by Andrea Meier
Lori Gobillot, leader of the Community Engagement Project’s Housing Team, shares the focus and work of her team, and how you can look forward to being involved. Interview by Andrea Meier, director of communications. Edited for length and clarity
Last fall, our rector and outreach leadership announced the creation of the Community Engagement Project (CEP) which is currently discerning how St. John the Divine is called to go forth into our city in innovative, entrepreneurial, and enduring ways. The CEP embodies our understanding that Christ’s mission to the lost, the hurting, and the needy is the ongoing and essential mission of the Church and is central to our vision at St. John the Divine.
The CEP has identified three pillars that translate to wellness and positive outcomes for individuals: education, employment, and housing. With stability in those three areas, we know that people are statistically more likely to live above the poverty line and in health and wellness. Reflecting those pillars, the CEP has engaged three parishioner-led teams, the Housing Team, led by Lori Gobillot, the Employment Team, led by Tony Mayer, and the Education Team, led by Jeff McParland. In this interview, we will learn more about the focus and work of the Housing Team.
Q: The Housing Team has narrowed their focus to youth and young adults (YAs) aging out of foster care. What called you to engage in the Housing Team on the Community Engagement Project?
Lori: As a lawyer with Vinson & Elkins way back when, I worked in affordable housing finance and with developers on master-planned communities. So, I always had an interest in real estate and housing. Then I became familiar with Agape Development through my work on the outreach committee here at St. John the Divine, and now serve on the Board of Agape Homes Community Development Corporation, with a mission to develop over 100 affordable, single-family homes in the OST/South Union neighborhood in Houston. So, given my professional and volunteer background, when I was asked by Leigh to serve on the CEP, the housing team was a good choice.
Q: What led to your team’s particular age group and area of focus?
Lori: The way I like to describe how we began our work is like a big funnel. We looked at housing instability in general, in all populations in Houston. We did quite a lot of research. We saw that there are effective organizations working to address adult homelessness but identified a heartbreaking gap in services for youth and young adults who are in the foster care system and aging out. Probably by November of last year, we identified this gap. We have asked every organization we talked to for tips and best practices, and the number one thing they said was to find a gap that wasn’t being adequately served. We found that gap in young adults aging out of foster care and feel we are called to serve this population.
Q: Can you tell us about your upcoming proposed partnership with DePelchin Children’s Center?
Lori: DePelchin Children’s Center has a supervised independent living facility serving up to 20 young adults on their campus located at Memorial and Shepherd. The young adults must move out of “the dorm” on their 21st birthday, whether they are ready or not. The CEP housing team is proposing that we develop and fund a new supportive housing program with the goal of ensuring that each young adult who completes the program will transition to safe, affordable housing with stable employment, encouraged by a supportive, collaborative team of SJD volunteers and professionals. We identified DePelchin as a well-known, well-trusted community partner that serves the foster care community through adoption and foster family readiness. They were a natural partner for so many reasons, and they were very excited to partner with us.
Q: You mentioned volunteering. Will there be opportunities for parishioners to help with the Housing Team’s project?
Lori: Yes. We are still developing those roles more formally, but there will be opportunities to serve in many ways based on the time commitment the volunteers can make. The primary contact with the young adults in the program will be their Ally. Think of this as a mentor or an advocate. Next, there will be opportunities for parishioners who have a certain expertise, for instance in budgeting, nutrition, or personal management, to assist by presenting lessons or modules that are life-skill-based. There will be hospitality opportunities to bring food, to help create celebrations of milestones, and to mark special occasions. There may also be a need for transportation to appointments, doctor’s visits, and that sort of thing. Finally, and most importantly, we will have a prayer team to support our young adults and the program.
Q: Is there anything else you want the parish to know about the Housing Team’s efforts?
Lori: I think it’s important to reiterate that young adults age out of foster care at 18 and can access optional extended foster care until their 21st birthday. But at 21, there is no longer a safety net for them. And we know that a significant percentage of the young adults who do age out at any point between ages 18 and 21 experience unsatisfactory outcomes. Only 3% will graduate from college. Over 50% are unemployed, over 25% lack a high school diploma or its equivalent, over 25% lack stable housing, and over 30% become parents too early. And what we know statistically is that in life, there is a success sequence. If young adults do the following things in the following order: finish high school or post-high school education or training, then get a job, then get married or find a stable partner, and then have children, they have a 97% chance of living above the poverty level.
For the few that do overcome those poor outcomes, the research tells us that the difference was having one caring adult outside the foster care system. Who is better equipped than the people of St. John the Divine and our surrounding community to be those caring adults? I believe that this is a compelling opportunity for us to look beyond our walls and engage our friends, our connections, and our networks outside the church to come along with us. And in doing that, we can share the unconditional love of Jesus out in the field.
Learn more about the work of all three teams and how the Community Engagement Project (CEP) is currently discerning how St. John the Divine is called to go forth into our city in innovative, entrepreneurial, and enduring ways.