INDIANTOWN | Change is coming to a rural community educational center begun eight years ago by two women religious looking to help empower individuals and families. Sister Mary Dooley and Sister Kate Kinnally, both School Sisters of Notre Dame, will retire in June and their Indiantown program will become part of a larger agency.
The sisters started the nonprofit KinDoo Family Center, 14557 S.W. 174th Court, after working many years at Hope Rural School in Indiantown and realizing that the parents of many of their students lacked basic education. The adults from Guatemala, Mexico and Haiti, especially the women, were sorely in need, Sister Dooley said.
Aiming to instill a can-do attitude in their students and helping them to realize the vast opportunities that are available in the United States, the sisters needed to find a name for the center. While the name they chose is close to “can-do,” it’s a combination of their last names, Kinnally and Dooley. The plan was for Sister Dooley to teach English and Sister Kinnally, an expert seamstress, to offer instruction in sewing, all for free.
Finding a small building to rent for a reasonable price was a challenge, they said. They found a building that had been vacant for three years.
“We met with David Powers from Indiantown Nonprofit and told him what we wanted to do, and he loved the idea,” Sister Dooley said.
With no furniture for the center, inadequate flooring and odd colors on the walls, over the summer of 2015 Indiantown Nonprofit and a group of volunteers began renovating the building. The sisters made the rounds of thrift stores throughout the region looking for bookcases, tables and chairs.
“The kitchen had no window, no cabinets, the floor and lights were in need of updating,” Sister Dooley said. “Mariner Sands, a generous community in Stuart, gave us a grant and allowed us to renovate and improve the space.”
The kitchen became an integral part of the center’s curriculum when Marybeth Peña arrived to offer her expertise in chronic disease prevention and community building before the center opened in October 2015.
Peña, a registered nurse and certified diabetes care and education specialist, had obtained an Allegany Franciscan Tau grant with the support of Health Council of Southeast Florida to tackle high rates of childhood obesity in Indiantown. “In order to do that, I wanted to establish a partnership with existing entities in the community that already had trust, and bring services directly to the people,” said Peña, who recently completed a master’s degree in advanced holistic nursing from Florida Atlantic University.
The center started a wellness program for women called Cooking and Conversations, meeting twice a week. One day was dedicated to physical activity goals and the other to health and wellness workshops and cooking classes. Health topics included diabetes prevention, heart health, first aid, parenting and women’s health.
Peña stressed that nutrition is an important subject because many of the students are “moving from an agrarian culture where there’s a lot of physical activity and not a lot of processed foods to one where a sedentary lifestyle and the standard American diet can cause health issues.”
The KinDoo Family Center has also partnered with Volunteers in Medicine, a local charity organization that provides services to people who are uninsured. VIM has provided health care to adults in the KinDoo program and assisted with caring for health challenges, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. “Education partnered with primary care has improved the health of our families,” Peña said.
Sister Dooley said Peña monitors the women’s weight, checks their blood pressure and provides wellness coaching. Peña also teaches them how to prepare healthy, economical plant-based meals for their families.
“Our Women and Wellness, Mind, Body, Spirit program reinforces the importance of the spirit in achieving wellness, no matter what your religious traditions may be. It’s a trinity,” Peña said.
From September through May, the center instructs women in basic and level 1 English, basic and level 1 sewing skills, art, cooking and nutrition, and basic computer skills, along with workshops in citizenship and finance.
Through the years, Sister Kinnally has had major oral cancer surgeries that have affected her speech, but not her attitude. “Without full use of language, she’s one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet,” Peña said.
In the sewing classes, the students learn how to make clothes for their families, pillows, tote bags and quilts. Also, the center’s students formed the KinDoo Kindness Club to make outfits for children in Guatemala, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, sending boxes of clothing to pay it forward. During the pandemic, they made masks and gave them away to people in the community.
Sister Dooley said a request was made by community organizations to make fidget quilts for local Alzheimer’s disease patients and children with autism. She explained that a fidget quilt is six squares with two or three objects in each square, such as zippers, shoestrings, Velcro, a bell or something similar. They also have made dignity bibs and lap quilts for a nursing home in Pahokee.
Childcare is provided to the students while they are at the center. The childcare area is overseen by Sister Barbara Becker, a Dominican sister from Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, who recalled the day that two mothers came to see her.
“Their English lesson was to speak to me and thank me for taking care of their children. ‘Thank you for taking care of my child.’ That was the one English sentence they had learned that day,” she said.
In their native countries, Peña said, mothers may not have had experience fully participating in their child’s education. KinDoo, in conjunction with community partners, encourages them to take an active role in their children’s education.
In May, an end-of-the-year recognition program is held at the center, with a red carpet and students’ families in attendance. Women proudly displaying their newly acquired English skills speak about what KinDoo has done for them, and sewing students show some of the items they have made.
Last summer, Sisters Dooley and Kinnally took stock of their lives and decided it was time to hand over the center to other people. They didn’t want to leave it to one person but to an organization.
“We met with House of Hope in Stuart and we told them what we wanted, and they were touched that we would entrust this mission to them,” Sister Dooley said. “So, as of July 1, it will then be called the KinDoo Center for Enrichment at House of Hope, and House of Hope will be operating it here.”
Rob Ranieri, CEO of House of Hope, said his agency “stands in awe of the amazing careers of these two women, their dedication to the Indiantown community, and the impact the KinDoo center has had.”
KinDoo’s mission aligns perfectly with House of Hope, Ranieri said. The aim is to offer year-round programming in the same place and in the same spirit. “Our plans are to add to the center’s current offerings, eventually bringing in additional educational resources, career coaching and children’s programs.”
As for Sisters Dooley and Kinnally, who are now in their 80s, they will leave Indiantown in mid-July to live with other School Sisters of Notre Dame in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Saying goodbye to their numerous donors, dedicated volunteers and friends will be extremely difficult.
“I think we accomplished what we set out to do, and that was to give the women a sense of self, a sense of pride,” Sister Dooley said.
“Our dream was to empower the women and help them to realize their potential. I feel we have at least put them on the road. I can’t say they’re finished,” she said.
The center has been in line with the mission of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, founded for the education of women and girls. “Our foundress felt so strongly about women being educated. She said, ‘You educate a woman, you educate a society, you educate a family.’”