In Recovery, Words Matter.

In Recovery, Words Matter.

The Black Lives Matter protests that are occurring throughout the country and, in fact, around the world, are bringing many issues to the fore. One of them is how critical it is to be careful in our choice of language when referring to people – especially when those people are “the other.” Words matter and we all need to become more careful and purposeful when we make our word choices.

At St. Francis House, we are becoming more conscious of the words we use, and steering away from those that may be perceived as belittling or stigmatizing. We do our best to refrain from saying “the homeless” to describe our guests. Instead, we talk about our guests as people who are experiencing homelessness. Our elevator pitch says we’re an organization that rebuilds lives by providing refuge and pathways to stability for adults experiencing homelessness and poverty. As Karen LaFrazia, our President and CEO, says: “Homelessness is an experience, not an identity.”

In our work, there’s no better place where words matter than when we’re talking about substance use disorder. It’s too easy to slip into pejorative, shorthand terms like “junkie,” “drunk”, “meth-head.” We must be diligent in recognizing that those with a substance use disorder have an illness that’s chronic. Having this illness doesn’t make them bad people, moral failures, incapable of change. We see every day that people with a substance use disorder are able to recover.

We need to make sure that the words we use don’t put up a barrier that keeps an individual from seeking treatment for their illness. 

The Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center has created something called the Words Matter pledge. Their goal? Build a stigma-free environment where all people with a substance use disorder are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. They’ve laid out a set of guidelines that show the difference between non-stigmatizing and stigmatizing language:

Reflecting on the Black Lives Matter protests, and despite the pandemic, the team at our new Resource Support Center has been leading the effort to adopt the non-stigmatizing language, and we’re all following suit! As part of St. Francis House’s ongoing commitment to treating our guests with dignity and respect – and helping those suffering from substance use disorder a pathway to recovery, we encourage you to join us in taking the pledge.

Moving Ahead through COVID-19 for MAP

Since it first began 25 years ago, our Sullivan Family Moving Ahead Program (MAP) has helped hundreds of those who’ve experienced homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and/or a history of incarceration, find their footing and regain more stability and purpose in their lives. MAP is a 14-week job and life-skills program that has been an entirely in-person experience, consisting of in-person lectures, hands-on workshops, assignments, and field trips.

Because of the pandemic and ensuing quarantine, seven weeks into the first MAP class of 2020  — the program went on hiatus.

While the Workforce Development team regrouped to determine how MAP could move forward in a COVID world, they kept in regular touch with the members of the class.

Jae is the Employment Readiness and Supportive Services Supervisor at SFH, not only supporting the two MAP Instructors, Lisa and Terry, but also directly working with MAP students to provide vocational rehabilitation services. “As you can imagine, having to shut down the MAP program was traumatic for people who’ve already experienced so much trauma in their lives. Connections matter,” Jae said. “So it was essential that, during the hiatus period, we kept in touch with our class members and kept up the momentum.” 

Each week, members of the WFD team, like Employment Specialists Srin and Joseph, connected with each student for a live phone meeting or email exchange to make sure that they were getting all of the support they needed. This included food and medical needs, as well as making students aware of the full range of resources still provided by SFH and the City of Boston. WFD staff members Lisa and Jacky kept current and past students engaged with regular reminders, such as benefits access, food resources, or wellness tips.

Even while on hiatus from class, WFD was able to continue paying for the cost of sober home residency for both the currently-on-hiatus MAP class and the just-graduated class 183, which had their ceremony just 2 days before quarantine became reality! A weekly stipend was also provided to class 184 through the hiatus from class.

On June 1st, MAP class 184 resumed with a hybrid learning approach. The class met once a week in person at SFH. The other four days, students took part in real-time virtual learning, as well as self-paced online learning. Students who did not have a smartphone or computer were given the loan of a Chromebook.

As we evolved in our approach and adjustment to both what we could offer and what students needed, we were able to provide a total of 3 on-site days at SFH with 2 off-site remote working days. When on-site, students received the additional support of Access Point and Employment Specialist Supervisor Ashley and newly hired Employment Specialist Melissa.

While a number of students have left the class for a variety of reasons, such as obtaining employment, those who still remain in Class 184 will graduate on June 29th, with the on-site graduation streamed for friends, family, and staff via Zoom.

Check out the WFD Virtual Office page or our Youtube page to explore resources created by the team for virtual learning.

Working during the era of COVID-19: Online Professional Development Opportunities

This blog is part of a series by the Workforce Development staff at St. Francis House.

Professional development, simply put, is maintaining or learning skills that are specific to helping you keep and grow your knowledge base as it applies to your current or future career path.

