Crossing over thresholds: Jonestown center welcomes new leadership

JONESTOWN – A gospel choir sang, prayers were shared and friendships were reaffirmed in a ceremony on May 24 to transfer the sponsorship of the Jonestown Family Center (JFC) from the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to But God Ministries (BGM).

JONESTOWN – The Jonestown Family Center, pictured in Dec. 2016, is now under the care of But God Ministries. The Holy Name Sisters returned this summer to bless the new arrangement. (Mississippi Catholic file photo)

Holy Names Sisters Mary Ellen Holohan, Kathleen Hilton, Peggy Kennedy, Cathy Leamy, Kay Burton, Teresa Shields, and Maureen Delaney traveled to Jonestown and presented a framed blessing to BGM. About 80 people from the town gathered on the lawn in front of the center for the ceremony of transition. Sister Maureen gave the blessing while the other Sisters joined in prayers to support continued ministries to the people of Jonestown.
Sister Teresa related the history of the JFC, Sister Peggy thanked the JFC Board – which she has chaired for the past 10 years – and the board members all received gift cups made by Sister Kathryn Knoll with their names and the JFC logo on them.
Stan Buckley, the founder and executive director of BGM, said he believes God led him to Jonestown and Sister Teresa. He and his organization feel honored to carry on the ministry that ties in so well with the goals and values of BGM.
BGM has already constructed a new building in Jonestown called the Hope Center, which will house volunteer mission teams as well as providing office and meeting space. BGM volunteer crews have undertaken other projects in Jonestown including painting a local restaurant, establishing a dental office and building houses using the Habitat for Humanity model. Information about BGN can be found at
Jonestown Durocher Service Development, founded by Sister Kay Burton, will continue to operate, and Sister Kay welcomes the presence of BGM.
After 30 years of ministry in Mississippi, the Holy Names Sisters will remain connected to the people of Jonestown and will support them through their prayers, as well as their presence whenever possible.
The text of the blessing from the Sisters reads:
A Blessing from the Sisters of the Holy Names For All The Days to Come
God surprises us with new life and abundance. May the days to come never cease to surprise you.
We trust the loving grace that frees the oppressed and restores justice. May the days to come amaze you with the wondrous changes that God’s love makes possible.
The faith that empowered and sustained the Sisters of the Holy Names in this place is your inheritance in the days to come.
In the holy names of Jesus and Mary, we bless all who minister among the people of Jonestown, Mississippi for all the days to come.

(Submitted by Jennifer Brandlon, director of communications and administrative services for the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.)

Jonestown, Tutwiler announce new directors

By Maureen Smith
A pair of Mississippi natives have taken over community centers in the Delta, marking a new generation of leadership. Carla Ross is the new director of the Tutwiler Community Education Center and Stanley Lang is the director of the Jonestown Family Center for Education and Wellness.
Both centers were started by women religious. Sister Maureen Delaney, SNJM, left to become the provincial of her community while Sister Teresa Shields, SNJM, retired and went home to Seattle.
Ross is no stranger to a Catholic community center. The Mound Bayou native is the former assistant director of the St. Gabriel Center there. She continues to serve on the board for St. Gabriel, which was started by the Sisters of Mercy and is now home to a community of Franciscan Sisters.
Ross holds a bachelor’s degree in family and human development and a master’s in community development. She believes Tutwiler already has a lot to offer. “I have never seen a community center so tied to the community,” said Ross. “The programs here are based on the town’s needs. I think that’s unique.” Tutwiler offers a variety of intergenerational programs from senior programs to after-school care, teen programs and summer education all the way to a gym where young people can have sports teams. A computer lab, music lessons and the quilters round out the offerings.
Ross said she is taking her first couple of months to learn about the programs and communicate with her staff so they can collaborate on broadening what is already in place and talk about where there may be gaps. “We have a teen program already where we discuss important topics. I would love to see that expand into a shadowing or mentoring program,” she said. This expansion would allow teens to interact with professionals so they could explore a career they may be interested in pursuing.
“Sustainability is important to me,” said Ross. “We will celebrate our 25th anniversary in June 2017 and I want to make sure this place is around for another 25 years,” she added. One of the key components of that is listening to the people in Tutwiler. “Given that I come from a small town I know how important places like this are,” she said. “I want people to know I am open to suggestions and input,” she said.
Lang grew up in Marks, Mississippi, just down the road from Jonestown. The opening at the Family Center fulfilled his wish to “get back home.” He has been the pastor at Anderson Street Church of Christ in Marks for 20 years, but has been commuting  from Tennessee for his ministry. He graduated from Mississippi Valley State University with a bachelor in sociology with a concentration in social work and received a masters in child protection and juvenile justice from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He has 22 years of experience in social work through the Department of Children’s Services in Shelby County, Tenn., and spent an additional six years of counseling in the prison system in Holly Springs and at Parchman State Penitentary.
While he is pleased with the services Jonestown offers, he would like to look at ways to expand services to better fit community needs, such as extending the hours for the toddler program. He would like to offer his staff more professional development opportunities and empower them to become community ambassadors for the Family Center.
Jonestown offers a half-day toddler program as well as a Montessori pre-K program, parenting classes and a fitness center. “I go to the fitness center as much as I can and I would love to see other members of the staff there to help spread the word about it,” said Lang. He explained that he wants to take a holistic approach to community development, helping strengthen minds, bodies, spirits and community connections. Recently eight local churches donated money so their members could work out in the gym run by the family center.
Coming home, he said, “means everything. For years, even when I talk to members of my graduating class, we talk about how our home is suffering because educated people have left so the services are lacking. Having an opportunity to come back home before my retirement age – to be able to do something for my community, means a lot to me. Jonestown is the vehicle for me to do that and I am just so blessed,” said Lang. He has been married for 20 years and has two grown children, a grandson and a “grand-dog.”
Both Tutwiler and Jonestown raise their own operating funds. To learn more about the programs they offer or to support the programs, visit their websites: and

Durocher Summer School draws volunteers

JONESTOWN – For a month every summer, young people in Jonestown have an opportunity to attend the Durocher Summer School, a combination of fun and academics run entirely by volunteers.
Sister Kay Burton, SNJM, has organized the school for the past four years. This year’s session ran from June 6 – July 1.
The students are going into grades six, seven, and eight in local schools. The teachers for session one – the first two weeks – are high school volunteers from Jonestown. The teachers for session two are high school volunteers from Holy Names Academy, Seattle. Wash., and from Jonestown. Holy Names Academy is run by Sister Burton’s order, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.
In addition to tutoring in all school subjects, the children get to follow a theme and participate in fun activities such as swimming and music.
This year’s theme was all about the blues. Students got to take a day trip to the BB King Museum in Indianola to put some of their lessons into context. They also got guitar lessons and wrote and produced a play about the blues legend from the Delta.
Sister Burton has been developing volunteer programs, especially focused in education, for many years in Jonestown. Her efforts include seeking young people to staff the summer school and other educational programs. She also coordinates a volunteer-run community garden. She works on health issues as well, helping get a walking trail opened in the community and educating people about good health and exercise.
Finally, Sister Kay works with young women in the community, forming groups to discuss issues of concern to them, helping them build confidence and self-esteem.
Sister Burton said she is grateful for all the community members to help make Summer School a success.