August 7, 2013

What Work Is

This week is the last for our Education Associate from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps program, Tom Nailor. He shares some final thoughts and says goodbye here in part one of a two-part blog.

     … You’ve never
     done something so simple, so obvious,
     not because you’re too young or too dumb,
     not because you’re jealous or even mean
     or incapable of crying in
     the presence of another man, no,   
     just because you don’t know what work is.

The above excerpt from Philip Levine’s famous poem “What Work Is” seems to encapsulate, for me, something of what I’ve learned this year working at Ready, Willing & Able.

Over my time here, I have found that many people’s reactions to my job is astonishment and praise—they cannot imagine that my first job has been working at a men’s transitional housing shelter with men who have experienced homelessness, joblessness, issues of substance abuse and addiction, and any number of other challenging experiences in their lives. It continues to be something of a surprise to me as well — a surprise that I have been given such a privilege (frustrating though it has been, at times). To work with the “men in blue” at Ready, Willing & Able has not only been a wonderful joy but it has also shown me truthfully what work is. Work is, as I was told earlier this year, love made visible.

While working my way through the challenges of my senior year of high school, chief among them the college application process, I was blessed with a mentor named Mr. Simonelli. Mr. Simonelli was a gruff older man who taught my Morality course. He chewed Nicorette gum, wore the Nicotine Patch, and still found time to sneak out of the classroom to enjoy a few puffs on his tobacco pipe. Mr. Simonelli helped me to craft my college essay about teamwork, and he invited me to enjoy a formative moment in my life, though I did not know it at the time: he invited me to do service work with him. More specifically, he invited me to collect used clothing and prepare food to carry, crammed into a van, into New York City, to distribute to groups of homeless people there around midnight on a frigid February evening.

Adding to our charity, we would be making an effort to share time with the people we met, to offer our assistance and to listen to their stories. During the trip, at various times, Mr. Simonelli emphasized a few things: the importance of donating dress clothing, so that people would have attire for job interviews, but more importantly attire that made them feel good. He emphasized the difficult realization that just because you offer something does not mean someone has to accept, but that the important thing was that we offered all that we could. He joined in when I was brought to laughter by one of the men letting me know that the hot soup I was ladling out was “slammin”, and commiserated when I was brought to tears by the stories we heard. It is strange that this trip centered so much around food and clothing, around a large van, around simply sharing space with another as a form of solidarity, and how those images would replay in my time here at RWA.

During my graduation year from Providence College, I was just returning from a year spent abroad and was keen to spend time with friends, both young and old, and to squeeze as much as I could out of a place that I had grown to love over the previous 3 years. I knew that I wanted the coming year or two to be a year of service to others—I felt called to spend a year of my life in service. Perhaps this stemmed from a feeling of immense privilege in my life, perhaps it stemmed from some sense of obligation, but I was committed. And just as I do with most things in my life, I researched, I read, I spoke with people, and I narrowed my choices. Choosing not to work abroad was a challenge, but I knew that for me, the allure of travel and of another culture would be more of a draw than growing in love and doing good work. So I chose a domestic service program, the Jesuit Volunteer Program. Midway through the application process, I was asked to select programs I would be interested in serving with, and similarly, I researched and read as much as I could. Many of the programs involved working in mental health, with children and families. And yet, when I saw one called “Ready, Willing & Able”, something caught me.

The description was similar to many of the others, in the way that the language used to describe many social services is similar, but it still sounded like an amazing project. And yet, it sounded like something I would struggle with—I doubt anyone who knows me would describe me as the manliest of men. I had never experienced homelessness. I had never worked with adults in an education setting. I had never done maintenance and clean-up work, outside of short-term service projects. Hell, I had never even been on job search! Not only was I inexperienced for the work I would be doing, but how on earth would I connect with the men at all? What would we talk about? Would they want to listen to me, or would they want me listening to them? All of these thoughts raced through my mind, and yet something drew me to put it down on my list. And, lo and behold, I had my interview, and was asked to join the amazing team that works with the “men in blue”. Soon I would be packing and leaving as a Jesuit Volunteer for Philadelphia and for Ready, Willing & Able, where I would soon learn what work is.