Traditionally there are multiple avenues where one can access training courses, before COVID-19 many workshops and classes were held in person at university settings or adult education centers or libraries, in addition to online courses.  As we continue to navigate COVID-19, particularly physical distancing, for the time being, educational opportunities are almost exclusively offered online. The experience is of course, different from live interaction with teachers and fellow participants but the information is the same and often can be easier to schedule your day with self-pacing and taking courses at a time convenient for you!

Upgrading skills related to employment search  Whether you are suddenly out of work, or have been looking for a career shift before the pandemic, a good use of your time is to learn new tools to market yourself in the best way possible. MassHire, the umbrella under which all Massachusetts career centers fall under, has many online webinars and seminars that you can take for free.

Look here to find a list of all MassHire career centers.

You can look any of the events calendars on any MassHire center website for potential online seminars, a great opportunity to take a class online that you would have usually have to travel for! Examples of classes on offer in June at MassHire Downtown Boston include online webinars in Personal Branding, Tips from HR “Get that Job”, Virtual/Video Interviewing and many more!

Improving computer and technology skills  Regardless of the type of career you are aiming to have, it is highly likely that you will need to use some form of computerized technology! Most roles assume some level of the widely used Microsoft Office program, and many companies have specific databases for their work. Company-specific means that you will receive training once you begin a role, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure you learn basic computer skills or progress to a new level if you already have a basic understanding.

Boston Public Library has a terrific page on computer and technology classes as a place to start, including typing, general tech skills and software specific:

Online learning for personal interests/hobbies/ knowledge  Don’t forget learning for the joy of it! Perhaps you are interested in history, art, or learning a new language. Learning about subjects that speak to your hobbies outside of the workplace can help increase feelings of well being and even help your job search. How? You will have something interesting, personal yet appropriate to share during an interview if the moment arises. Some places to search for free courses:

Good luck with your professional development learning journey!

As always: through email, phone, and video, SFH is continuing to provide workforce development services virtually. We look forward to meeting you if we haven’t already, for guests not already assigned to a staff member but in need of assistance, there are a few ways to contact our team: 

Creating Greater Impact with Our Business Partners

One of the areas where COVID-19 disruption has been felt most keenly is in our volunteer program, which we suspended in mid-March until further notice. While a handful of volunteers have returned to help out in the kitchen, most are still on furlough, and we’re all – staff and guests alike – looking forward to their return. These volunteers come from all walks of life, but many are from our corporate and community partners! 

Recently, we had the opportunity to work with a group from Leading With Impact. This program is part of Building Impact, a nonprofit that helps forge connections between businesses and nonprofits. Leading With Impact (LWI) partners with MIT’s Executive MBA program. The students – all senior and executive-level professionals – have a capstone pro-bono consulting project through which they work with a nonprofit to address an operational challenge. They spend time with their nonprofit, meeting with a range of stakeholders, and develop 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans for addressing that challenge.

The timing couldn’t have been better, as last fall Shannon had joined SFH as our Corporate and Foundation Relations Officer and had begun working on building more comprehensive partnerships with companies, making sure that organizations that support us are aware of the full range of opportunities to work with SFH: volunteering, event sponsorship, in-kind drives, etc. The LWI team – executives from the technology, finance, nonprofit, venture capital, and education industries – jumped in to help Shannon develop her strategy for reaching out to businesses.

Together, they created a plan focused on streamlining communications with businesses whose first or primary contact was through volunteering, making sure they knew about donation opportunities and more.

Each nonprofit that works with Leading With Impact also gets the opportunity to receive professional development at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Shannon and another development colleague were able to participate in a one-day “MBA crash course,” where they learned about applying business principles to nonprofit operational challenges.

Overall, we’ve gotten a dual benefit from LWI: we have a more strategic approach to working with our business partners, and our employees now feel that they’re better able to lead with impact as well!

St. Francis House Helps to Coordinate the “Barrier Buster” Financial Housing Assistance

For people experiencing homelessness across the United States, COVID-19 hit hard. Sudden closures of the services people relied on, and limited access to basic needs created an additional barrier for those already scraping by. For the City of Boston and St. Francis House, the concern immediately turned to the health and safety of our guests. We knew that crowded day and night shelter conditions would accelerate the virus’ spread, and many organizations dove into creative partnerships to try to alleviate that concern.

When the City of Boston reached out to St. Francis House to help coordinate access to a program called Barrier Buster, we jumped into action.

The Barrier Buster Fund assists individuals/adults-only households experiencing short, medium, and long-term homelessness with a small, one-time payment to move to a permanent housing destination as quickly as possible. While the program existed previously, the new COVID-19 parameters allowed for more flexibility – by reducing paperwork, being more flexible with the type of costs supported, and increasing staff accessibility, more people could tap into the funding and reduce the congestion in the shelters.

