35 Years of Hope: Joanne Cimbalo

Joanne Cimbalo has enjoyed sewing all her life. Born and raised in Highland Park, her mother taught Joanne how to sew when she was very young. Joanne belonged to a sewing group when she was first married, sewing clothing for her family, reupholstering furniture, and making curtains for her house.

In 1990, Joanne contacted St. Martin de Porres House of Hope about volunteering to teach residents how to sew. “It was loosely organized,” Joanne recalls. “I would bring in sewing supplies and we would sit and talk and sew. In a sewing circle, what you’re doing is getting together and giving each other therapy. It just happens that we made quilts and sewed clothes.

Joanne Cimbalo

“It was great fun. I loved doing it. It was a great thing to bring to the shelter – to have them create something – but the bigger benefit was us sitting around talking. What you’re doing is getting together and giving each other therapy. The connection is more important than what you’re working on. The value is in the connection.”

The informal group therapy of the residents’ sewing circle served as a springboard for Joanne to join fellow volunteer Marco Pardo in conducting individual and group therapy for the residents of St. Martin de Porres House of Hope. After Marco Pardo moved, Joanne continued running the Feelings Group, the Parenting Group, and Anger Management, and added Family Counseling and Parenting Counseling.

A trained psychologist and social worker, Joanne worked at Catholic Charities where she did child placement. She earned an MA in Pastoral Counseling, an MA in Psychology, and a Ph.D. in therapeutic counseling while serving at St. Martin de Porres House of Hope. “I was in school all those years. I still am,” says Joanne. “The women taught me more than any classroom. They were my best teachers. I miss their courage and their raw honesty and their absolute determination and commitment to what it was they were doing there. All they needed was a place to be and then they just got down to work and made some beautiful lives.”