July 10, 2013

Bridging the Gaps

Last summer, Ready, Willing & Able was very fortunate to have two medical students, Jake and Jessica, volunteer their time with the "men in blue". Their efforts were through a program called Bridging the Gaps whose mission is to "link the training of health and social service professionals with the provision of health-related services for underserved and economically disadvantaged populations."

This year, we are excited to welcome two new students, John and Patrick, who will be spending the next seven weeks providing health-related training and support to the staff and trainees of Ready, Willing & Able. Meet both students below:

My name is John and I am originally from Bel Air, Maryland and moved to the Philadelphia Area last August to attend Pharmacy School at Thomas Jefferson University. I went to undergrad at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and received a bachelor’s degree in Biology. I am excited to bring the skills and knowledge as a student pharmacist that I have obtained over my first year of pharmacy school to Ready, Willing & Able. This will be the first time that I have had the opportunity to work with a non-profit organization and I am looking forward to the challenges and knowledge that I will gain over the next 7 weeks while bettering the lives of those at RWA.

Patrick and I will be delivering weekly presentations on topics such as nutrition, personal hygiene, exercise, tobacco cessation, and medications. Through these presentations we hope to provide the residents of Ready, Willing & Able with some basic knowledge that they will carry with them long after they graduate from the program. We will also be planning different excursions to museums such as the Penn Museum and the Mutter Museum. In addition, we will be conducting blood pressure screenings and discussing how to monitor blood sugar. At the end of 7 weeks I hope to have made a positive lasting impact on the health and wellness of the residents at Ready, Willing & Able so that they will be equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools to make appropriate lifelong decisions.


Hello Ready, Willing & Able! My name is Patrick and I am second year dental student at the University of Pennsylvania. I am originally from Princeton, New Jersey, which is a small town about an hour from Philadelphia. I wanted to participate in Bridging the Gaps because I wanted to become more familiar with the people in the community that come to my patients at the Dental School. The program would provide me with a better understanding of whether people in Philadelphia neighborhoods have access to good health care and nutritional food options.

Ready, Willing & Able has been a very interesting program that allows the homeless of Philadelphia get a second chance with goal of becoming independent, working individuals. All of the graduates of the program that I have encountered so far have been very positive about the program and consider it “life changing”. I hope to bring as much valuable information as I can to the clients at Ready, Willing & Able, such as advice on nutrition, information of common diseases prevalent in Philadelphia, exercise sessions, and oral health supplies. My partner John and I both have a considerable medical background, and we are hoping to inform the clients, especially the youth on important wellness life skills.

May 8, 2013

"Set Your Sights Beyond the Stars!"

At last week's Ready, Willing & Able Graduation ceremony, Shahid Guyton, a 2013 Graduate, delivered a memorable speech detailing his journey from the streets to independence and self-sufficiency. Below are his remarks from the event, including a poem he wrote and performed (with his signature beret, replacing the traditional graduation cap).
Good evening, my name is Shahid Guyton and I am so proud to be here tonight as a Ready, Willing & Able Graduate! I want to thank Mr. Jordan and the staff at Ready, Willing & Able for helping me get to this stage, and thank you to all of you for being here and showing your support.

This journey for me has been long and challenging, but I have learned so much. I have been through programs like this in the past, but I was never able to make the changes to my life that I have made now. In the past, I moved from city to city, hoping that would be the difference I needed, but I always ended up in the same situation, just in a different place.

I can remember went I got to Philadelphia, seeing the guys cleaning LOVE Park and once I found out who they were, I wanted to be a part of that too. I was staying at a treatment facility and told them that I wanted to go to Ready, Willing & Able.

My case worker said that she thought the same thing, and that this program would be the best fit for me. When I got here, it clicked right away. It was definitely hard at times, but I knew from the beginning that I was on the right path.

Now, I am living on my own and earning money. I have always had a good relationship with my children and I shielded them from my personal problems, but now we getting closer and closer, and our bond is getting stronger and stronger. I don’t recognize the man I used to be, and I won’t ever go back to that again.