St. Francis House identified two staff members from the Workforce Development Department to quickly adjust their roles and schedules to accommodate the needs of the Barrier Buster program. Ashley Cilenti, Employment Services Supervisor, and Arda Kanberoglu, Outreach and Engagement Counselor, began planning quickly – developing marketing plans for guests and internal/external staff to learn about the program, working alongside St. Francis Maintenance and Facilities teams to re-organize the Workforce Department to allow for social distancing, coordinating with the Recovery Support Center to engage with existing clients, and changing their own work schedules. Seven days a week, one of them is always on duty from 9 to 5, and they each spend two days a week at St. Francis House to meet clients in person.

“It took a bit getting used to shifting my focus from jobs to housing, but the two go hand in hand,” Ashley said. “With shelter becoming such an immediate need due to COVID, I was more than happy to take this new role on.” She estimates that, to date, she and Arda have helped over 30 guests take advantage of Barrier Buster funding, although the number of people they’ve spoken to about the program and other services is much higher (over 150 people). “I’ve always found it extremely rewarding when someone I’ve worked with finds a job. The same goes for when one of our guests finds housing.”

Arda shared similar sentiments. “It’s great having another way to support our guests. Barrier Buster has given us a lot of insight into housing resources our guests didn’t know about before, and being able to provide that information to our guests has been a great opportunity.”

Both Arda and Ashley noted that a key player in this work was Gabi Vacheresse, a Housing Search Manager at HomeStart, whose previous knowledge of the program, constant support, and quick responses allowed them to move people through the application process as smoothly as possible.

While some of those helped by the Barrier Buster Fund do go into longer-term housing, many are just looking for a short-term respite, a way to keep them safer from COVID-19 and to stabilize their living situations. With the help of Barrier Buster, St. Francis House guests have been moving into sober homes, rooms for rent, or with family members or friends who are able to offer them a temporary place to stay. The flexible funding allowed to pay back utilities, bus tickets, storage fees, broker fees, first last month rent, etc.

A few of the guests they’ve helped have reached back out to show their gratitude.

The team supported one woman on a cross-country move, where she can stay safely with family. The day before she left, she sent an e-mail saying “Thank you so much. I’m so happy to go home. It’s been so hard for me to be homeless in Boston.  I commend you Arda and your fellow workers and Boston for all the work you do. I never expected such a world hardship to fall on us all.  I will keep you all in my prayers.  God Bless Boston.”


The first guest they placed sent a text message (above) after her first night out of the shelter- “…Just wanted to say I got here kinda late last night but woke up literally with tears of joy and gratitude. Thank you and your colleagues from the bottom of my heart. It’s really nice here, and the energy feels so neutral and still.”

Volunteer of the Month: Mike Fitzgerald

Over 3,000 individuals dedicate their time and talent to St. Francis House, this past year volunteering a total of 28,137 hours in our Resource Center, our clothing distribution programs, and the dining room serving nutritious meals. In an effort to shine a spotlight on the incredible compassion of our awesome volunteers, we’ve begun recognizing a Volunteer of the Month! For June 2020, the Volunteer of the Month is Mike Fitzgerald, read on to learn more about Mike’s dedication and experience as a volunteer.

“Mike is a great Volunteer of the Month. Pre-COVID-19, Mike Fitzgerald was loyally at St. Francis House every week!  A few weeks ago, Mike was a part of a crew who donated 400 face shields to our staff. He is such a dedicated friend to our organization and is committed to supporting our guests.” -Madeline Lessing, Volunteer Services Coordinator

Why do you volunteer?

Mike.: I started volunteering at St. Francis House (SFH) about 2 years ago when I sold my business and retired. When I retired, I missed the sense that I was contributing something.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am pretty sure that civilization would have done just fine without my 40-year contribution to the world of accounting and business software, but at the end of the day… I think it is important to feel like you accomplished something. Given my amazing shortage of skills and talents, a hobby just wasn’t going to fill the void, I needed more, and I like to think that volunteering helps both me and SFH. I get to feel like I am contributing again and hopefully, SFH gets a little bit of help in return.

What do you feel like you “bring to the table” when you volunteer?

Mike.: Aside from my stunning good looks? I like to think I bring a smile, an upbeat attitude, and a willingness to do whatever is needed. (But if you were to ask Sue in the kitchen, I would hope she would say I bring incredible mashed potato and griddle cleaning skills!)

What do you enjoy about volunteering?

Mike: I love being a small part of a great team that consistently, every Friday, prepares and feeds hundreds of very appreciative guests. While I know that the staff we work with, Sue, Rich, and Gilberto, deal with dozens of other volunteers (and could probably prepare and serve the meal more efficiently without us) they all make us feel important.
And I can say the same about the guests at SFH. Even though they may come through every day, they make a real effort to let us know they appreciate our help — even when veggie burgers are on the menu, haha 😀 !

