Care through Touch
May 12, 2016
In the heart of the Tenderloin and Mission neighborhoods in San Francisco there exists a unique ministry that touches, figuratively and literally, some of the most desperate people in the city – the Care Through Touch Institute. A few recipients live in run down single-room occupancy hotels, but most bed down in shelters and still others in encampments, or other out-of-the way places. At one time the Tenderloin was the starting point for alienated populations, refugees, and immigrants. Today ALL of the neighborhood’s residents, homeless or marginally housed, are poor, and many suffer from addiction and mental and/or serious physical illnesses. The Mission neighborhood, however, is a study in contrasts, with half of it dominated by affluent Caucasian residents while the other half, mostly Hispanic, are much poorer.
The Care Through Touch Institute (CTI) started in 1983 in Berkeley, CA with the intent of teaching and offering massage therapy within the context of pastoral ministry and grounded in the values of justice and compassion. This vision led the Institute to move to the Tenderloin and Mission neighborhoods in 1997. Today, under the inspiring leadership of Mary Ann Finch, interns and volunteers collaborate with neighborhood healthcare and social service agencies, providing healing and caring touch to homeless veterans and seniors, to women & children victims of domestic violence, to prostitutes, drug addicts, and to critically and terminally ill people. “Caring Through Touch is a spiritual practice”, says Mary Ann. “How can our ministry of touch and compassionate presence serve the cause of justice? How are we transmitting our passion for justice and kindness to those who are the recipients of our care?” she asks. One recipient who struggles with addiction and PTSD says, “I won’t ever be able to achieve the levels of success that others might, but Care Through Touch has inspired me to want to care about others the way they do. I encourage everyone to help each other and be grateful for what they do have.”
For many of their clients, this massage is the only positive physical touch that they have in their lives. One elderly homeless and arthritic woman said, “Some might say that massage is a luxury, but for me it’s a necessity. When I show up for massage it makes me feel good because I know I’m being responsible for taking care of myself. I can’t do a lot, but I can do this!” Another client, a middle-aged male veteran, says “Getting massage regularly is a big part of staying sober and keeping me out of the dark places I can get myself into if I’m not careful. It relaxes me and keeps me focused on my sobriety.”
Although this fringe population may be overlooked by many on the streets of San Francisco, it is hearing their stories and showing love and care through touch that energizes and renews the volunteer massage practitioners. “Wherever we are, wherever we go, through word and action (Word and Flesh)” says Mary Ann, “Care Through Touch practitioners are a voice for the needs of the poor, for their dignity and their liberation.”.
For many years Sr. Mary Ann Schofield, RSM (deceased) and Sr. Karen Kielb, RSM served and supported Care Through Touch. Currently, Associate Lois Hillman is working with this ministry as a grant sponsor and a massage and healing touch practitioner.