When I was younger, I spent a lot of time in and out of jail, and I went back so many times that people actually started to recognize me. For the other men who were incarcerated, I had actually developed a positive reputation…for the bad things I had done. At that point in my life, that seemed normal to me, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.

And it wasn’t until I got to Ready, Willing & Able that I was praised and had a positive reputation, but for the good things I was doing with my life.

I visited the building last week and had people coming up to me who I have never met before. These were guys who started here after I left and they knew me. They knew me for things that I am proud of: hard work, creativity, and perseverance.

I am a role model now, and so are all of you! The guys who are still at Ready, Willing & Able, and family and friends are going to look at us to set an example and I am happy to have that responsibility for the first time in my life.

One thing that I have always been passionate about and has helped me through many hard times is poetry. I love to write and perform to express myself and deal with my emotions. I thought what better way to close this chapter in my life than with a poem I wrote. I would like to perform it for you now, it is simply titled ‘Ready, Willing & Able’:

Ready, Willing, and Able, the name alone says it all.
Many of us were chosen and many of us were called.

I can remember when I was unready, I was unwilling, and unable
unstable, not able to bring anything to the table.

The structure RWA provides if willingly accepted prepares you for society,
no longer hopeless focused, my doubts lied to me.

It’s better to be prepared and not have an opportunity than to have an opportunity and not be prepared,
and it’s easier when supported by a staff who proves how much they care.

Allowing help to help you, opening your mind up to information and recognizing the obstacles life presents,
believing in yourself worth and willingly able to re-invent.

The man that won’t allow the boy in him to make grown up decisions,
ready, willing and able to convict your life to your vision.

Understanding the process of re-inventing the man you are to become, embrace your past but live for now.
Are you ready willing and able to stand on solid ground?

I’m ready for whatever comes my way,
willing to fight not able to run away!

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in this process its independence, how to be self-sufficient.
How to be responsible for my own actions, how to be persistent.

Ready I am to live life on life’s terms,
willing to make the sacrifices I need to earn.

What I am more than able to achieve,
great things comes to those with faith indeed!

I’m unbreakable, we’re unbreakable, Ready, Willing and Able we are!
The sky is not the limit, set your sight beyond the stars!

We are Ready, Willing, and Able; full of hope no longer hopeless,
powerful, not powerless, but focused.

Be real with yourself, life is not a fable.
Nothing is impossible as long as you stay Ready, Willing, and Able.

May 3, 2013

Ready, Willing & Able Graduation 2013!

On Wednesday, May 1, Ready, Willing & Able honored the “men in blue” who graduated into lives of self-sufficiency and independence at our annual Graduation ceremony, held at Old Pine Street Church in Society Hill. Over 300 friends, family, and community supporters were on hand to mark the occasion, hearing the stories of transformation of the Graduates.

Seth Williams, District Attorney for the City of Philadelphia, provided the keynote address and spoke about the organization as a shining example of success. “For over a decade, the Ready, Willing & Able program has been changing lives in Philadelphia, and it is an honor to be a part of their graduation ceremony. Since taking office in 2010, I have been talking about being smart on crime, not just tough; and programs like Ready, Willing and Able help us achieve that goal.” 

The crowd also heard inspiring stories from 2006 Graduate, Gerald Washington, and 2013 Graduate, Shahid Guyton, who are both shining examples of the program's strength and success.

After the graduates received their diplomas, the men threw their caps into the air to signify the end of the Graduation and the beginning of their new lives. A reception catered by Ready, Willing & Able’s Culinary Arts program immediately followed at the Old Pine Community Center.

Below are just a few photos from the incredible event, please check out the rest on our Facebook page!

February 20, 2013

Painting the Town Blue!

On Sunday, February 10th, Ready, Willing & Able volunteered at the annual installation ceremony of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia. The event took place at First African Baptist Church, and the "men in blue" helped with a variety of tasks including security, directing traffic, and generally making sure things ran smoothly.

Strong supporter and friend of Ready, Willing & Able, Reverend Terrence Griffith, was installed as President of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and the event featured a number of elected officials and dignitaries that the "men in blue" in attendance had the opportunity to meet.

