New Space, New Possibilities

First-time visitors to our new fifth- floor usually stop, mutter “wow,” and stand for a minute with mouths wide open. Welcome to the award- winning Sullivan Family Moving Ahead Program (MAP), which has doubled in size and capacity and is now more effective than ever. “The floor is stunning,” says Joe Texeira, Manager of MAP, “but we weren’t trying to win awards for design. Every feature meets a specific need so that we can better prepare our students – 200 a year now – to compete in this tough economy. After 17 years of success and 1,300 alumni, we know how to prepare people for an ever-changing work force.” That preparation begins the moment students enter the nutrition center, which looks like a corporate dining room.

Breakfast and lunch are available daily for MAP students, who often sit together and discuss their assignments, just as colleagues at many Boston companies do. “We’re grooming people for work, and the appearance of this floor plays a subtle but important part in that process,” says Joe. MAP staff reinforce the work message by dressing professionally – suits or shirts and ties – and modeling workplace behavior. Students are expected to attend class every day, arrive on time, and apply what they’re learning right away. “During the 14-week course, most students will submit 60 or more job applications,” says Joe. At 9 a.m. the day begins, and students move to classrooms that are equipped with brand-new computers and overhead projectors so that Life Skills Instructors can demonstrate how to write a resume, check online job listings, and file applications electronically.

Those lessons used to come in the second half of the curriculum. Now they are introduced in the first half, so students have a better chance of finding a job by the time they graduate. “Last year, 50 percent of our students had a job at graduation, and 60 percent were employed three months post-MAP. We want to increase those numbers,” says Wanda Smith, Job Developer. “We are in the process of ending people’s experience of homeless- ness, and you’ve gotta have a job to do that.” Wanda builds relationships with employers who might provide jobs for graduates. She also meets with students every Wednesday to follow up on the status of their job applications. If MAP sounds rigorous, it is. But students succeed because of a combination of high standards, unconditional support, and crucial life skills instruction, which the program has emphasized since it began in 1995.

Life Skills Instructors teach students how to identify their strengths and the issues that have caused trouble in the past. Instructors also introduce the basics of stress management, healthy eating, and how to maintain a positive frame of mind, all of which contribute to success on the job. Yet for students with histories of addiction or incarceration, the lessons taught in class aren’t always enough. So MAP now has a Case Manager who provides referrals for help with food stamps, housing issues, mental health care, legal issues, and other needs.

MAP also has a Job Coach, Ivor Edmonds, who teaches coping skills one hour a week in class and helps students with resume writing and other tasks necessary to conduct a job search. He also provides ongoing support for students and graduates as they learn to make healthy decisions and maintain their career progress. “Unless people know how to deal with trauma, change, and negative emotions, everything gets derailed,” he says. Ivor recalls students who “had their own empires” but lost everything because they didn’t know how to manage their lives. He has also worked with people who’ve struggled with learning disabilities but thrive once they learn alternative skills and techniques.

MAP is so effective that business leaders have long sung its praises. Tech Networks of Boston hired Russell, a 2003 grad, as an intern in its retail store. “Today he’s our Vice President of Finance and Human Resources,” says President Susan Labandibar. Natixis Investment Managers is a corporate partner of St. Francis House and praises MAP for “the fantastic work you do every day,” as Mark Doyle, Executive Vice President, Strategic Marketing and Product, says. Natixis named the new Employment Services Center, where MAP graduations are now held. The company also provides leather business cases as a gift to each graduating class. “Each and every graduate is a howling success with a new chapter of his or her life unfolding,” says Mr. Doyle. “A new chapter” is the goal for each MAP graduate, and the fifth-floor expansion has made it possible for double the number of men and women annually to begin that life-changing journey.