shelter on Lexington Avenue. Let me say it’s a very dark place, where you’re living in constant fear that you might be the next victim. As for myself, I thought I was caught up in a nightmare ...
Read more

Mario Pimentel

James A - Getting life back
LEFSA gave me my life back. It didn’t just give me my life back, it gave me my family’s life back too. Because when I got better, my family got better also. And not only did my family get better, but my community got a little better.

I dedicate my life to helping others who are caught up in this vicious cycle of poverty and of drug addiction and abuse ...
Read more

James, LEFSA Operations Manager

Johnnie - A beautiful and warm feeling
I was in a shelter at Ward Island and one week I was told about a gathering, where they give us food and talk to us. At the time, my mom had cervical cancer. She was my partner and confidant. When I met James, he touched me, because before saying hi to him I said, “my mom is dying.” The way he grabbed me, it was a beautiful and warm feeling. I started coming to groups ...
Read more

Johnnie

Brittany - Inspirational and life changing
Thank you to all of the members of LEFSA for welcoming us into your phenomenal community. Each and every one of you are inspiring, and what you do is extraordinary. In the short time we were there, we were able to learn so much, and it truly opened my eyes that I need to spend more time involved in the community.

LEFSA is a place everyone should experience ...
Read more

Brittany Robert

Debbie - We are always here
I met LEFSA in 2004. I’d been staying at New Providence Women’s Shelter and was on my way to sign out, and I heard gospel songs, like my mom used to sing. Sr. Dorothy walked up to me and invited me in. The gathering gave me peace. I was hooked after that—she would invite me to the Women’s Group and Leadership Study Day. I completed EOP in 2005 ...
Read more

Debbie Canty

Amoy Chung - Encouraging and uplifting each other
I honestly feel selfish for enjoying LEFSA the way I have. It was a very humbling experience that I will definitely cherish. At LEFSA, I feel at home. I always feel a sense of calm and serenity once the meetings start. I absolutely love how every attendee and visitor becomes a member of the ever loving and growing family known as LEFSA.

As a nursing student, especially in the accelerated program ...
Read more

Amoy Chung

James B - It's a blessing
It’s been our blessing to provide this service. So many people have said to us, ‘we thought you were not coming out today, but it’s a blessing you are here for us.’ And we are there, every Monday, whether it’s cold or warm outside"...
Read more

James Butler

Timothy - They’ve seen their father become someone
You will know my disciples, because they show love for one another. When you come to this community, that is what you are going to get. It takes time to work on people, but it works. It worked on me. My children think LEFSA is the greatest thing on earth. They love it as much as I do, because they’ve seen their father become someone, and when someone mentions their father’s name people don’t cringe anymore ...
Read more

Timothy

John Wesley - Little Miracles
When asked to write about Life Experience and Faith Sharing Associates (LEFSA) I came up with a title for the essay. I call it “Little Miracles.” Read on, hopefully you’ll agree.

A couple of weeks after I moved out of the shelter and into my apartment, I was confined to a wheelchair. One night while coming home, a lady smiled at me and said: “you need LEFSA.” Somehow she knew ...
Read more

John Wesley Mitchell

Joan - Testimony to Ministry
I arrived at Lenox Hill Shelter for Women in the month of July 2008, feeling sickly and weak. Sorrow had taken the place of joy, because of my dire circumstances. At least one year and a half earlier I underwent a yearlong treatment for chemotherapy, then came the death of my beloved mother, followed by homelessness. Homeless was a word I’d never experienced ...
Read more

Joan B.

Lucy - Food for the soul
In the beginning, being homeless was depressing. I was angry, ashamed, and upset for being in that predicament. I had no relationship with God. One day, I came in early from work and went to the Rec Room and walked in on a Life Sharing Community Gathering.

The gathering was on love, and it got me thinking about God’s love for me. I decided I would let these gatherings be my connection back to God ...
Read more

Lucy, LEFSA Housing Advocate

Iris - Living is giving
If you can envision two white nuns, neatly dressed with religious pins on the fronts of their blouses, wearing sneakers, and pulling shopping carts through the streets of Harlem, those were Sr. Dorothy Gallant and Sr. Teresa Skehan. They began to give of their time, and were devoted for over fifty years in doing the Lord’s work. It was at “Harlem Two” ...
Read more

Iris Sankey-Lewis