It Takes A Village

Carlette S. Mack, Executive Director

Over the past 23 years, one of the words I’ve most often used when describing my experience with Covenant House is “family”. I use it in a very literal sense (my mother worked at Covenant House Alaska for more than a decade), but also to describe the staff, volunteers, youth, and friends here who make up members of my chosen family. For most of us, family is a symbol of unconditional love, support, community, and sanctuary. To me, Covenant House embodies all of those things.

While I was on a recent retreat at Covenant House in New Jersey (building community and support with members of my CH family), I stopped to visit with a few of our youth who were listening to a spoken word performance by an artist named River Jones. As I listened to River’s words, a passage from the performance really stood out to me:

It takes a village to love unconditionally…

…to turn misery into magic.

Having communion and unity

can make gold out of plastic.

See…community makes homelessness just an experience.

Community makes homelessness just an experience.

Our CEO, Kevin Ryan, often says “homelessness is the least interesting thing about our youth”, and I absolutely agree. The youth who walk through our doors are creative and funny and artistic and affable and resilient and sharp and talented and…

and…

and…the list goes on.

One of the things we strive to do at Covenant House is to provide sanctuary and build a community of support so that our youth feel safe and free to be who they are. Homelessness does not define our youth, and if we build the right community with them, it will not be a permanent part of their stories.

The sanctuary and safety within every Covenant House creates a place that leaves behind the traumas that our youth have faced.  Within these walls, and with our staff, youth feel safe and secure to begin moving forward without the fear of being re-traumatized. But the staff at Covenant House is only the beginning.

Together, with our incredible community partners – Thresholds, Cara, Haymarket, Heartland Alliance, and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – CHIL is creating a sanctuary for homeless young people. We are building a community of support around our youth that truly aims to make homelessness a temporary experience, not a defining characteristic.

Providing sanctuary to our youth is an integral part of our identity and one of the principles that guides our mission. It is a mission that promises to treat youth with absolute respect and unconditional love. And, as River Jones so eloquently put it, “It takes a village to love unconditionally.”

Lauren Cartlidge