March 18, 2008

Betsy Costello named Racine Dominicans' 'Woman of the Year'

Artist Elizabeth "Betsy" Costello was named "Woman of the Year" by the Racine Dominicans.

For the past seven years, Costello has taught teenagers at the Racine Youth Offender Correctional Facility crafts such as knitting, embroidery, crocheting, basket-weaving, latch-hook and needlepoint on canvas.

"Betsy’s true artistry is in weaving self-confidence into these young men – in helping them believe in themselves and their ability to turn their lives around," said Sister Maryann McMahon, vice president of the Racine Dominicans. "She sees their potential, and she encourages each person to develop his own strengths."

"It’s never a waste of time to encourage someone,” said Costello, who was presented with the "Exemplery Volunteerism" award by Gov. Jim Doyle in February 2007.

Each week Costello, who is physically handicapped and must use a walker or wheel chair, goes to RYOCF on Tuesday and Wednesday to teach classes. Beginning with a class of 14, she noted “the first thing I taught them was that if they understood something and someone else didn’t, they were to put down their project and help the other fellow.” She was impressed by the young men’s willingness to help and their understanding that the only way a class that size could work was if they pitched in to help. Since then classes have grown to as many as 22 students.

"It's not just the craft I'm teaching," Costello explained. "I'm really teaching responsibility, accountability, belief in oneself and service to others."

The inmates know that any project they make will go to someone in need. They are not allowed to keep or even make the items for family or friends. When any of her students prepares to leave RYOCF, she makes a point of talking with him privately to encourage him in building on the strengths she has witnessed in him. Of each young man she asks, "What are you going to do to help society when you get out?"

What impact is Betsy having? It’s not easy to tell what will happen to a young man when he leaves the correctional facility. Yet, Costello says she is often "blown away" by the profound things her students say or by the questions they raise. During one class, an inmate asked her, "What do you think is the worst thing a person can do to someone else?" After answering, she turned the question back to the young man, who responded, "Deny them an education. You shut people down when you don’t let them get an education."

"Betsy certainly uses the visual arts to promote the values and ideals of the Racine Dominican community," said Sister Carol Wester, who served on the Dominicans' award committee. "Her belief in the dignity and worth of every person drives her to help the young men at RYOCF move beyond the challenges that put them there and to find meaning and purpose in their lives."

The Racine Dominicans are a community of Catholic Sisters of St. Dominic and lay associates who live by the mission "committed to truth, compelled to justice." They have a 146 year history of serving the city.

March is Women's History Month.


  1. What an amazing woman! Thanks for what you do for others.

  2. I have the pleasure of knowing this fine woman. She is amazing! It goes to show how something as "simple" as treating other human beings decently can make a difference. She is an inspiration to everyone to get off their butts and volunteer. We can all make a difference.