This is the second year that Ready, Willing & Able has helped out at the ceremony and by the end of the day, they were already invited back next year!

February 5, 2013

Ready, Willing & Able in the News!

Philadelphia Gamechangers: Ready, Willing & Able

CBS Philly celebrates Black History Month with these profiles of notable Philadelphia “gamechangers,” people and organizations making a difference in the lives of the city’s African-Americans.
By Cherri Gregg
February 5, 2013

Also known as the “Men in Blue,” Ready, Willing & Able is all about opportunity.

“What we do is provide an opportunity for men to change their own lives,” says LeeRoy Jordan, program director for Ready, Willing & Able.   He says the organization’s philosophy is, “Work works.”

Many of these men were once incarcerated or addicted to drugs, but Ready Willing & Able provides the men with a place to stay and puts them to work.

Jordan (below left) says that over the past eight years, the nonprofit has provided more than 1,000 single, homeless men with paying jobs — cleaning parks, cooking meals, providing security, and performing other tasks.

At the same time, they receive work training and life skills training, as well as other support.

(Program Director LeeRoy Jordan and Board Chairman James Veal of Ready, Willing & Able. Credit: Cherri Gregg)
“Almost 100 percent of the men said they were poor and had no money when they came into the program,” says Jordan.  “The average savings when they leave here is about $3,000 — and you hope they would do well with that.”

He says that after a year to 18 months with RWA, most leave with $3,000 in savings and a place to call their own.

Some even reconnect with their families and move back with their wives, or rekindle relationships with their children.

“These men may be homeless on paper, but they all belong to someone,” says Jordan.

(Lamont Walker. Credit: Cherri Gregg)
Lamont Walker (right) has been in the program for eight months.  “It’s been life-changing,” he says. “I used to be on drugs; I’m drug-free now.  I have some savings.  I’m training new guys on how to work in the building.”

“I saw these guys in blue working in the park and they were smiling, and I said, ‘Who are these guys?’ ” recalls James Veal, chairman of the board of Ready Willing & Able of Philadelphia.  He says he was so impressed he decided to get involved.

“We are all the same,” says Veal, who works as a financial advisor. “Most of these guys just made a wrong decision and took a different path.  We are from the same community; we could have been neighbors.  So my goal here is to not just be a chairman.  I want to be a part of this.”

Jordan says the program transforms the men from helpless to hopeful.

“That transformation happens here,” he says. “The special thing about us, we get to watch it.”


January 24, 2013

Ready, Willing & Able in the News!

Ready, Willing & Able tidies Washington Avenue

By Joseph Myers
January 24, 2013

Though any kind of garbage can prove unsightly, wet refuse makes an especially upsetting visual.

Andrew Dalzell encountered the soaked sort Jan. 16 as he walked along Washington Avenue, but the programs coordinator for the South of South Neighborhood Association, 1901 Christian St., and other local figures have witnessed less litter making a layover on the prominent thoroughfare since last month courtesy of a transitional housing provider’s holiday gift to their neighborhood.

“More people have to realize what we see is not theirs or mine but our trash and up their efforts to tend to it more diligently,” Dalzell, of the 2000 block of Fitzwater Street, said within Cava International Marble and Granite, 2000 Washington Ave., before inspecting the heavily industrial expanse. “For the times when they don’t, we all experience a setback and need assistance.”

The civic personality has received such aid from Ready, Willing & Able, 1211 Bainbridge St., a 12-year-old organization that offers homeless men a temporary abode, social support services, education, paid work, vocational training and lifelong graduate services. Dubbed the “Men in Blue” because of their distinct uniforms, many of the 70 participants have spent each Wednesday since Dec. 19 cleaning Washington Avenue from Broad Street to its intersection with Grays Ferry Avenue at 26th Street and every Thursday since Dec. 20 sprucing up 22nd Street from Washington Avenue to South Street.

“We assisted at a SOSNA event in 2011, and Andrew wondered if he could have a residential block hire Ready, Willing & Able to perform services,” Mark Atwood, manager of communications and development and a resident of the 1100 block of Montrose Street, said from Cava, whose owner, Michael Mazzola, has joined Dalzell in trying to beautify the corridor for customers, fellow proprietors and pedestrians. “We started something around Christmastime then along Christian Street and South 22nd Street and hoped to be able to help more.”

