“Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11), he might as well have been talking directly to Covenant House president and CEO Kevin Ryan. Ryan may be a 45-year-old lawyer and former civil servant, but he doesn’t go to work in the morning. He goes to war.

“The stakes are very high. This is a street war,” Ryan told The Catholic Register. “We’re fighting against the bullies and the bullets and the predators and the pornographers and the pervs and the guns and the gangs… We lose kids. We lose them to the streets. We lose them to despair. We lose them to suicide. But we win more kids by far.”

Ryan’s report from the frontlines of Covenant House’s war for children has been catalogued in Almost Home, Ryan’s best selling book. Almost Home has hit number five on the Washington Post non-fiction list. It’s creeping up the Publisher’s Weekly rankings for trade paperbacks. It’s number two on Amazon’s list of Canadian international and world politics titles.

Co-authored with former New York Times staff writer Tina Kelley, Almost Home tells the story of six Covenant House kids, one of them Canadian and another who spent years on the streets of Toronto and Vancouver. They aren’t Chicken Soup for the Soul stories. Murial meets Covenant House Vancouver as a prostitute who had three different pimps by the time she was 20, an addict who had been getting high from the age of 12 and still living with the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome. Meagan was thrown out of her family home as a teenager because she is gay. Paulie was beaten over and over by his father, but found refuge in drugs.

“They don’t see virtue in their lives. The message they’ve gotten over and over and over is, ‘You’re broken, you’re defective, you’re unwanted,’ ” said Ryan.

There aren’t necessarily happy endings to such stories. But these are stories people need to hear because lives are at stake, said Ryan.

Between 20 and 40 per cent of homeless youth attempt suicide. It is a leading cause of their deaths. Covenant House Toronto reports that homeless youth are 11 times more likely to die young than the rest of the population.

Toronto’s Covenant House, like the 20 other Covenant Houses in North and Central America, does a lot of things for homeless kids. It provides shelter, helps kids finish school, helps them reconnect with family when possible, find housing, find mentors, point the way to jobs. It also helps kids find the mental health care they need.

“They are often as traumatized as men who are returning from war,” said Ryan.

If teen suicide is now a national issue, Covenant House is in a position to give Canada some national advice: Kids need love.

“It requires love,” said Ryan. “But it also requires that we be love in the world in a responsible and effective way. That requires more than a sentimental hug and a warm meal. It means making sure that our kids have the attention and clinical care they need to transcend the darkness that overshadows their lives.”

Ryan claims to be shocked by the success of Almost Home.

“These are stories about young people who have pulled themselves up, climbed out of the darkness, in some instances from violence and trafficking and drug abuse, and found hope in their lives.”

Published in Book News

TORONTO - Sr. Mary Rose McGeady, who took over Covenant House for homeless youth after its founder was accused of financial and sexual improprieties, will be remembered in Toronto as a tireless, enthusiastic and passion- ate role model, said Carol Howes.

Howes, director of Program Services at Covenant House in downtown Toronto, said Sr. McGeady “had the needs of the kids first and foremost and that’s what drove all of her decisions around where the agency went.”

Sr. McGeady, who ran Covenant House from 1990 to 2003, died of respiratory failure in Albany, N.Y., on Sept. 13. She was 84.
After Covenant House was rocked by financial and sexual scandal, Sr. McGeady stepped in and is credited with rescuing the organization, restoring its resources and reputation.

A member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, during her time as Covenant House president, the number of homeless young people served by the international network doubled annually.

According to Howes, Sr. McGeady inspired Covenant House staff to do more for the kids they worked with.

“I was always really impressed that when she would come to speak to our staff or our donors, she always had some kind of personal story to tell about the kids,” Howes said.

She recalls Sr. McGeady’s habit of meeting youth in elevators, for example, casually speaking to them about their lives and following up when she ran into them at a later date.

“She really did stay very connected to what challenges the kids were dealing with. And that was helpful in terms of helping all of us find ways to be supportive to the kids. “

Sr. McGeady was in her mid-60s when she became president and kept in touch with each Covenant House through travels to countries where Covenant House programs operate.
“She really had a passion for expanding services as much as possible because she was hearing about need all over the place, both here in Canada, across some other (U.S.) states and in Central America,” said Howes.

During her tenure, Covenant House expanded its reach dramatically, with new crisis shelters, street outreach and long-term residential programs for homeless youth.

“Here in Canada, we felt that she was very instrumental in allowing us to expand our services through the purchase of an additional building so we could have transitional housing, our rights of passage program for youth, and that allowed us to have a space for our school program and our job centre program.”

