Two weeks before Sister Simone Campbell, lawyer and lobbyist, and her women religious compadres hit the road again May 28 for the second “Nuns on the Bus” cross-country tour — with the couldn’t-be-more-timely theme of immigration reform — the Long Beach native returned to Southern California to give the keynote at this year’s WomenSpeak luncheon in Los Angeles.The theme of the fifth-annual affair sponsored by Alexandria House (a transitional Los Angeles residence for single women with children in the process of moving from emergency shelter to permanent housing) was “Words into Action: The Transformational Power of Women’s Words.” And the member of the Sisters of Social Service, who have their motherhouse in Encino, stressed the importance of telling and sharing each other’s stories.“This is what I discovered on our first Nuns on the Bus tour last summer,” she told some 300 people at The Ebell of Los Angeles center on May 14. “When we use our voices to share the stories, we heal each other. That makes us bigger than our individual selves. And it is that community that I believe our nation is hungry for. “I urge you all to abolish the unpatriotic lie that we’re based in individualism. We are not based in individualism in our nation. That is corrupting the story of who we are.” Sister Campbell then told the stories of four women she met or learned about on the initial Nuns on the Bus odyssey, which focused on protesting the proposed budget of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin that eliminated or severely cut social entitlement programs. On-the-road encountersSister Campbell said she met Tia in Davenport, Iowa. After eight-and-a-half years in a foster home, the then 16-year-old had run away and was homeless. But soon she learned the best way to get a roof over her head was by having sex with guys. Along the way, she had three children.Luckily, she came in contact with the sisters in Dubuque, Iowa, who took her into their joint communities’ shelter. Tia shared with Sister Campbell that “for the first time in my life I felt loved. And the sisters modeled that love for me, so I could love my kids. So I feel a lot better about myself, and I’m studying to be a licensed vocational nurse.” In Ames, Iowa, Sister Campbell encountered a precocious nine-year-old girl who called herself “Little O.” She said the stuffed toy she was holding dearly wanted to say something to her, but then had trouble getting out the last word: “My tiger wants to say, ‘Good luck on your … What tiger wants to say is ‘Good luck on … My tiger wants to say, ‘Good luck on your … QUEST!’”The woman religious, who is the executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby — said it was the perfect description of what Nuns on the Bus was all about.And then Sister Campbell held up a small color photo of Margaret, who died at 56 of colon cancer after losing her health insurance along with her job. Some local sisters told her how the middle-aged woman knew that family members had died of colon cancer and how she needed to be screened regularly. But when she finally did get medical care, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. In a few months, she was dead. “In the richest nation on earth, it is a scandal, it is immoral, it is wrong that Margaret would die without health care,” declared Sister Campbell. “Her spirit renews me every day.”The final remembrance, which made the woman religious smile, didn’t happen on the first Nuns on the Bus tour, but on an Amtrak train last August when Sister Campbell was coming back from New York City to Washington, where she lives. She was in the “quiet car” when the conductor came by to punch her ticket and recognized her: “You’re that ‘Nun on the Bus,’ right?” exclaimed Eileen. They chatted, and as NETWORK’s director was leaving the train, Eileen called out, “Keep it up, Sister! We need you. We need you. We need you. Keep it up!”“And so I say to you all, this is not about one little adventure,” Sister Campbell stressed. “It’s about all of us. We need to be the stories of each other and lift these stories up. We need to be community for each other. And that’s not just a religious thing.“The first three words of the constitution are ‘We the people.’ Well, we the people of the United States need to develop a sense of responsibility. And that happens at Alexandria House, where many women and families develop a sense of responsibility. But you all are also places where that happens, too. You can take the stories from today and spread them around. That’s the way we create a more perfect union.”‘Comes down to love’At the luncheon, two former residents of Alexandria House did briefly get up to tell their own life stories of radical transformation — one from abuse and homelessness, the other from international human trafficking.Simone Sonnier-Jang pondered aloud, “I don’t know how I survived my own self-destruction.” As a very young woman, she was in an abusive relationship, but realized that she had to protect her baby. “And I vowed to change my mindset and become a better person by being more honest and trying not to be so judgmental” she said. “But then they took my kids away and I felt powerless. But I never gave up hope, though.”By some miracle, she wound up at Alexandria house. And that supportive stay led to getting her children back, receiving Section 8 housing for a two-bedroom apartment, her own car and, basically, having the life she never thought she would have. Sonnier-Jang said the transitional home introduced her to the real face of humanity, after living an existence that was simply self-serving “They really do so much for the community, and they can’t do it alone,” she pointed out. “They need help from anyone who can help. And, really, it all comes down to love.”When offered the opportunity at 17 to leave Indonesia and come to the United States to be a nanny, Ima Matul jumped at the opportunity. She would work for an Indonesian family in California and was promised $150 a month pay. But after arriving in Los Angeles and moving into the Westwood house of her employer, things quickly deteriorated.Besides being a nanny, she had to clean the whole house and do all the cooking. The wife also started slapping and hitting her. One time she struck Ima on the head with a salt shaker, which required a visit to an emergency room for stitches.After three years, she could no longer “take it.” She begged the next-door neighbor for help and was driven to the office of CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking) in the fall of 2000. She stayed at the Good Shepherd emergency shelter for three weeks until a space opened up at Alexandria House, where she lived for 14 months. Today, Matul is married with three children. The family lives in an apartment building renovated by Alexandria House in an affordable housing unit she loves. “During my time at Alexandria House, they provided everything for me, including counseling and support,” she said. “Then I went back there to ask for help with caring for my children so I could go to work. And they helped me with all my three children for no charge. “I know that I always can go back to Alexandria House and ask for help,” the former modern-day slave added. “And I know they will open their doors for me and my family.” Tough timesFinally, the director of Alexandria House, which consists of two large mid-Wilshire homes, spoke passionately about the needs of the transitional shelter for the coming year. St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister Judy Vaughan agreed with former resident Simone Sonnier-Jang that “it truly does all comes down to love.”She talked about getting a phone call the previous week at 9:30 p.m. from a mother in her van with an eight-year-old daughter who couldn’t find a safe place to sleep that night. Another recent call was from a mother who just landed a job but desperately needed childcare for her school-age children. She wanted to know if Alexandria House was still going to have its summer camp this year. “I don’t know what to do with my kids,” she said.After each mini-story, the former professor at Mount St. Mary’s College, who holds a Ph.D. in social ethics from the University of Chicago, would say, “Out of love, what would you do?”“These are hard times, really tough times,” said Sister Vaughn, noting that the priority for local homeless funding today goes to chronically homeless individuals and veterans. “And please hear me — it is all needed. But it circumvents families. “We get 400 calls a month from people we are not able to serve,” she reported. “We’ve got to keep this systemic work going with women and children. We need to keep people alive and off the street and safe.“Out of love, we need your help.”To learn more about Alexandria House, visit; email [email protected]; call (213) 381-2649; or write to 426 S. Alexandria Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90020. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0607/olaxwomenspeak/{/gallery}