This post is brought to you by The Doe Fund.
Every day, hundreds of men in blue uniforms appear on New York City streets and sidewalks, pushing buckets and brooms. And while they clean over 170 miles of city sidewalks each day, what they're doing goes far beyond street sweeping. They are trainees in a program run by nonprofit organization The Doe Fund called Ready, Willing & Able; and each was homeless or incarcerated just a few weeks earlier.
"I was lost on these streets...I was homeless here," said Troy, a former trainee who now works full time for The Doe Fund as a security supervisor. "The Doe Fund gave me an opportunity: an opportunity to go to work, earn money, support myself. And now I've got a family who loves me, a job I care about, and a future. Pushing the bucket was hard. But it's the first step you take to get back on your feet. And now, here I am."
Another former trainee, Richard, echoed the sentiment, "I was hooked on drugs by eight years old. I was committing crimes before I was even a teenager. I spent twenty years inside a penitentiary, hoping for the chance to build a real life one day—hoping just to have a shot at a real job and a home. The Doe Fund is the reason my hope didn't die in prison."
While every trainee in the program starts by cleaning the streets, that's only the beginning for the "men in blue." Ready, Willing & Able takes nine to twelve months to complete. The program offers its trainees a path to what the organization calls "permanent self-sufficiency." Graduating requires a trainee to build savings, pay child support, stay clean and sober, and secure full time employment and independent housing. Hundreds and hundreds of men each year do exactly that.
"By and large, it's a lack of opportunity that has put our folks on the wrong track...not some character flaw or defect. We haven't invested in our communities. And because of that, people are suffering without the work or education they need to thrive," said George McDonald, founder and president of The Doe Fund.
The model that he and his wife, Harriet, have created combines social services, vocational training, and paid work opportunities to help men like Troy and Richard return to mainstream society. "At the heart of our program is work because work is what provides everything you need to live a good, full, happy life," said Harriet McDonald, the organization's Executive Vice President. "When we started in the 80s, it was mostly middle aged men we saw come through the program. But now, we're seeing younger and younger men who need our help."
That's why The Doe Fund is expanding. Today, the organization serves 1,000 people a day. By 2018, they plan to nearly double that number with an emphasis on youth services. "It's ambitious, of course, but it's necessary. We have to create opportunity for young people, because without it, we will lose another generation to the cycles of homelessness, addiction, and incarceration. We cannot let that happen," said Mrs. McDonald.
"The reason our program is so successful is simple: Work works," said Mr. McDonald.
To help The Doe Fund fulfill its mission of providing economic opportunity and social services to the people who need them most, donate to the organization at http://www.doe.org/help.cfm.