There are stops along life’s journey that leave marks on our heart that remain for a lifetime. For me, Emmaus House has been one of those stops. From the moment I heard about this special place founded by Father Austin Ford during the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, it captivated my activist imagination for what a community could do for itself when organized for justice. When I was chosen to serve as executive director of Emmaus House, I was both surprised and honored to be entrusted with such a legacy. And I’m so grateful that I was.
At the beginning of 2017, I will be headed “home” to embark on a new chapter in my life and career as founding executive director of Covenant House Illinois. Founded in 1972, Covenant House is one of the largest privately funded agencies in the Americas helping homeless and trafficked youth. It has provided food, clothing, crisis, and long-term housing, medical care, and vocational and educational opportunities for over 51,000 homeless and trafficked youth each year. As I’m sure you’ve read in the news, Chicago is experiencing a perfect storm for homeless youth with gang-related deaths at their highest in 20 years, dangerously cold winters, and a state government slashing funding for social services.
Having started my journey into social justice ministry in Chicago nearly 20 years ago, my heart is being drawn home. In the words of Frederick Buechner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” For this next chapter, my deepest gladness is to head home and play a role in addressing the deep needs of homeless youth fleeing gang violence, abuse, and the bitter cold. I’m thrilled to be entrusted with the task of building the work of Covenant House from the ground up in Chicago.
The last two and a half years have been an exhilarating ride at Emmaus House as together we’ve tried new things, taken risks, and learned new ways of telling our story and the stories of our resilient neighbors in Peoplestown. From the chants and cheers of Freedom School® scholars to Christmas dances with our feisty seniors, there are many memories I will treasure. But most of all, I will treasure the relationships I’ve made with Emmaus House staff, board members, and supporters. This is truly a special place, and it is made special by the love and support of so many whose lives have been touched in some way by Emmaus House. Thank you for allowing me to be one of those lives!
It is comforting to know that I leave Emmaus House in a stronger place than when I arrived, and with a capable and talented leadership team at the helm. With Greg Cole stepping into the role of deputy director, the organization will have steady leadership through the transition and beyond.
Joseph Mole, LMSW