From homeless to self-worth


By Maria Wiering

Among the crowd supporting Bank of America Sept. 8 at Catholic Charities of Baltimore’s 2012 Dragon Boat Races were about 50 men from Christopher Place Employment Academy, a Catholic Charities program that provides job training, career and interpersonal skills to formerly homeless men.

Like many of the “CP men” at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore native Raymond Clark, 37, was wearing a red Bank of America T-shirt to cheer on the bank, Christopher Place’s charity partner.

Clark joined Christopher Place in February after serving 15 months in prison. Through the program, he is earning his GED and has secured a job.

“Without them, I would have had no place to go,” he said. “They took me in, I have food, what clothing I didn’t have they provided me, and I have a roof over my head. … They’re giving me a chance to get my life back on track.”

Christopher Place is not simply a homeless shelter that also offers classes, said Sabree Akinyele, who directs Christopher Place and Our Daily Bread Employment Center, which houses
the program.

Since 1996, it has been a full-time, 18-month program that addresses the needs of the whole person – mind, body and spirit – and is unlike anything else in the Baltimore area, she said.

As a Catholic Charities program, it also recognizes the men’s inherent dignity, Akinyele said.

After a selective admissions process, Christopher Place participants go through four stages: pre-academy, the 14-week academy, job-ready and working academy. Our Daily Bread Employment Center can house 60 men who are at various stages of the program.

The program is lengthy, but participants must recognize they are worth it, Akinyele said. Once they do, it is Christopher Place’s job to give them the tools to change their lives, she said.

The program’s goal is for the men to obtain self-sufficiency and self-reliance, said its outgoing managner, Brother Joseph Dudek, of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity.

Staff members and volunteers want men to keep the jobs they find, advance in their careers, rebuild family relationships and have real homes. They also recognize the road to success is challenging, and they work through men’s relapses and setbacks, Brother Joseph said.

Days at Christopher Place are structured and begin early. Wearing a shirt and tie, the men take classes ranging from mathematics to cooking, meet with case workers and study with tutors. After they complete the academy, they work with Catholic Charities staff and volunteers to secure a job and prepare for life after Christopher Place.

Graduates of the program are eligible for the academy’s alumni association after they have been working for one year. Its president is Rickey Samuel, a Baltimore City native who graduated from the program in 2003 and now runs his own maintenance business.

Although he served in the Army and enrolled in college, Samuel became entangled in Baltimore City street life, drugs and repeated cycles through the city’s penal system.

At Christopher Place, he said, Samuel found hope and learned “how to
be a man.”

“One of the greatest gifts that this journey has offered me to date is the peace within,” he said. “I never knew that at the end of the day I was going to be able to lay down and be okay with myself. … To engage in this peace is beautiful.”

Copyright (c) Sept. 26, 2012

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.