As many of you know by now, I've tendered my resignation at Covenant House Pennsylvania effective at the end of March. I've accepted a position at our parent agency in New York, Covenant House International, as the Chief Legal Officer. Hugh Organ, who has been with Covenant House Pennsylvania for almost twenty years, will serve as the Acting Executive Director during a search for my replacement. Hugh served in this capacity for several months a few years back, and I'm confident he'll do a terrific job. I’ll also stay heavily involved with key CHPA initiatives from my new seat at Covenant House International to help ease the transition.
I’m very excited about the opportunity to advance the mission of Covenant House in support of our 31 Covenant House locations in the US, Canada, and Latin America. But, to be sure, I will miss Covenant House Pennsylvania deeply.
As I reflect on my five years here I can’t help but think of the young people who have inspired me along the way.
On my third day I met a young man named Adam. Adam was wearing a shirt that said "Bensalem High School" - where I had graduated from almost twenty-five years earlier. Turns out he grew up about a hundred yards away from where I did. The difference between him and me was that my family hadn't thrown me out after high school. They'd supported me through college and law school instead.
A few weeks later I met another one of our young people, James, who had lived with us for a couple of years. He'd just received an award for heroism at his hospital security guard job because he'd stepped in and stopped a patient from stabbing a doctor. He leapt into harm's way to protect someone he barely knew. Homelessness didn't define him. His courage and selflessness did.
My time here has been a joy every day, through thick and thin, challenge and crisis, struggle and success. All because of the remarkable young people I’ve been lucky to meet.
Like Q, who told me he had been bitter toward me because he felt like I made him go to college, only to realize later that “it was the nicest thing anybody had ever done” for him;
And Gregory, who successfully completed our program and got his own place and car, but who still comes back every week as a volunteer to help clean the shelter;
And Natalie, who wrote in her college application essay that “Covenant House affirmed me and made me feel proud of my achievements. Living at the Covenant House gave me something to live for.”;
And the Philadelphia police officer who introduced herself and told me that she’d been on the force for eight years and that nine years ago she’d lived on the second floor of our shelter;
And so many young people who told me that “Covenant House saved my life.”;
And so many more who told me that “Covenant House is my family.”
It’s been difficult to think about leaving these past few weeks. In these moments of farewell and transition it feels far more bitter than sweet. But I keep thinking about one of my visits to our York program a while back. One of our young people, Michelle, was excited because she had just been accepted into college. She and some of our other kids were out back talking, hanging out, and writing on the sidewalk in chalk. A little later I looked at the ground and saw she had written a quote from Winnie the Pooh. It suggested that even though she was excited, she was a little sad about leaving us, too:
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
During these last five years I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get to know so many members of the CHPA community - donors, supporters, partners, staff, and, of course, youth. It has been my great privilege to see up close the miracle of our work: welcoming young people in without judgment, question, or cost; building connections and relationships with our kids, showing them that they are worth care and kindness; and helping them rise up and transform, becoming family for them while they create for themselves lives of hope, inspiration, and success. I’ve seen unconditional love every day at Covenant House Pennsylvania. It is beautiful, inspiring, moving, and joyful. It is hope for our young people, and hope for all of us.
Covenant House Pennsylvania, our kids, our work, and our mission have touched my soul. It is hard to imagine not walking through the doors of our shelter each morning, not seeing and connecting with our young people, and not continuing to build and grow this beautiful community of people in Pennsylvania who come together with a simple mission: to help, to heal, and to love. It’s tough to imagine, and will be even more difficult to do.
But how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
With deep and eternal gratitude,