Sister Martha Donnelly makes a difference volunteering and building relationships at Dubuque women’s shelter

Above: Sister Martha Donnelly volunteers with the Dubuque Y’s crisis services program and with Dubuque Food Pantry.

By Kayli Reese, Telegraph Herald

In the past year, Dubuque Presentation Sister Martha Donnelly’s volunteer work had allowed her to listen and foster relationships with those in the community who are struggling.

“I’m hoping to continue building those relationships,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to help people who are emotionally fragile.”

Sister Martha volunteers with both Dubuque Food Pantry and Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA’s crisis service program at its shelter for women and families who are experiencing violence.

While working at the food pantry, Sister Martha said, she heard that the Dubuque Y’s crisis services was looking for volunteers. She said she was impressed with Crisis Services Director Nicole Fens’ vision for the shelter.

“I’m touched by Nicole’s passion for this,” she noted. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Fens highlighted Sister Martha’s joy, enthusiasm and commitment, noting that Sister Martha enjoys working with some of the women at the shelter when she can.

“She’s just a beacon of light to the women who meet her,” Fens said. “When clients get to meet a volunteer, they get to build a relationship, and it’s another form of support for the clients, which is huge.”

Primarily, Sister Martha said she has organized household items and clothes that have been donated to the shelter for families and ensures they are sent out to people. She said she next hopes to help organize putting together birthday bags for the women at the shelter.

She has been able to connect with some of the women who stayed at the shelter, recalling one woman who organized the room full of donated clothes in Sister Martha’s absence.

“That was a really neat experience,” she said. “She not only energized me, but I energized her to use her skills to help others.”

Sister Martha said her experience at the shelter also further highlighted the experiences of those who suffer from domestic violence.

“When you open up the Telegraph Herald and see the police report, it’s full of domestic violence,” she said. “… There’s just a struggle to have good enough self-esteem (to end the cycle of violence). A lot of people have very poor self-esteem, and there’s the issue of codependency, feeling like you need to take care of someone or that you need someone to take care of you. It’s very complex.”

Sister Martha said she is happy to play a role in a place that offers the support needed for women to get themselves out of dangerous situations at home.

“This is somewhere they can feel safety, love, affirmation and care,” she said. “Those are basic human needs, and so many people don’t have that.”

Watch this video to learn more about the Dubuque Community YMCA/YWCA’s crisis service program:


Photo by: Dave Kettering, Telegraph Herald