Journey Toward Wholeness
Although it is a beautiful view, could you ever imagine the limbs of a pine tree being your roof and vista from the dirt floor of your home? For Kevin Weldon, this was his view as he lay underneaththe tree in Pennypack Park where he lived on and off for the last 20 years.
Kevin’s struggle with homelessness began in 1990 when his wife left him. He started to drink, and he eventually lost his job as a police officer. He lived on the streets and did not care anymore.
Kevin lived a life of despair until March 2012, when he unexpectedly ran into his sister-in-law. She told him that his daughter, whom he had not seen in over 20 years, was looking for him. This gave Kevin the motivation he needed. On a rainy Monday in May, with one token in his pocket, he found his way to a job seminar at the Veterans Administration. Little did he know his life was about to change.
Kevin found his way to Project HOME’s St. Elizabeth’s Recovery Residence. I first met Kevin at the informational meeting forour PECO Veterans Employment and Training Program. I could tell immediately he was tired,haggard, and depleted, yet I saw that glimmer of hope in his eyes. We accepted Kevin into the program and were able to secure him a work placement at MANNA, a great partner of Project HOME, which serves 16,000 meals weekly to homebound persons living with AIDS or cancer. Kevin and MANNA bonded immediately. Kevin was a very eager learner and worker. No job was too small or big for him.
He made 700 eggplant Parmesan meals, opened thousands of cans, shredded by hand 100 pounds of carrots, and loaded the trucks. He was not paid for additional working hours, he volunteered his time consistently.
Jen Stackhouse, MANNA Development Manager, says of Kevin, “He approaches each task with dedication and pride. Seeing Kevin in the MANNA kitchen is a reminder that anything is possible and that it is never too late to learn, change, and grow.”
Working at MANNA made Kevin feel pro-ductive, valued, and loved – feelings he had not received or given to others in a verylong time. He has also enjoyed the camaraderie and support ofour veteran group consisting of nine other veterans on a similarjourney toward recovery and wholeness. “The PECO internship was a great experience,” Kevin says, “and I love working at MANNA and the people who work at MANNA.”
The Veterans Training and Employment Program uses the restorative power of work, education, and community to help formerly homeless veterans re-make their lives. For many veterans, the journey back from homelessness entails rebuilding the foundation of their lives in order to reclaim their independenceand dignity. The Veterans Program is a vital part of our employment efforts. We have long recognized that not only is employment a critical component in overcoming homelessness, it is also essential to human dignity. Kevin is proof of the importance of the program: Since starting the internship, he has started to feel alive and engaged, and a contributing member of society. He has reconnected with his family, daughter, and grandchildren.
Post-internship, he has been hired by MANNA part-time as a food packager. We are grateful for those partners who fund our programs and hire our interns – PECO/An Exelon Company; The Raynier Institute and Foundation; Independence Blue Cross; JP Morgan Chase Foundation; The Franklin Institute; Fresh Direct; Loews Hotel; MANNA; the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania; Morgan Lewis; Otto Haas Charitable Trust; Pitney Bowes; St. Joseph’s University; SEPTA; ShopRite/Browns Family Stores; Working Film Establishment.