Feature story about a practicum student’s work with homeless men at St. Vincent de Paul.
For many years, St. Vincent de Paul is host to practicum students from the University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work. This year one of those students, senior Shawnnesha Mahoney, is conducting her practicum in Ozanam Inn Men’s Shelter and chose to work with eight of the men for her Capstone Project. The title of her project is “Homeless, Not Helpless: Phoenix Rising” and its aim is to raise self-esteem and self-efficacy. When asked how she came up the program, Shawnnesha said, “When I would work with clients I got a vibe that they didn’t have high self-esteem. They felt like they couldn’t accomplish anything because they were beating themselves up and because other people in their life had told them ‘No, you can’t do this.’”
The six-week program included a mindfulness meditation class, resume creation, haircuts, cooking class, an art night, and a visit from local chef Darnell Ferguson of SuperChefs. “When we first started, I told the guys, ‘This will be fun!’ They said fun was not a word in their vocabulary. ‘We’re used to pain and disappointment.’” Shawnnesha’s response? “Well, fun needs to be in everyone’s vocabulary.”
Shawnnesha partnered with people like Michael Rondinelli of Empire Education Group for haircuts and Lacey Latimer of Run Possible for cooking class. Darnell Ferguson, owner of SuperChefs, spoke to the men about how he went from drug addiction and jail to being homeless to eventually owning his own restaurants. Speaking about homeless shelters, Darnell shared, “This is my birthplace. Being here with you all, it was the first step for me. It’s where I was planted to grow. It’s where I learned the most about myself.”
The program was a hit with the men. “As the program progressed, more guys wanted to join so that’s a good sign,” says Cassidy Kennedy, Program Manager at Ozanam Inn. “Even one of the guys that moved out has come back to participate in the program.”
The program wrapped with dinner at Texas Roadhouse and the men received a resource binder filled with information to help them continue the work Shawnnesha started. St. Vincent de Paul Louisville has helped homeless men since 1984 by providing safe shelter on a nightly basis. Ozanam Inn has 58 emergency overnight beds, 12 transitional housing beds, and 20 beds reserved for Veterans. It also serves as a White Flag site during dangerous weather conditions.
Thanks to the hard work of our case managers, and practicum students, we have a growing success rate with moving homeless clients into more stable lives through planning and coaching toward employment, education, and stable housing.