Honoring Male Role Models at Covenant House
When we think of positive male role models in our lives, we often point to a father, an older brother, a teacher, a coach, or a spiritual leader. At Covenant House, our buildings are filled with role models with diverse backgrounds, and while each employee fills a specific role — educator, facilities manager, youth advisor, chef — they are all quick to take off their assigned hat and put on a different one so that all young people feel supported. We believe these men also have capes to match those hats, but they don’t put them on; they stay in their ordinary clothes.
Keith Ward, senior maintenance supervisor at Covenant House Florida in Fort Lauderdale, has been making Covenant House feel like home for over 24 years for young people experiencing homelessness. “What gets me out of bed every day is the chance to get to know the young people here at Covenant House,” says Keith. “The best part of my day is when a young person comes up to me and says, ‘Mr. Keith, I’ve learned a lot from you.’ I’m honored that kids feel comfortable to confide in me, and I try to conduct myself in a way that they can learn from my example. I think the best part about Covenant House is that we are more than a meal. We teach young people how to live, and to be a small part of that every day for over 24 years has been a real blessing.”
Lyndell Pittman, director of CovWorks, the workforce development and training program at Covenant House New York, has spent the last four years reshaping his department to produce positive outcomes in career development for young people and helping youth gain access to educational opportunities that they never knew were within their reach. His department has received grants for technology upgrades and scholarships as well as linked up with prestigious job training programs with companies like Delta Air Lines. Lyndell, known as Pittman to youth and staff around the building, knows his role at Covenant House goes beyond his title. He shared, “When we offer our best to the young people we serve, we continuously share a little part of our soul. People often ask me, ‘How have you continued to do heavy work for so long?’ My response is alway the same: I was emphatically designed for this purpose. I'm encouraged by the stories and fueled by triumph. Healing is what we do together.”
And please allow us to introduce you to Dave Hall, associate executive director of programs at Covenant House New Jersey. For over 20 years, Dave has been a leader, mentor and role model for thousands of young people experiencing homelessness. “I heard about Covenant House through a friend, Diane, who was working at Covenant House New Jersey,” says Dave. “She told me to come by and visit the new program they were opening in Newark. I showed up and found myself carrying boxes and helping out, which I now know as the Cov way!”
While volunteering that first day, Dave met a young girl outside the shelter. “She told me she was living and sleeping on the trains, going back and forth from New York to New Jersey. She said a transit officer referred her to Covenant House, and things were getting better. Up to this point I honestly didn’t know that so many young people were experiencing homelessness. She opened my eyes. Six months later I was working at Covenant House, and I’ve been here ever since.”
As associate executive director, Dave is responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly in our nine residential programs across New Jersey. It is a 24/7 total commitment. “You don’t last in this job unless you love the job,” says Dave. “Every opportunity is a chance to teach. Some young people accept our love and support right away. Some never do. And some come back ten years later to say thanks. What never changes is that we treat every young person with absolute respect and unconditional love, and I know personally I get so much back in return.”
Dave recalls one young man a few years ago who was a particular challenge. “He would come in, get in a fight, leave, come back, try again, and something else would happen. He finally left for good and we didn’t see him for a whole year. Then one day he walked in and thanked me. Said he had a full-time job. And now he comes in once or twice a week to volunteer and help out.”
Some of Dave’s memories at Covenant House resemble that of a parent experiencing higher levels of anxiety when situations are harder to control. He remembers not sleeping for days while trying to locate and protect our young people in the aftermath of 9/11. He remembers living at the shelter with his staff for weeks in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And most recently he was on the frontline with so many Covenant House staff during the COVID-19 pandemic, risking his own health and missing time with his own family (Dave is married and he and his wife have two sons) as he worked keeping our young people and staff safe.
Some of Dave’s more painful memories are the ones that remind him that everyone deserves the love of a family. He recalled a story of a young girl who was six-months pregnant and living at Covenant House New Jersey when she went into premature labor. “The baby was a fighter just like her mom, but the baby was so tiny, and tragically passed away after one day.”
The mom was devastated, of course. And she had no family support. Dave and his team went about the painful task of setting up funeral arrangements. They wrapped their arms around the resident with love and support. And when the time came for the funeral, the young woman asked Dave to be the pallbearer.
“Carrying that tiny casket was the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” says Dave. “But we were this girl’s family, and that is what families do.”
Father’s Day is celebrated in June. It is a time we honor with love the fathers and father figures who have influenced our lives in a positive way. This Father’s Day, in addition to their own children, thousands of other young men and women will take a moment and thank Keith, Lyndell, and Dave for being irreplaceable role models, mentors, and friends in their lives.