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Sister Ines Pena
Purpose Prize Fellow 2008
Providing health care, education, and emotional support under one roof for Puerto Rican girls in foster care.
At age 63, Inés Pena, a Carmelite nun with a lifetime of work for the destitute behind her, saw that Puerto Rico’s foster care system was not meeting the needs of young girls. In 1993, with her colleagues in the order, she formed Hogares Teresa Toda, a community and foster home in Loiza, Puerto Rico, to guide and support young girls on a path to responsible adulthood. Sister Inés saw that young girls who bounced from foster home to foster home needed more than shelter in order to grow into successful adults. Hogares Teresa Toda makes certain that they have not only the “basics” of safety and health care but also access to the tangible and intangible things that create a high quality of life – a solid, integral education, emotional support, and training in the skills of daily living. Sister Inés’ original 15-bed facility has grown to house 28 girls and teens, including a residence for independent young women who have “aged out” of government foster care programs but still need support. She also built a polytechnic center providing job readiness programs to the broader community in information technology, fashion design, culinary arts, small business and community development. The center also offers prevention programs for at-risk youth and families. “I could have retired honorably and moved back to Spain with remaining family and old friends. Although I considered the possibility, there were way too many children I could still serve. I honestly prefer to die living rather than to live dying.”