In 2022, President and CEO Karen LaFrazia celebrated her 25th anniversary at St. Francis House. Karen took on the role of President and CEO in 2003 after serving 6 years as Deputy Director. Under her leadership, St. Francis House has grown tremendously. Karen expanded our recovery support programs, workforce development programs, affordable housing and more. We spoke with Karen to reflect on the last 25 years of St. Francis House and learn about her vision for the future.
What brought you to St. Francis House 25 years ago? What about the organization appealed to you?
What I loved about St. Francis House were the values and mission to serve people experiencing homelessness – values that I personally share, like “everybody deserves respect,” “every human being is worthy of being loved,” and “every person has an opportunity to improve their situation in life.” So, when there was an opportunity to focus my attention with an organization I was so aligned with, I leapt at it.
What are two of the most important milestones that have occurred during your time here? Why are they the most meaningful to you?
One milestone was the creation of the Moving Ahead Program. We were able to transform the way employment services were being delivered. A lot of employment programs were focused on just a couple types of opportunities. We envisioned work based on our values, recognizing that everyone has strength and talent, and everyone has unique dreams for themselves.
The most visibly significant milestone is when we purchased the Boston Young Men’s Christian Union Building directly across the street from St. Francis House. We partnered with the Planning Office for Urban Affairs in order to acquire, develop, and add 46 units of affordable housing to Downtown Boston.
What will St. Francis House be like in 10 years from now? What’s your vision?
First is expanding our portfolio of affordable housing. If we’re going to end homelessness, we’re going to need more housing. We have 252 units in development so within 2 years we will have 354 total units of affordable housing and there will be even more over the course of the next 10 years.
The other initiative we are looking at is transforming the physical space at 39 Boylston. We’re located in a very old building that was never intended for this purpose. We want to upgrade our building and redesign the space, so it reflects our values and takes our guests’ trauma and experiences into account. We want our building to reflect hope for a better future.
This isn’t a breadline anymore. We have all the same values that we had when we opened our doors, but we are expanding into a campus. We’ll grow into a haven in Downtown Boston where our guests can access the services, they need in a state-of-the-art facility.
What keeps you coming to work every day?
The staff and the guests. The staff are creative, and innovative.
When you talk with the guests you realize how much they depend on us to be there for them. The sense of obligation to our guests is a privilege. It’s a privilege to hear the guests share their stories with me, their joys and struggles.
More than anything, I feel profound gratitude. I am grateful to the Board of Directors for their support and leadership, the staff for their willingness to do whatever it takes, and the donors and volunteers. To be immersed in all of this goodwill is humbling. I feel eternally grateful.