IVC Volunteer John “J” Langdon works as Program Coordinator for the Life Skills Training and Empowerment Program (L-STEP) in New York, which empowers individuals who have experienced homelessness to identify and pursue new paths toward more fulfilling lives.
The program’s core participant is someone who is homeless who is ready to set goals to move forward in his or her life. The program serves as a pathfinder to introduce participants to partner organizations to take them towards their goals, like job training and certification programs.
John shares the story of one participant. “[Terry] was a smart, handsome guy who had some college credits, but had spent time in prison. He wanted to get a degree. We connected him with the Educational Opportunity Center. We never knew if he followed up on it or not. Six or eight months later, my wife and I were out to dinner, and I got a text message from [Terry], saying that he was sitting in his first college class in 20 years thanks to L-STEP. We don’t have all the statistics, but these poignant anecdotes keep us moving forward”.
John’s IVC journey began in response to a bulletin announcement at St. Francis Xavier Jesuit parish. He had moved from Chicago, after a 30-year business career. He and his wife had many ideas of how to spend their time during retirement. “I’ve been very fortunate, so I knew I wanted to give back”, he describes.
When John met Regional Director Elizabeth McMahon, he shared his interests – consulting, strategic planning, education, and veterans’ affairs. Liz asked him to consider serving the homeless, but he hesitated about whether this was the right fit.
“Liz asked me, ‘J, do you know any people who are poor?’. The fact is that I didn’t. I consider myself very urban, having lived in Chicago and New York City, but I didn’t know anyone who was poor. Homelessness was not on my radar screen as an area of service for me. Liz asked me to try the position for six months. Over three years later, I’m still there. It is rewarding, interesting. It has been way out of my comfort zone, and good for me.”
L-STEP has an innovative, three-part approach. Participants attend a series of life skills workshops, on financial literacy, goal-setting, healthy living, and finding employment, among others. Second, they are matched with a mentor from the community, who include psychiatrists, physicians, attorneys, social workers, and others who support and encourage them towards individualized goals. Third, participants make a 5-minute presentation to an audience of 60 to 70 people about their life, goals, and future plans – defining critical points in their lives and making specific statements of next steps. This intensive program meets two nights a week for 13 weeks.
“The experience can be frustrating, also interesting and satisfying in some respects. We stay in touch with people, and every two to three weeks, I get a call from an L-STEP graduate who says, ‘Guess what, I got a job!’, or another accomplishment”.
John facilitates all levels of L-STEP, including strategic planning, recruitment and interviews of participants, planning life skills workshops, recruiting and training mentors, building strategic partnerships with organizations that serve people who are homeless, and working one-on-one with participants. John has brought his time and strategic planning and business background to the program. L-STEP now has an innovative partnership with Fordham University to measure outcomes for its graduates.
“I’ve learned an enormous amount from others – social workers, our L-STEP mentors. I’ve been able to help the program and those we serve with my time, knowledge, and experience.”
“Mentoring is a critical component to L-STEP and IVC. In L-STEP, the mentoring relationship empowers participants to become more fully who they are. In the same way, my one-on-one meetings with my IVC spiritual reflector have become an important part of my time as well.”
“What’s been really helpful for me in IVC is the combination of working on the front-lines in this ministry – dealing with people who are poor and marginalized – and the monthly meetings, spiritual reflection, and readings – the theoretical aspects. It’s a terrific model.”
[Photos by Tom Kieren, IVC New York]
Learn more about John’s work and L-STEP by watching their video: http://www.youtube.com/user/XavierMissionNYC?feature=mhsn