Women Unite to Lift Up Young People Overcoming Homelessness
Ben was 14 years old and had already been living on the streets for two years when he first walked through the doors of Covenant House.
“He came to us very alone, sad, and angry. He has already suffered so much abandonment and abuse,” said Covenant House Chief Operating Officer Deirdre Cronin at the Sleep Out: Women Unite event at Covenant House New York on April 27th. “He left 26 times, and 26 times we took him back. He had no one else.
“He tried and he tried, and eventually he graduated from high school. I will never forget his graduation day,” said Deirdre to the sleep out participants. “Ben worked so hard and overcame so much … graduating from high school was an amazing accomplishment, a miracle really. And the only people there to celebrate with him were us. Covenant House was his family.
“Ben is doing great now, with a family of his own, and he will always have a place in my heart,” said Deirdre. “And that is my hope for all of you sleeping out on behalf of our Covenant House kids tonight. I hope that after you get to meet our kids, and spend just one night in their shoes by sleeping out, you leave here carrying our kids in your heart.”
Sleep Out: Women Unite is one of several editions of the Covenant House Sleep Out movement. Begun seven years ago with 50 executives sleeping out on the streets of New York City, the movement raises funds and awareness to support Covenant House programs. It has grown into a worldwide movement and has raised over $52 million for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, long-term housing, and educational and vocational training for thousands of youth overcoming homelessness.
“I am so proud to be here with all you fearless, hard-working women tonight,” said Covenant House Chief Development Officer Jill Rottmann Vorndran. “Over 400 women in this amazing Sleep Out: Women Unite movement will be sleeping on the streets across the U.S. and Canada, and together we’ll raise over $525,000.
“I know it was not easy asking family, friends and co-workers for money to support your sleep out tonight,” said Jill. “But each time you ask for help, that means a young person overcoming homelessness doesn’t have to. That is an amazing gift to our kids.
“Tonight you are supporting young people at Covenant House who work and fight and push themselves so hard to create for themselves what so many of us are just given: normal,” said Jill. “They want a home to call their own. A job. Some close friends and maybe even some family. They have bigger dreams as well, just like the rest of us. But they first seek a regular old life.
“That is the opportunity you are giving our kids through this support, and we can never, ever thank you enough.”
“For me, it is a gift to be part of this incredible movement to help the young people at Covenant House,” said third-time sleep out participant Carmen Fernandez. “I remember after my first Sleep Out, being able to walk back into a warm room in the Covenant House shelter and get coffee and eat breakfast. And I thought to myself that the kids on the streets wake up to a cold hard pavement, hungry with nowhere to go. I can’t even imagine that feeling for the kids that are still on the streets. So I’ve come back to help try and get more kids off the streets. And to let them know they are not invisible to me … that they are seen and cared for and loved.”
“I’m so grateful that my company Morgan Stanley got me involved in this effort,” said sleep out participant Regina Fojas. “Once you learn about Covenant House you can’t help but want to help. I met one young woman last year who came from another country, she was escaping being abused multiple times on the streets. And yet she found Covenant House and was fighting so hard to overcome everything, and had such a positive attitude.
“Meeting these kids and seeing their courage, it does not lessen the problems you face in your own life, but it provides so much perspective,” said Regina. “You realize in such a personal way how fortunate we are to have a safe place to sleep, and people who care.”
“This event is a great example of how giving back should be a part of everyone’s life,” said Yoko Nitta, a co-worker of Regina’s at Morgan Stanley who was sleeping out for the first time. “I admit, I am a little nervous, but Morgan Stanley encourages us to help and get out of our comfort zone, and I feel like even though this is only one night, I’ll have more empathy for young people tomorrow morning. It feels like a more personal way to get to know the young people here and to give back in any little way I can.”
Ellen Wetherill, another member of Team Morgan Stanley, has slept out multiple times, and has run half and full marathons for Covenant House. She also volunteers her time to help our young people prepare for job interviews.
“I hope more people take the time to meet the young people at Covenant House and see how amazing they really are,” said Ellen. “They have been through so much, but they work so hard, and they are so smart, and funny, with so many gifts. I feel honored that I have the chance to get to know them and be a small part of their lives.”