Ex-homeless men graduate to hope 24 complete program at Christopher Place on life-readiness, job skills

August 17, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

It was a day of handshakes and backslaps, standing ovations and shout-outs, encouragement and reminders.

During the commencement ceremony at Christopher Place Employment Academy, 24 men who were homeless less than a year ago pledged to move toward a new life of jobs, sobriety and hope.

"This is a great day," said Ray Kyler, the class valedictorian who gave a short, emotional speech during the hourlong ceremony yesterday at the Catholic Center on Cathedral Street. "We're all motivated toward achieving our goals. We're not going to fail because we have developed certain habits that'll keep us clean and on the right path.

"This program has given us the tools to carry on our lives and to succeed," said Kyler, who has been hired as a program assistant for Catholic Charities to help other men complete the Christopher Place program.

Yesterday's ceremony honored the men after completion of 12 weeks of life-readiness classes and job skills training.

The graduates -- most of them recovering drug addicts or alcoholics -- say they are ready to move on to a normal life: full-time jobs, a nice place to live and lasting, fulfilling relationships.

The mood was joyous throughout the ceremony. Gospel hymns were sung, shouts of congratulations periodically rang out and all the graduates -- wearing suits with kente cloth scarves draped around their necks -- were applauded when they accepted their course completion certificates.

The keynote speaker, state Del. Salima S. Marriott, a Baltimore Democrat, gave a rousing speech urging the men to overcome their fear of failure, to move beyond the confines of being poor and African-American in a culture that routinely looks down on both.

"God has a purpose for our lives," Marriott said. "We know that we have control over our lives, that we can move toward empowerment.

"I'm here to tell you to get over it. God's purpose is for you to move past being hooked on false notions of feeling inferior. Being poor didn't hinder Jesus and it doesn't have to hinder you."

The 24 men are among 118 who have completed the academy's independent-living curriculum over the past two years.

They have completed the first quarter of the 12-month training program and live at the academy on East Eager Street near the Baltimore City Detention Center, where some were inmates.

During the second half of the year, they will continue to get career and sobriety counseling, as well as participate in team-building activities.

"Be confident that you can make a difference," said Sister Gwynette Proctor, the program's director. "Take each day as it comes. And don't think that you have to win immediately."

Pub Date: 8/17/98

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