St. John the Divine's Evolving Vision for Community Engagement
by the Rev. Greg Buffone

In January 2022, the Community Engagement Project leadership delivered a joint report to the parish that named at-risk youth as a segment of our community with demonstrated, unserved needs that match well with the talents and strengths of our congregation. All three teams concluded that one caring adult in the life of a young person, such as a mentor, can dramatically enhance the likelihood of a promising start to that young person’s adult life.

The Employment Team, led by Tony Mayer, subsequently launched the Mentor Coordination Team (MCT). The MCT’s initial focus involved a collaboration with Larry Lawyer and reVision to recruit mentors for Lamar students. In the coming months, the MCT will be recruiting mentors to support Mission Squash, a ministry led by Alister Barnes that empowers students from Houston’s under-served communities to unlock and maximize their potential through intensive, year-round academic, wellness, and enrichment programs. Do not miss the opportunity to learn more about the ministry of mentoring through Serving At-Risk Youth Through Mentoring, a new three-part series on Sunday mornings beginning June 5th.

The Education Team, led by Jeff McParland, remains focused on early childhood development and education, with an emphasis on children and families in childcare/PreK deserts. Discussions are ongoing with potential partner organizations that support childcare and pre-K providers in the greater Houston area regarding the provision of financial and volunteer resources for these clients.

The team is exploring the possibility of hosting region-wide gatherings of child-care providers at SJD, assisting in providing basic business skills training to child-care providers, and one-on-one counseling in business, legal, and accounting areas. A preliminary proposal from the Education Team is expected later this summer.

The Housing Team, led by Lori Gobillot, has narrowed its focus to youth and young adults (YAs) that are aging out of foster care, a population known to have poor outcomes with significant adverse consequences.

  • YAs age out of foster care at 18 but can opt-in to extended foster care until their 21st birthday. They are forced to leave the system at 21, with no safety net and lacking the critical skills necessary for successful independent living.
  • 1,500 YAs age out of foster care in the greater Houston area every year.
  • Fortunate YAs find a spot in a supervised independent living (SIL) facility like the one operated by DePelchin Children’s Center.
  • Nearly 70% of the YAs aging out of foster care will be incarcerated, homeless, suffer substance abuse, or lose their life within 18 months.
  • The 30% who “make it” report the difference was one caring adult outside the foster care system.

After a period of thoughtful study and conferring with community experts in this area, the team is pursuing the development of a systematic, multi-dimensional approach to assisting these young adults in successfully transitioning to stable independent living.

DePelchin Children’s Center, a highly regarded non-profit organization that currently serves foster youth, has committed to partnering with SJD to develop a new program to connect with and empower participants to plan and successfully achieve their transition into independent living. Development of the program will include input and assistance from YAs whose life experience includes homelessness and or time in the foster care system. The program will seek to enhance each participant’s capacity to engage in educational and enrichment activities focused on gaining personal, social, financial, and career (networking) skills, and to develop and pursue an individual plan of their own design to achieve a stable, independent livelihood. Participants will be surrounded and encouraged by a supportive and collaborative team of volunteers and professionals focused on their success. Spiritual support through voluntary participation in Bible study and/or other fellowship activities will be designed to share Christ’s unconditional love.

A key element of the planned program is housing. Access to housing, both exigent short-term and longer-term options, increases the likelihood of a successful transition to independent living. Participants who pursue their transition plan will be provided with or assisted in obtaining housing upon the earlier of the completion of their plan or their 21st birthday (the last date they can receive extended foster care services).

We are delighted to have the benefit of DePelchin’s expertise as well as other key resources to provide guidance in best practices and to assist in continuous self-assessment as we develop and refine the pilot. We hope to expand the program within the Houston area over time to include additional non-profits and participants.


If you are interested in being involved in St. John’s community engagement efforts, you may contact one of the team leaders mentioned above or visit the SJD CEP Volunteer page to register. Specific opportunities for engagement are coming soon.

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