Being the new President & CEO of St. John’s Community Services, and learning so much about this incredible organization, one of my goals is to highlight the amazing talent and groundbreaking innovation that are at the cornerstone of St. John’s. My first trip out into the field took me to the Philly office – I have been itching to get out and see our regional sites, and so I tagged along with George, from our leadership team, who had a meeting set up with the Philly crew to discuss an upcoming grant submission.
What is happening in Philly under the leadership of Larry Russock exemplifies all that I heard St. John’s to be. We met at The Village of Arts and Humanities (where Luke, Mike, and I took the above photo,) and where Larry and his team have pioneered a strategic alliance in one of the more economically distressed neighborhoods of the city. Teaming up with Mike O’Bryan, Youth Arts Program Manager, SJCS is augmenting the Village’s programming with Pre-Employment Transition Services. The Village runs one of the oldest youth community centers in the city, touching hundreds of students every year. If not for Larry’s outreach efforts in the city looking for opportunities for St. John’s to make an impact, these students would not ever receive this type of support.
Larry’s entrepreneurial spirit has also created the opportunity for St. John’s to prove that people experiencing homelessness deserve the chance to receive workforce development support, advocating for and partnering with other agencies for the creation of a pilot program serving 11 such individuals.
Back at the Philly office, I felt the energy of the team the moment I walked in. With bright SJCS branding and collateral everywhere, and after being treated to Philly cheesesteaks, I was blown away by the passion and commitment of Cathy, Steve, Lena, and Luke – it is no wonder they have added 5 additional staff in the last two months and are now up to 14 total team members. They are actively advancing our cause in the city, seeking out opportunities for St. John’s to change lives.
Two such lives being changed are James and Albert, two of the students in the new work that Luke and Lena are 3 weeks into, offering employment programming in local schools. Luke described James as a teddy bear of a student – a super nice kid who struggles to grasp all of the concepts discussed in the program, but when he does connect, it’s a huge breakthrough and victory for him. Albert is this super charismatic student with learning disabilities, who Lena describes as amazingly creative, and she can’t wait to see his progress throughout the program.
James and Albert are reminders to all of us that every student matters and deserves to be included. Without the life-changing potential, opportunities, love, and support that Luke, Lena, Cathy, Steve, Larry and the rest of the St. John’s Philly crew provide, they could fall through the cracks and our society will be the lesser for it.
Our focus on career services, community engagement, and independent living builds a stronger community for people of all abilities. St. John’s supports over 800 individuals a day, across 5 states, providing over 25,000 hours of support and encouragement to help people experience all life has to offer. By supporting the work of St. John’s, you ensure that even the most vulnerable in our communities are fully included.
I hope that you will join us in advancing community support and opportunities for people living with disabilities. Consider making a tax-deductible gift to St. John’s today. With your generous support, St. John’s Community Services can assist in building a better future for young people like James and Albert.
Best wishes in the new year, and thanks so much for caring!