The Journey Starts Here

Carlette S. Mack, Executive Director, Covenant House Illinois

Anyone who’s spent much time in the halls of a Covenant House has undoubtedly heard the story of our founding: it was a dark and stormy night in New York City in the late 1960s when six homeless youth were sheltered from the cold by a Franciscan Priest. The youth were given a warm meal and a place to rest. While the youth waited out the storm, the priest reflected on a calling to serve homeless and at-risk youth and, on that night, an organization and a mission were born. A few years later, in 1972, the first Covenant House officially opened its doors to homeless youth, starting a human rights movement that continues to this day and serves more than 80,000 young people annually.

While a certain air of legend hangs around the anecdote, it speaks directly to the core of our mission to protect and serve vulnerable youth, a mission guided by Covenant House’s five principles – immediacy, sanctuary, structure, values communication, and choice.

Every aspect of the work we do with our youth is guided by these principles, and every success story is a direct result of them.

For Covenant House youth, the road to a more secure adulthood begins with the first of these principles, immediacy.

Youth who walk through our doors are welcomed without question and given a meal, clean clothes, medical attention, and a safe place to rest. Years of research have shown us that without access to these most basic of resources, it is impossible for our young people to begin the hard work of rebuilding and restructuring their lives.

Research tells us that youth who receive regular meals and a good night’s sleep perform better at school and work, that young people who feel prepared and confident walking into an interview are more likely to get the job, and that the stress of food and housing insecurity affects performance in all areas.

But it’s not the research that helps us understand…

Imagine sitting at your desk mid-afternoon, trying to be productive having missed lunch. Think about just how real the struggle is on mornings when you’ve only had a few hours rest. Recall the confidence you feel when you walk into an interview wearing clean, professional attire, and the sense of security that washes over you when you find yourself in a place of unconditional love and support.

Immediacy impacts each one of us on a daily basis, and for homeless and at-risk youth, for whom resources and services are sometimes impossible to come by, the days in which we can address those immediate needs are even more crucial.

The work of Covenant House Illinois, and of Covenant Houses everywhere, is so much more than providing a meal to a hungry young person, or a bed on which they can rest.  However, meeting those immediate needs allows us to begin and continue the work of eradicating youth homelessness.

While our story may have started decades ago and hundreds of miles away, it continues today, right here in Chicago. Covenant House Illinois will soon be the only drop-in center in the city operating seven days a week, working to meet the basic needs of even more homeless and at-risk youth.

The start of any successful journey is a solid foundation. With immediacy guiding our work and our mission, we hope to help every young person start their journey toward a promising future.

Lauren Cartlidge