Covenant House International President Kevin Ryan visits CHV!

Once a year, Covenant House holds “Renewal”, a day when staff from across the agency (youth workers, fundraisers, cooks and custodians etc.) can recommit to our mission and renew our passion.  This year our Renewal committee invited Covenant House International President Kevin Ryan to attend.  Kevin flew in from New York the night before Renewal and out the night of (he had a meeting with President Obama the next day!).

 In addition to interacting with each other, we were blessed to hear from Kevin (an exceptionally charismatic and articulate speaker) who chronicled his journey walking along side our youth which began years ago when he was first out of law school and working as a legal advocate for Covenant House in New York.  Kevin shared his belief that Covenant House is not doing “charity work” per se but rather we are leading a movement of justice for young people.  He juxtaposed this against what so many human service charities struggle with – donor expectations as they relate to outcomes. What is your success rate?  How many kids did you get off the street?  These are questions for which donors want answers and understandably so.   

 For perspective, Kevin told the story of a young woman, “Rosa”, whom he met while in Nicaragua (Covenant House in Latin America is “Casa Alianza”).  When he first met Rosa, she was 14 but looked 20; a victim of sexual trafficking and addicted to sniffing glue.  Two years after first meeting Rosa, Kevin went back to Nicaragua and while doing outreach with our staff there, he saw Rosa again, this time 16 years old and looking 40. 

 On this visit, Kevin was accompanied by a donor and Kevin wondered to himself if he would be asked about the expected “outcome” of Rosa – her situation seemed so bleak:  Rosa was bleeding in the street, and drug addled, barely able to make eye contact as the outreach worker and Kevin spoke to her.  As the staff applied anti-lice treatment to her hair, Kevin recalled that her eyes briefly came to life, responding to what was probably the first non-violent, non-sexual human touch she had felt in a long time.  

 Kevin reflected on this situation, noting how “hopeless” Rosa seemed and wondered aloud what most people do – “what is the point?” of walking the streets whether in Nicaragua or Vancouver, tending to those young people who are so alone and suffering.  It is unlikely that Rosa will ever rise out of her situation, but Kevin argues that providing her with love, in the moment, is enough.  Visiting our youth in their DTES (Downtown Eastside) SRO (single room occupancy) hotel, bringing them socks, food and keeping them company is enough – that is the outcome in some circumstances (street outreach is just one of 3 core services Covenant House provides in addition to a residential Crisis Program and a long-term Transitional Living Program). 

Kevin asked the Outreach Worker in Nicaragua why Covenant House is there, walking the streets, providing aid to the seemingly “hopeless” cases and he responded perfectly when he said: “because we can and we must”. 

 Kevin Ryan