What have you learned through volunteering?

Mike: Other than how to make American Chop Suey for 300 people… The biggest thing I have learned is that the homeless community is as diverse a group as the rest of the population.
They are all individuals who have unique personalities, they have good days and bad days like me and you, they have a history behind them and they have stories to tell.

Why do you choose to donate your time to the guests of St. Francis House?

Mike: I volunteer at SFH specifically because of the community it serves.
So many of us are just one life-event away from being homeless ourselves. And, while I donate financially as much as I can, the great thing about volunteering at SFH is that you get to see an immediate impact from your efforts. The lunch we help prepare and serve might be the only meal many of the guests eat that day. So it is a great feeling when a guest comes through the line for a 3rd helping, with a big smile and a thank you, because you know they mean it.  Great way to start your day!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Mike: After almost 3 months of pandemic induced home confinement, I am positive that I need SFH way more than SFH needs me 😷! I miss you guys!

June is PRIDE Month!

Since the day we opened 35 years ago, our promise has been and continues to be, we will never turn ANYONE away. All are always welcome at St Francis House. St. Francis House wishes our LGBTQIA+ community a happy Pride!

Working during the era of COVID-19: Navigating the Virtual Job Fair

This blog is part of a series by the Workforce Development staff at St. Francis House.

You are likely familiar with physical job fairs, as the Workforce Development Department at St. Francis House highly encourages all our participants to attend these events! Usually, a job fair entails multiple human resources representatives from targeted organizations (such as the healthcare or hospitality field) coming together to meet potential employees under the same roof.

However, in the current circumstances of COVID-19, job fairs have moved online. The intent remains the same, for potential employees to find employers, but the process is different. Instead of in-person conversations, the virtual career fair may involve chat rooms, webinars or webcasts. If this sounds intimidating, don’t be worried! This is a fairly new process for many people, so the format of these fairs will be designed to be user friendly.

Here are the steps to keep in mind as you adapt to this alternate way of job searching, which may remain relevant far into the future as companies look to save time and resources.

  1. You have to find a virtual job fair! A Google search for a virtual job or career fair with the name of the industry and city is never a bad place to start. You can also make inquiries with your local career center, checking is a good resource, and other MassHire websites covering all of Massachusetts. Elsewhere on the web take a look at and also search on social media sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Once you find a fair you are interested in, there will be details about the format of the fair, such as virtual chat rooms, and simple technical instructions on how to participate.
  2. Register ahead of time and research the companies attending the virtual job fair. You don’t want to waste time during the actual event looking at job descriptions. Look at the positions on offer, write down what interests you about them, and prepare questions. Be prepared to mention facts that speak to you about the companies to show your enthusiasm.
  3. Be ready with a short introductory personal statement about yourself to present to employers at the virtual job fair. Whether it is a digital chat, phone or video call, you want to have an “elevator pitch” about yourself- a few short points of interest that include some highlights of your career path and professional goals for the future.
  4. Check that your computer or smartphone is ready for a virtual job fair. You don’t want to run into technical trouble during the career fair! If you have to download specific software or phone apps, do it a day early and test them out on a “dry run.” Think about where you will place your computer or smartphone so you don’t have to keep propping it up or moving it during the event and make sure you are in a well-lit space so you can be seen if cameras are used.
  5. Have your resume nearby to look at during the virtual job fair and uploaded on your computer or smartphone ahead of time. If you meet a human resources representative at the virtual career fair that you are connecting with, don’t forget to provide your resume before the conversation ends. Have it easy to access on the computer or phone you are using so you can send it immediately on email or the virtual fair platform they are using.
  6. Make sure to dress professionally for the virtual job fair. The fair may be online, but you may be asked to do a video call rather than a screen chat or phone conversation. In this case, your appearance will be judged so best not to take any chances!
  7. Find a calm space to attend the virtual job fair. If you are connecting with potential employers, you don’t want anything distracting them from your best self. Pets, friends, partners, children, general noise, all take the focus off your conversation! Find a quiet, private room if possible to minimize distractions.
  8. Follow up after the virtual job fair.  As you would with an in-person interview or job fair, acknowledging successful interactions after meeting people is extremely important. It reminds people of who you are after they likely meet many candidates that day. Make sure to get relevant contact information, then send a personalized email referencing your conversation with your resume attached. Make sure to highlight your interest in any roles. This is also a great way to network even if you don’t see jobs that are the best fit at this time!

We wish you great success in navigating the virtual job fair!

As always: through email, phone, and video, we’re continuing to provide workforce development services virtually. We look forward to meeting you if we haven’t already, for guests not already assigned to a staff member but in need of assistance, there are a few ways to contact our team: