New director vows to carry on the mission of Homework House founders
Story and photos by David Martin
HOLYOKE – Virginia Dillon hopes to continue the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who founded the Homework House to help children at risk of academic failure find success in their education.
Dillion, who was recently named the new executive director of the Holyoke-based program, has 20 years of experience managing nonprofit organizations. She began her nonprofit career by providing legal and support services to women who were in abusive relationships on the west coast.
But, she said, she was born in New York and became anxious to return to her roots. She was hired as the executive director at Girls Inc. in 1999. She said that organization had a significant impact on the people it was serving by giving them the proper tools at a much earlier age to resist the elements that lead to ongoing poverty.
Dillon said Girls Inc. began to put more emphasis on educational outcomes and paralleling the work with what the girls were learning at school. She said that experience is what she will bring to Homework House. She said things will change for the kids coming there only if they have the proper literacy and mathematical skills that they can use out in the larger vocation world.
Dillon said that the Homework House founders, Sisters of St. Joseph Jane Morrisey and Maureen Broughan, are “profoundly inspirational” to her and she hopes to ensure that the work they have accomplished continues in the way that they envisioned it.
“I want to make sure that Homework House continues to tap into the spirit, the vision and ideals of the Sisters of St. Joseph … and at the same time growing and strengthening the program; so I think my charge is twofold,” Dillon said.
Sister of St. Joseph Kathleen Imbruno, site director at Homework House on North Summer Street in Holyoke, said she is overjoyed at having Dillon as part of the team and can already tell she will make an excellent executive director because she has good instincts.
Sister Imbruno said she also is looking forward to working with the new education director, Christy Enman, and is hoping to find more volunteers to tutor the children.
“We really want to have one tutor for every two children. That’s really our philosophy and we are not at that point yet,” said Sister Imbruno.
Paul Grennon, a second-year tutor at Homework House, said he enjoys volunteering because it is his chance to give back to the community and the children help keep him young. Grennon said most of the children are very motivated which makes his job of teaching math and English easier.
“Hopefully, we teach them to be a sponge in the future, to suck up as much information as they can and live like that because it is an important thing,” said Grennon.
Dillon said she enjoys the beginning of the academic year when staff and volunteers are interacting with the children, getting to know them and also meeting their families. She said the children keep her going and when they want to share what they have worked on in school or tell her a story about their lives, it becomes very energizing and entertaining.
Anyerka Lopez, a sixth-grader at Kelly Elementary School in Holyoke, said she is very happy when it is time to go to Homework House. She said she likes the tutors because they help her with English, science and math.
“They help us learn the same thing we learn in school, but explaining it to us better,” said Lopez.
Lopez said it is fun getting to learn with students from other schools who attend Homework House and also her friends, like Natania Rodriguez, also a student at the Kelly school. Rodriguez agreed that the tutors at Homework House give students a better knowledge and understanding of their schoolwork, which allows her to be more focused, do better on tests and get higher grades on her report card.
“Homework House will make me a better student by (getting) passing grades, and getting into a high school and college, and to get a good career and be an artist someday,” said Rodriguez.
Dillon said she is very happy to be back in Holyoke and to be part of an organization that has done so much for the education of others. She said Homework House is always looking for volunteer tutors and mentors, and those who are interested can contact her at 413-265-1017.
(Editor's note: The public is invited to meet Dillon at the annual Appreciation Night for Volunteers and Sponsors, to be held wednesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Social Center, 340 Chestnut St., Holyoke.)