by The Rev. Greg Buffone
St. John the Divine has a history of substantive, long-term community service, and generous financial giving, and many of our members volunteer in leadership roles, as well as in other ways in our community. Nevertheless, as the Church of Jesus Christ, our corporate call to love and serve our neighbor continues to compel and inspire our vision for what is possible in the Houston area.
With the arrival of our new rector, the Rev. Dr. Leigh Spruill, there is a renewed interest and passion on the part of St. John the Divine to live into a new vision of practical and present service that, God willing, will result in an improved quality of life for individuals and families struggling in our city.
In July 2020, we published a 4-part series titled GOing into the World addressing health disparities within the US population, including lifespan, rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. The likelihood of experiencing poor health is highly correlated with key socioeconomic factors; housing, employment, and education being the most significant.
Based on this research and consultation with experts in the field, SJD launched the Community Engagement Project (CEP) in early 2021 to assess how we might impact one or more of these three social dimensions in Houston. During the discernment phase of the project, the CEP relied on three teams of parishioners who gathered information and data related to housing, employment, and education. The CEP teams quickly saw that influencing social and psychological formation in childhood and continuing through early adulthood represented the most effective strategy to improve the likelihood of positive life outcomes. The teams began to develop strategies for engaging and supporting children, youth, and young adults at risk for difficulties stemming from social and economic disparities.
We’ve come a long way since beginning the discernment work in mid-2021, and thanks to the extraordinary work of the CEP teams, a vision for community engagement has emerged. Simply stated, it is improving short- and long-term outcomes for the very young, school-age children, and young adults disadvantaged by socioeconomic disparities. At the heart of this vision is a focus on relationship-based community engagement through one-on-one mentoring.
To support and sustain the broader mission, the Vestry of St. John the Divine approved the creation of a new affiliated nonprofit known as, A Lighted Path (ALP). The new nonprofit will operate under the oversight of an independent board, and the Rector and Vestry of St. John the Divine.
As an independent nonprofit affiliated with SJD, A Lighted Path will need the enthusiastic support of parishioners and friends to provide time, talent, and treasure to make this new ministry effective. And while St. John the Divine will provide startup funding for ALP, we anticipate that ALP will engage in community fundraising and become financially independent within the next few years.
The first ALP relationship-based program is called Adults in Training, a partnership with DePelchin Children’s Center focused on mentoring young adults aging out of foster care. It is a systematic, multi-dimensional approach to assisting these young adults in successfully transitioning to stable independent living. DePelchin Children’s Center, a highly regarded non-profit organization that currently serves foster youth barely a mile from our campus, has partnered with SJD to develop a new program to connect with and empower young adults to plan and successfully achieve their transition into independent living.
Young adults age out of extended foster care at 21 years of age and face increased challenges launching into adulthood, including an increased risk of homelessness, incarceration, addiction, or losing their life within 18 months of leaving care. About 1500 such young adults in the Houston area age out of care each year. The DePelchin’s Children’s Center was seeking to expand their assistance programs for these young people in this difficult transition.
The idea of a partnership arose. The CEP Housing team and DePelchin, along with input and assistance from young adults in the DePelchin program, came together to initiate the Adults in Training program. A collaborative team of SJD volunteers, staff at DePelchin Children’s Center, and designated professionals will help these young adults develop life skills and relationships to better equip them in establishing stable housing and employment and generally improve their life outcomes.
The Adults in Training program soft-launched in January 2023 with around 20 young adults in the first cohort. An initial call for volunteers last fall resulted in several dozen SJD parishioners completing training and being introduced to the young adults. Initial programming and engagement is underway. A key element of the planned program is housing. Access to housing increases the likelihood of a successful transition to independent living. Participants who pursue their transition plan will be provided with or assisted in obtaining housing before their 21st birthday (the last date they can receive extended foster care services).
We are delighted to have the benefit of DePelchin’s expertise to provide guidance in best practices and to assist in continuous self-assessment as we develop and refine the pilot. We hope to expand the program within the Houston area over time to include additional non-profits and participants.
A Lighted Path and its programs, Adults in Training being the first, will be an ongoing and, hopefully, growing endeavor. Your prayers, time, talent, and treasure are essential to the success of these programs. ALP will open new and exciting opportunities to love and serve your community in the future. Please communicate your interest and how you would like to be involved by filling out the volunteer form.
A Strong Start: in the coming weeks we'll be unveiling another program of A Lighted Path serving care givers and families of young children five years of age and younger.
Photo by the Rev. Greg Buffone, used with permission
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