How do I get to Saint Leonard’s Ministries?

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One of the most frequently asked questions of Saint Leonard’s staff is, “How do people arrive at Saint Leonard’s Ministries?”

As we celebrate our 70th year of service to returning citizens, we are delighted to share how new residents find their way to Saint Leonard’s House or Grace House. Each resident’s journey is unique to them. However, there is one common denominator. 


As the Intake and Housing Manager at Saint Leonard’s Ministries, David Harris is usually the first person that residents meet before their campus journey begins.

He gives the same advice to every new community member.

“Trust and slow down,” he says.

Building trust is a big issue for residents. Coming out of prison, you don’t really trust. Because of the experience, you’re always on the defensive. The most important thing for me is being able to build trust with someone and just give them an opportunity to trust. Trust leads to success.

“The other thing is we always talk about slowing down. The first three months of this program are really important. When you get out and move too fast, it’s a pathway back to the county jail. Or it could even be death. Because you want to get out and make up for lost time, but we want people to slow down. You don’t have to worry about money, clothing, food.”

Harris knows the experience as well as anybody. As the longest-serving staff member who has held several roles since 1998, he also is a former resident.

He emphasizes understanding the past to create a positive future.

“A group of people who don’t know their history is like a tree without roots. You have to know history to really understand where you came from and where you’re going,” Harris says. “I look at history like a puzzle. When you put this puzzle together, it’s never really going to be finished. But you build on that puzzle and you become stronger as a person. You understand what you are and your purpose.”

A big part of Harris’ purpose is finding new residents and participants for Saint Leonard’s holistic services. To do that, he meets with people in Illinois prisons.

In 2023, he organized more than a dozen three-hour summits at Illinois Department of Corrections facilities. The events provide information about the 70-year history of Saint Leonard’s and how participants can avoid returning to carceral settings.

Harris explains that Saint Leonard’s is more than a place to live. He talks about the programs to address employment, education, technology, substance-use treatment, physical and mental healthcare, anger management and more. He lets people know that 40% of staff came through the program, and another 25% of employees have experience with the carceral system.

Then the women and men are welcome to write letters to Harris to indicate their interest to join the West Side community.

“When you go into prison, you make a connection with some people. I tell them to just write their letter – that’s an initial connection,” Harris says. “And when you first start talking to someone, when you tell them that you’ve been through some of the things, it’s like a light comes on. They’re willing to take that into consideration, and you been out of prison and you didn’t go back. And you’re doing good and trying to help people.”

If the person sends Harris a letter, and a room is available, he starts the application process.

Then they arrive.

Then they can try to trust.

Then they can try to slow down.

And then, they can get to know themselves. The foundation for success is built. The purpose comes into focus.

“You just have to work the program,” Harris says, “to get to know you again.”

If you would like a campus tour or to join us for lunch, you are more than welcome. Just call or email me and we would be delighted to have you join us on campus anytime.

Please consider becoming a part of the Faces of Saint Leonard’s with a one time or recurring monthly gift. If you have questions about Saint Leonard’s, our work, how you can get involved, or making a donation, we want to hear from you!

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