Growing up, Chris Roach didn’t have the best opportunities. In his words, where he grew up, “there’s pretty much no such thing as dreams, there’s just survival.” And in order to survive, Chris had to make some hard decisions. With his mother at home, living with substance use disorder, he had to find other outlets for survival. At 11 years old, Chris was inducted into a gang with some friends he grew up with. This put him on a path that had him in and out of prison until he served his longest sentence – 8 years and 9 months. He was released on his 27th birthday, and after looking around to find a place to start building his life, he came across St. Leonard’s.
Chris’s first encounter with St. Leonard’s was like something out of a dream. He says that “it was a gloomy day, but it was like the sun was cast directly over this place. It was bright as the sun in here. And there were a few other things I noticed. There was a kid playing in the courtyard; there was a berry tree that had these black berries, and the parakeets were in the tree. The whole ground was perfect. I knew there was something different happening here.”
When asked what sets St. Leonard’s apart from other places around Chicago, Chris told us, “We’re giving people an opportunity. This place says, ‘Come here. We’ll feed you, we’ll clothe you, find resources for you. We’ll give you the time that you need to figure out which direction you’re heading.’” And the time that St. Leonard’s has offered Chris has been fruitful. He says the time he’s spent here has taught him how to be a “better neighbor, a better friend, and a better employee.” He’s learned how to weigh the consequences in every decision that he makes – he always asks himself, “What price will I pay for my actions? Is it worth it? I know what I have to lose.” Chris’s time at St. Leonard’s has provided him the space to be self-reflective and thoughtful, and with that, he’s been making good decisions for himself, for almost two decades.
Now, at 43 years old, Chris is a pillar of the St. Leonard’s community. He often shares his “personal tale” with people to encourage them. He says that he’s “still a work in progress,” but he makes sure to keep it “100% real” with the other residents to remind them he’s no different than they are. He is human and he struggles too, but one thing he keeps in mind is that he has to “live for the day.” No matter what, he reminds himself that every day has to count because he knows “one decision can change your life” for better or for worse. He shares what works for him in overcoming his struggles with the other residents. He does this in the spirit of passing on what he’s learned and “paying it forward.” Chris says that one of the most formative things he learned in his life was “in order to keep what you have, you have to be willing to give it away.” And he does just that. He reminds his friends at St. Leonard’s what life ought to look like.
Looking to his future, Chris says he wants to finish paying off his student loans and he’d like to buy a home. When reflecting on what that future might look like, he said, “I want to sit in the backyard on Saturday morning and have my coffee; I want to build and raise a family; and I told my mom, ‘I want someone to share life with when I’m old and ugly.’” As someone that began life in a neighborhood without dreams, Chris Roach is now a dreamer. St. Leonard’s “teaches you how to live, as opposed to just existing. That’s my motto, ‘I’m living every day.’”