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Making a difference in a number of ways

By Abby Rolland

In a previous blog post, harp-weaver spotlighted the efforts of Johanna Berrigan and Mary Beth Appel, two women a part of the Catholic Worker movement, to transform a garden behind their home to be a community garden for their Kensington neighbors.

Mary Beth Appel and Johanna Berrigan in the garden they started. Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Gardens Trust

The second post in the series focuses on Berrigan’s and Appel’s other efforts to serve their community, including running the 5-bedroom rowhouse next to their own place as a hospitality home; operating a clinic a few blocks away that provides free healthcare and showers; and co-founding and collaborating on a healthcare clinic in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

1) The Catholic Worker Free Clinic

Since 1991, Berrigan and Appel have operated a clinic that offers free healthcare and showers to anyone who might need it. Whether it’s through addressing medical needs, or giving medication, providing advocacy or referrals, the clinic offers a welcoming environment and necessary services to individuals who may not receive the care anywhere else. Located across from a soup kitchen, the clinic is open at five different times during the week. As healthcare professionals, Berrigan and Appel work with a team of faithful volunteers to provide health care, showers and other services.

Learn more about the clinic in this article from Drexel Magazine.

2) House of Hospitality

Berrigan and Appel began offering a place for people to stay in their home in 1992; by 2003, they were able to purchase the home next to theirs and expand hospitality. The home offers a safe space for individuals to get on their feet upon newly arriving in the country.

In the first 10 years of the opening of the house of hospitality, it was more likely to host local people in need of treatment for various ailments, mental health issues, addiction, and unemployment. Since then, the house’s occupants have shifted to more likely be refugees and those seeking asylum in the United States. Berrigan and Appel are connected to immigration advocacy networks, who can assist asylum seekers through the legalization process.

Both individuals and families have taken refuge in the home. Berrigan and Appel do not put a time limit on the length of stay – however long an individual or family needs to stay, they are welcome to do so.

3) Kay Lasante “House of Health”

Kay Lasante “House of Health” is a primary care health clinic based in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. While Berrigan and Appel co-founded and continue to collaborate in the clinic’s fundraising efforts, the clinic itself is run completely by Haitians.

It began in 2006 after Berrigan visited Haiti and connected with a priest who sought to meet the needs of the parish community. When Berrigan saw his work in a resource-challenged part of Port-Au-Prince, she realized that she and Appel could also do their part to support the area, then creating the clinic.

The clinic, open four days a week, offers primary care, obstetrics and gynecological care, cancer screenings, nutrition, and community health services to those who are marginalized and lack access to care. “The Haitian staff does amazing work,” Berrigan shared. “And they’re ready to grow it even more.” While Berrigan and Appel are able to funnel private donations to it, they believe it has the potential to be even more. They hope, in the future, to merge it with a larger nonprofit organization in Haiti.

Each of the programs/services that they run are community-based and driven, grassroots, and run on a shoestring budget. Because the women are affiliated with the Catholic Worker movement, they haven’t created a 501c3 public charity entity. Instead, they operate informally, soliciting individual donations to cover materials and supplies for the clinic, the house, and the Haitian workers’ salaries and equipment. Their work with the House of Hospitality is volunteer work.

And how does their work connect to harp-weaver?

Through a mutual friend, harp-weaver principal Teresa Araco Rodgers visited the clinic several years ago and kept in touch. When she learned about the dream for the garden, she connected funders that she works with to support the grassroots effort.

harp-weaver strongly believes in community, relationships, and leadership, three essential aspects of philanthropy. Through their projects, Berrigan and Appel exemplify these characteristics, working as servant leaders to provide support and services to a long-overlooked and resource-challenged part of Philadelphia and a country, Haiti, that has long been maligned by economic and political troubles.

Their commitment, their service, and their philanthropy truly make the world a better place.

For those wishing to inquire about the House of Grace’s services, please call 215-426-0364 or email Johanna Berrigan at

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