Find joy, gratitude, and hope in the unlikeliest of places was one of the messages shared by Kevin Ryan during the first of four lectures given at St. John’s University during the 2019–20 academic year.
Mr. Ryan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Covenant House International, has been selected as this year’s holder of the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice. The theme of his lecture series is “From Homelessness to Hope.” He delivered his first two lectures in October and December of last year, and will conclude the series with two more in the spring semester.
Covenant House, founded in 1972, provides housing and support services to youth facing homelessness. It operates in 31 cities throughout the United States, working with an average of 80,000 young people each year. Among other programs, Mr. Ryan has shepherded the “Sleep Out” Movement, in which supporters sleep outdoors to experience the harsh reality of homelessness, while raising funds to benefit Covenant House programs.
“Darkness falling” is how Mr. Ryan described his earliest experiences at Covenant House. He added, “I felt the walls closing in.” A young graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center, he joined the staff after being inspired by the work his future wife did with the organization’s chapter in Louisiana. He quickly realized that despite the best of intentions, he had much to learn.
“I was increasingly aware of my own great fortune, and the graces that had lifted me up to the moment I was in; but I was also now deeply aware of the fact that there were so many young people in this world who were literally dying because of a lack of care and support.”
“I worry about our world not having enough spaces for grace to shine,” Mr. Ryan continued. The Vincentian tradition of introspection and reflection help him spread the word about Covenant House through the platform of these lectures.
“The homeless whom Covenant House assist match easily with our students in terms of age, ethnicity, religion, and orientation,” noted Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Executive Director, Vincentian Center for Church and Society. “Listening to Mr. Ryan and his colleagues tell stories about their residents reveals the fragility of the situations of some young adults. It was so important for our community to hear these stories and to ask how we can contribute to the support and care of these marginalized sisters and brothers.”
Mr. Dickerson’s journey to Covenant House came through his late mother, Nancy Dickerson, a pioneering journalist who was CBS News’s first female correspondent. His mother became heavily involved with the organization after she retired, and helped open its Washington, DC, location. Building off what she started, and possessed of an intense desire to serve, Mr. Dickerson found himself drawn to the organization and quickly became friends with Mr. Ryan.
“Covenant House boils down to relationships,” Mr. Ryan said. “Kids are so hungry for connection and community. They are often more starved for that than for anything else.”