“It sounds like a party to me. I can hear the music already. That’s something worth celebrating.” Alexander smiled when he talked about the feeling of finding a job. “Getting a job, that’s easy now, I’m with Saint Leonard’s.” Alexander’s excitement about entering the workforce highlights one of Saint Leonard’s Ministries most influential programs, the Michael Barlow Center’s Road to Success. This program provides classes and job training for previously incarcerated individuals as well as for other members of the community. Road to Success also helps connect people to hiring jobs in the community so that they may experience financial freedom, independence, and a future they choose.
Alexander describes his childhood as growing up in the “gutter, not the ghetto” because of the level of poverty his family was in. Too poor to even afford dishes for the household, Alexander watched his family struggle every day. He was surrounded by gang violence and became involved at an early age to help his mother pay the bills. When he was released from prison, he would spend 8 hours a day job hunting, but he found it difficult to find a place that would hire someone that was previously incarcerated. He found himself back on the streets after that, with seemingly few alternative options.
When he came to Saint Leonard’s, he almost felt that it was too good to be true, even saying he, “kept trying to look for loopholes.” When he realized that the people here want to help with no hidden agenda, he was amazed. Alexander’s mindset highlights something that many residents at Saint Leonard’s Ministries feel for the first time: hope. There is hope that these people can live the fulfilling and empowering lives they were meant for. Alexander has felt that hope and love for the first time in his life, as do many of the residents that come to Saint Leonard’s. With this kind of attention, care, and love, Saint Leonard’s Ministries is changing lives and giving people like Alexander a chance at a future they want to have.
For people like Alexander, life before Saint Leonard’s was contaminated with pain, trauma, violence, and apathy. After beginning this program, these residents’ lives can be filled with positive relationships and a familial atmosphere. From the very first day here, Alexander experienced what the Saint Leonard’s community is all about. He said the people acted like he was “a long lost brother gone for a century” and the staff were dedicated to helping. At first, Alexander found it difficult to accept how much St. Leonard’s was going to do for him without asking for anything in return. When he accepted this was really a chance for him to begin his life in the way he wanted, he felt great about the transition.
When asked how he felt about having a second chance, Alexander answered uniquely saying, “I don’t look at Saint Leonard’s like a second chance. I look at it for what it is. This is my first chance; this is my blessing. I was never given a chance coming up as a kid.” He explains that his fate seemed determined from an early age because of his dysfunctional family and violent childhood. Now, he is able to pursue the life he has always wanted to have, but never had the resources to obtain. Without Saint Leonard’s, Alexander is confident that he would have no other choice but to go back to “16th and Kedzie” describing where he grew up as a “bucket of blood.” Alexander is proof that not only is Saint Leonard’s changing lives, it is saving them too.