Unsung Heroes – Local Couple Leads Effort to Help Parish in El Salvador

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by Tom Pedulla – 

Ted Sohn’s life changed forever when he joined Yale classmates and other college students in building a much-needed school in Mexico City in the early 1960’s. He went on to a career in social work, someone eager to make a difference for those near and far.

Ted and his wife, Pat, as parishioners at Transfiguration Church, helped to establish what is referred to as a “twinning” relationship with Our Lady Queen of Peace in Soyapango, El Salvador and its school, St. Joseph the Worker. They continue to play lead roles in that program, which started in 2004 and quickly focused on education.

More than $20,000 has been raised annually to meet some of the many needs at Saint Joseph the Worker, which extends from kindergarten through ninth grade with an enrollment of 259 students. Much of the money is devoted to scholarships.

“You are investing in the lives of kids, which is a huge, huge investment,” Ted said. “You can’t compare it to building a house because this will last them the rest of their lives.”

Pat and Ted made their first visit to El Salvador in 2005. The sight of housing that consisted of unstable huts with mud floors was shocking. The sight of children who were happy and playful despite all they lacked was heartening.

“What was important to us was to see these families in the flesh and to connect with them,” Pat said. “They are a beautiful, warm people.”

The Sohn’s have been joined by others at Transfiguration in making seven visits to Soyapango since then, all at personal expense. The most recent occurred in November. As much as they are encouraged by the students’ progress, conditions immediately outside the school have deteriorated so badly due to gangs and the prevalence of crime that they were not allowed to visit houses as they had in the past. They stayed in a hostel 30 minutes away as a precaution.

If anything, those worrisome circumstances have only deepened the determination to help.

“It is important for us as a Christian people to know that we are all brothers and sisters and that there are things just as important as funds when caring for those in need, namely relationships,” said Father Emiel, Transfiguration’s pastor. “Ted and Pat’s initiative and work with the community in Soyapango have helped us all to grow together as God’s people.”

Pat, 78, and Ted, 77, emphasize that the program’s success stems from the involvement of many. Approximately 120 parishioners donate annually as part of an effort separate from other church fundraising. A committee in El Salvador works closely with its Transfiguration counterpart.

“There is as strong a committee there as we have here,” Ted said.

Soyapango volunteers identify students who merit scholarships to help pay the tuition of $5 per month. There are 140 children currently receiving such aid. According to Pat, many students would be unable to attend without that support. College scholarships were introduced not long ago.

Transfiguration intercedes in other ways as well. A religion teacher who was being paid $125 per month, for instance, was recently persuaded to stay after receiving an increase to $310 per month.

Pat and Ted said they receive “millions of hugs” each visit. Then they know it is all worthwhile.

The Hudson Independent presents “Unsung Heroes,” a series of articles profiling those who provide extraordinary service to the communities in the readership area. If you wish to suggest someone for this feature, please email us at editor@thehudsonindependent.com with a brief description of that person’s background.

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