Gang Members and Reformation: Just Thought I’d Share About This Author

Gang Members and Reformation: Just Thought I’d Share About This Author

Father Gregory Boyle in His Office (credit: Father Gregory Boyle Facebook Page)

If you’ve never read anything by Gregory Boyle, you should consider doing so. It may change your life. Or at the very least, make you change your job.

That’s what happened to me.

It’s probably true that many of us find ourselves in jobs that we likely did not anticipate. I don’t know many people, for example, who dreamed of being an Assistant Manager of Talent Acquisition or a Systems Analyst at 7 years old.

I know I did not anticipate raising money and awareness for a non-profit organization in Grand Rapids, Michigan (I was going to be a baseball player in Pittsburgh, if you must know). Super-Fast forward to February of 2021, a pandemic had been making its way through our world for a year and I had spent my time reading and re-reading books by Gregory Boyle.

If you don’t know who Gregory Boyle is, Father Boyle is a Jesuit Priest in East Los Angeles who started Homeboy Industries – a place that wraps its arms around gang members and the incarcerated, and helps them find their paths forward through work programs, education, mental health clinics, tattoo removal, and radical kinship and compassion.

In an attempt to write few enough words that compels you to read this, I simply encourage you to read one of (or all three) or Gregory Boyle’s books: Tattoos on the Heart, Barking to the Choir, or The Whole Language. I think there is a good chance that you’ll read of a posture that this world needs and I believe, actually deeply longs for.

Boyle (Center) in the early days of Homeboy Industries (credit Ave Maria Press)

“We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

AYA attempts to be a similar place that Father Boyle and so many have created in Los Angeles. We are looking to be a place of connection and kinship, rather than a place of perfectly curated paths. We long to see the wholeness and beauty in each person over and over again, as opposed to disregarding them if they disagree with or disappoint us. We seek to understand what “bad behavior” actually is – a response from deeply wounded people that have often been victims of simply being born in a wrong home or wrong zip code.

For many of you who are reading this, you know that at AYA’s center is the power of relationships. We believe it has to be core to true transformation. Homeboy Industries would call this kinship. And it’s central to everything they do. Father Boyle puts it like this for Homeboy Industries:

“Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

To find out more how AYA has been creating spaces for the voiceless, despised, and demonized for nearly 10 years now, send me an email at aallen@ayayouth.org. I’d love to talk more with you.

Two Grand Rapids Nonprofits Merging to Help More Youth in Crisis Move Toward Stability

3:11 Youth Housing and HQ Runaway & Homeless Youth Drop-In Center Merging to Break the Cycle of Homelessness Together


GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN—Today two Grand Rapids area nonprofit agencies with a shared purpose announce a merger: 3:11 Youth Housing and HQ Runaway & Homeless Youth Drop-In Center have come together to provide circles of support for youth facing homelessness.

While this decision was made prior to COVID-19, this pandemic has highlighted the disparities that youth experiencing homelessness face, disproportionately impacting communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. The stark racial inequities are made very clear in housing and homelessness in Kent County. Approximately 80% of youth accessing drop-in at HQ and housing at 3:11 are people of color, yet they make up 41% of the population. HQ and 3:11 have continued to provide support to youth during this pandemic, from virtual supports and teletherapy to grocery delivery and rent assistance. This merger is even more essential now, providing cohesive support and stability in the face of such unprecedented times.

Since 2012, 3:11 has provided housing to more than 50 young people, ages 18 to 24. With support from mentors and housemates, participating youth build life skills and relationships. Ninety percent of participants go on to find stable housing, reach educational goals and secure full-time employment.

HQ opened in 2014 to create a safe and affirming space for youth, ages 14 to 24, to find rest, build relationships, and connect to vital resources while navigating instability or homelessness. In its six years of operation, HQ has served more than 1,400 youth members.

“Housing insecurity is complex, and 3:11 and HQ have partnered for years to address its many dimensions,” said Lauren VanKeulen, founding Co-Executive Director of 3:11. “As a unified organization, we can create a more connective, cohesive experience for youth on their journey toward housing and stability.”

VanKeulen will lead the new organization as its CEO with a leadership team that combines staff and board members from both founding organizations. In addition to streamlining the experience of the youth they serve, the team expects to increase their reach and impact, and develop opportunities for the future, including new housing options and innovations in youth resources.

Shandra Steininger, Co-Founder and Executive Director of HQ, will complete her service to the organization on June 30, 2020, in order to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona, to be nearer to family. Steininger played an active role in planning the merger and will continue to be a resource to the new leadership team during this transition.

“The merger is the result of a months-long process of research, listening sessions and planning,” said Steininger. “The staff and board of 3:11 and HQ, as well as our members and 3:11 mentors, have been very thoughtful about what we’d like to see for the future. As I take the next step on my own personal journey, I do so with great confidence in this shared work.”

More than 80 youth per night experience homelessness in Kent County each year, according to the community Point in Time Count, and we know this is grossly under representative of the actual need. As a unified organization, we will have the resources, diversity and strength to play a more significant role in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

“We envision a Grand Rapids community where every young person can count on strong relationships and stable housing as a foundation for their future,” said VanKeulen. “This organization is dedicated to this vision, and we have greater capacity than ever to help young people move from crisis to stability alongside our many great partners and supporters in this area.”

The merged organization will create safe space for young people in crisis to belong, be themselves and build a future. The organization creates circles of support for 14- to 24-year-olds facing homelessness or instability in the Grand Rapids area—from drop-in opportunities to rest, recharge and meet everyday needs in a caring community to safe, affordable housing with peers and mentors who partner in their transition to stability. We are here to help young people connect to the resources, relationships and housing they need at any point on their journey.

Organization leaders will be available for interviews the week of June 23. Please contact Lauren VanKeulen atinfo@3-11.org.

If you are between the ages of 14 and 24 and would like to be connected to one of our advocates, please contact us at www.hqgr.org, www.3-11.org, or (616) 217-4113.