Abell Salutes: Sister Gwynette and Christopher Place Employment Academy

November 2000 / Salutes / Criminal Justice and Addiction

For helping men down on their luck reclaim their lives.

They have spent these last few years in prison on Forest Street; or homeless, sleeping in the doorways of East Baltimore Street; or struggling with the demons of alcoholism or of drug addiction. They are mostly in their thirties, some white, mostly African American, and some with as little as a fourth grade education. What they all have in common is that they are down on their luck, and, in a last chance mode to reclaim their lives, they are entering Christopher Place Employment Academy. Of those selected to enroll in the Academy, Sister Gwynette Proctor, SND, Director, says, “I will talk to any man and take him into Christopher Place if I am convinced he is serious about changing his life.”

The men fortunate enough to be admitted to the program find themselves immersed in a routine that has defined Christopher Place Employment Academy since its beginnings in 1997. They live in Christopher Place for three months. Each participant is housed and clothed and fed seven days a week; and during those long days (6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.) days he will be educated on how toget along in the real world, and in particular, how to get a job and how to hold it. Sister Gwynette points out that the jobs are not minimum wage jobs, but better jobs paying at about the $10.00 an hour range, (Aberration: One grad now earns $76,000 a year as a computer analyst).

One year later, those who fit into the statistical majority of the class will be addiction-free, skilled in the workplace, and living stable lives in community housing. For John (just out of prison); for Tim (off the streets for the first time in years); and for Jeremy (a fourth grade drop out drifting from menial job to prison and into addiction) the routine is rigorous—seven days a week taking courses in everything from building a stable employment record, sustaining a personal support system, managing money, resolving workplace conflict. After three months the men are ready to move out of Christopher Place and into their own apartments.

Of those in the February 1999 class of 32 men (classes form in February and September), after one year 100 percent are gainfully employed, as floor technicians, hospital worker, food service industries. Cost per man, from entry to graduation, is $10,000. Sister Gwynette says it is too soon to report how many hold a job for how long, but she says, “Given the work the men have to do to get to this time and place in their lives, I am optimistic.” But the tie between man and Christopher Place is never perceived to be severed; the graduates must agree to live in strict observance of guidelines designed to keep them self-supporting and productive. At some point, on a case by case basis, in weeks, months, or years the interdependence is allowed to lapse.

The Abell Foundation salutes Christopher Place and Sister Gwynette for making it possible for men whose lives have been shattered to reclaim those lives, and go to become responsible and productive and achieving family men, working men.