She was a strong advocate who saw need and acted upon it, said Howes. And that’s why there is also a Covenant House in Vancouver.

Covenant House now reaches more than 57,000 children and youth in six countries each year.

Sr. McGeady was born June 28, 1928, in Hazelton, Pa., and worked with children for more than 40 years before joining Covenant House. Howes said Sr. McGeady “would want to be re- membered for the impact that she had on the lives of young people and how she helped them turn their lives around.”

(With files from Catholic News Service.)

Published in Youth Speak News

ALBANY, N.Y. - Sr. Mary Rose McGeady, who took over Covenant House for homeless youth after its founder was accused of financial and sexual improprieties, died of respiratory failure in Albany Sept. 13. She was 84.

Arrangements for her funeral Mass in Albany and a memorial service in New York City were incomplete.

A member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Sr. McGeady served as president of Covenant House from 1990 until her retirement in 2003, doubling the number of homeless young people served by the international network annually.

Covenant House was at its lowest point when she took over because of accusations against its founder, Franciscan Father Bruce Ritter, who later left the Franciscan order and died in 1999.

"Fr. Ritter had done a wonderful job of creating Covenant House, and then he was disgraced," she said in a 2004 interview with The Evangelist, Albany diocesan newspaper. "But the place was still there. (The work) he had started still needed to be done. I looked upon myself as a healer. I said, 'God, if you want this place to go on, you do it.' ”

Then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said when she was appointed, "We confidently predict that not many years from now, we will all look back at the moment of Covenant House's greatest pain and see that it was also a moment of birth of a new, stronger, even more effective instrument of goodness. I believe this will happen because of their superb new leader, Sr. Mary Rose McGeady."

Kevin Ryan, the current head of Covenant House, who was among those present at her bedside when she died, called Sr. McGeady "the Mother Teresa of street children" and "a holy tornado of determination and compassion."

"She had a huge soft spot for kids, but she was no one's fool," Ryan said. "Come hell or high water, she was determined to clean up Covenant House. From ashes, really, she pulled Covenant House forward and saved hundreds of thousands of kids."

During her tenure, Covenant House expanded its reach dramatically, with new crisis shelters, street outreach and long-term residential programs for homeless youth in Canada — it operates in Toronto and Vancouver — the United States and Nicaragua. Covenant House now reaches more than 57,000 children and youth in six countries each year.

Born June 28, 1928, in Hazelton, Pa., Sr. McGeady worked with children for more than 40 years before joining Covenant House.

Among the posts she held were executive director of the Nazareth Child Care Centre for Homeless Children in Boston, executive director of the Astor Home for Children in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and associate director of Catholic Charities for the diocese of Brooklyn.

She said in the 2004 interview that transitions were never easy for her.

"I would get word that I was transferred, and I cried my eyes out," she said. "I thought this was terrible. And yet, every time I was transferred, I would move into a new position where I learned more about what I was supposed to do and be."

Sr. McGeady said one of the "great blessings God has given me on this Earth" was watching children "survive, prosper and grow."

"There is no greater joy than to see a kid come in homeless, cold, hungry, dirty and then that same kid a few weeks later — cleaned up, smiling and hopeful," she said. "I believe that is what Covenant House is all about ... one child and one miracle at a time."

Ryan said Sr. McGeady "lived and died every day with the successes and failures of our kids ... and she saw God in the tired faces of the kids who walked through the open doors of Covenant House."

She is survived by her sister Catherine Pendleton and eight nephews.

Published in International

TORONTO - There’s no map to guide foster kids from life in the system to life in the world. But Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Covenant House think the Ontario government could learn from their experience leading kids through one of the most difficult passages in life.

A report written by foster kids themselves — My Real Life Book based on more than 200 submissions from youth in care — is challenging Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services to do better for the province’s 8,300 crown wards. Crown wards are in the permanent care of the state in foster or group homes. Another 8,500 kids per year pass through the child welfare system in temporary care.

Published in Features

TORONTO - Celebrity chef Christine Cushing joined youth at Toronto's Covenant House in baking Christmas cookies Dec. 13 to help inspire them achieve their goal of becoming a chef.

“As a chef, I'm so glad to have the chance to work with these youth to encourage them to follow their dreams and share their talents, especially during this season,” said Cushing, host of Fearless in the Kitchen on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Covenant House, Canada's largest shelter for homeless youth, runs a “Cooking for Life” program. In nine weeks, youth graduate from the program where they are trained by a chef instructor from George Brown College.

Ria, a 20-year-old chef-in-training, told The Catholic Register that she enjoyed baking with Cushing at Covenant House's new culinary arts training kitchen.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA
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