His Hawthorne entity approved a pilot program one year later, giving Dalzell a free assist in promoting his civic’s clean and green initiative. The association’s personnel had devoted February and March to conducting a litter index, scoring 20 neighborhood subareas, including small and large blocks and sites with and without trash cans, on their sanitary qualities. With Washington Avenue’s tallies being the worst, Dalzell knew what must become the prime location to maximize the generosity.
“In many respects, Washington Avenue builds Philadelphia,” the South of South dweller said. “Because of wind currents’ bringing so much trash, though, we often have the Wild West on Washington West.”

To explain the burden troubling his territory, Dalzell called on Greek mythology, mentioning Sisyphus, a fallen king whose afterlife punishment involved the pushing of a boulder up a steep hill. Each time he would near the summit, the stone would roll back, and Dalzell used that tale as a metaphor for what residents face when fending off refuse.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Mazzola said, noting daily maintenance of his operation’s surroundings. “Just when we think we’re finished, more appears.”

A descendant of a New York City-based program, Ready, Willing & Able strives to promote self-sufficiency among its enrollees, about 70 percent of whom have served prison time and 96 percent of whom have a history of drug abuse, according to its website, with graduation depending on an individual’s attaining full-time employment, independent housing and a sober lifestyle. Alumnus Javier Rivera has ascended to the role of deputy director of community improvement projects and felt helping locations close to the organization’s headquarters would work wonders for enhancing appreciation of everyone’s duties in maintaining cleanliness.

“We work all over and tend to many tasks, including vacant lots for roughly nine months of the year,” he said. “We realized there is so much potential around here that reducing the trash situation became a must.”

His workers have addressed Marconi Plaza, Broad Street and Oregon Avenue, and Stephen Girard Park, 21st and Shunk streets, yet because of their citywide duties, they have not crafted a constant South Philly presence. The civic group’s chores, whose fifth segment in a probable eight-week cycle concludes today, could compel the community to call on Rivera’s crews more regularly, which Dalzell has deemed doable.

“We’re looking to acquire a contract for weekly services throughout the entire year,” he said, noting the acquisition of pledges from businesses along Washington Avenue could cover part of the cost.

Potential methods for furthering interactions with Ready, Willing & Able include the neighborhood’s willingness to assist with mock interviews and externships. Dalzell, whose efforts have brought BigBelly cans to South of South, knows no waste along the corridor would represent utopia but, rooted in reality, he realizes managing messes matters most. That philosophy has led him to add 22nd Street to the overseen areas for Ready, Willing & Able attendants, who use 22nd Street and Washington Avenue as their drop-off location for the City.

Nowhere near as burdened as Washington Avenue at large, 22nd Street and Washington Avenue and the remaining five blocks comprising the second coverage area can prove popular for polluters, with burgeoning businesses, the recently renovated Julian Abele Park, 22nd and Carpenter streets, and the revamped Catharine Park, 22nd and Catharine streets, as primary spots for neglectful passers-by. The combined realm does not occupy the workers for as long as the first zone but brings no less pride to Wesley Brown.

“We love the routes,” the community improvement projects supervisor said after he and his five colleagues completed Jan. 16’s morning tasks. “Maintaining these areas, especially Washington Avenue, gives us senses of accomplishment, and we hope people notice that, but that certainly doesn’t mean we want for them to forget to be responsible and dispose of stuff improperly.”

The North Philadelphian graduated from Ready, Willing & Able in ’10 and secured employment with his benefactor last year. Having worked on numerous contracts already, he would welcome a chance to be a more consistent contributor to efforts to make streets more inviting for consumers and potential commerce heads. That attitude dovetails with South of South’s views, Dalzell, responsible for helping to stimulate community and economic development, said.

“We want for people to consider Washington Avenue for their purchases, especially home improvement items,” he said. “Everyone needs to chip in, and we’re thrilled to have Ready, Willing & Able to bring that closer to fruition.”