by Dolores Royston, Ignatian Volunteer, Washington DC
Several years ago a friend gave me a copy of The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, by Father James Martin, SJ —and it changed me. I realized that I was missing a way to share with others, my deep faith in the presence and goodness of God in my life, and I looked for a program that would provide that opportunity. Through the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, I was offered that chance at The Father McKenna Center. And I’ve been enriched by my experience at the Center, as it has allowed me to ‘walk with those I’m serving’.
The Father McKenna Center is a Catholic social service agency serving men struggling with homelessness and families who live on the margin. The Center offers a Day Program for men that serves two meals, offers showers and laundry service from Monday through Friday. The men use the Center as a mailing address, access a phone, work on computers and shop for much needed clothes. All of these services are offered to engage the men in Case Management, where they are challenged to take the right next steps to reclaim their lives. It is the case management aspect which is at the core of what is done at the Center. Each guest is given the opportunity to meet with an exceptionally qualified counselor to map a plan to help him rise out of homelessness. The Center serves about 115 men daily (2,500 different men annually) in an atmosphere which is friendly, safe, and supportive.
The Father McKenna Center opened its doors in 1983 in the basement of St. Aloysius church, to honor the legacy of Rev. Horace B. McKenna SJ, who was active in the civil rights movement in Washington, DC. Father McKenna worked tirelessly for the rights of the poor. He co-founded SOME (So Others Might Eat), a soup kitchen, clinic and jobs center; Martha’s Table, which serves the needs of the homeless and low income families; and other centers, many of which still function today. In 1977, Washingtonian Magazine named Father McKenna “Washingtonian of the Year”, an honor which was well-deserved but very humbly received by Father McKenna.
The Father McKenna Center was a natural for me. My husband Paul had volunteered there in the 1980s; my three sons and now two grandsons are Gonzaga Eagles. On Thursdays, I arrive at the Center at 8 am, and serve as the receptionist by answering phones, distributing mail, and performing other administrative tasks. I especially enjoy interacting with our guests, and try to encourage them to persevere in their plans to change their lives. Simply by remembering a guest’s first name usually brings a big smile. At the Center all guests are treated with respect and dignity, in a caring environment not often found in the outside world. The Staff are dedicated and talented individuals, from eclectic backgrounds, who make the Center a rewarding place to be.
The Center also provides supplemental groceries for low income families through a very active Food Pantry. The Pantry is filled with items contributed by many diverse sources in the city, and serves about 12-15 families each day. There are canned goods of many varieties, and fresh foods such as vegetables, milk, eggs, etc. At Thanksgiving, many families using the Pantry are given baskets with the ingredients for a turkey dinner, with all the fixings!
Recently the Center was accepted into the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy 2016-2017, as one of 70 smaller nonprofit organizations (budgets under $3 million) out of 200 applicants. The Catalogue helps nonprofits to spread the word of the good works they are doing. And acceptance into the Catalogue signifies the agency is doing significant work, and is sound financially.
The Center has three other IVC volunteers (Jim Joyce, Patti and Don Kisicki), and welcomes more than 30 other weekly volunteers and nearly 500 occasional volunteers, who come from many diverse sources in the country.