Felipe Vargas is the Vice President of Programs at The Doe Fund. A 12-year veteran of the organization, he leads the day-to-day operations of The Doe Fund’s flagship Ready, Willing & Able program. We sat down with Felipe to learn more about his incredible story and how his team helps the Men in Blue succeed.
What do you like most about your work at The Doe Fund?
We give people the opportunity to change their lives through work in a way that empowers them.
Unlike other social services programs that analyze people and tell them what’s wrong with them, we don’t put our guys under a microscope. We can still acknowledge that they might have some problems they need to work out, or areas they need to strengthen, but here, it’s really about giving them the opportunity to succeed.
We take a practical approach. People’s lives are generally structured by work, and we give our guys the chance to do the same so that they can be a contributing member of society. At some point in the program, they see that this is the better way. We don’t give them anything that isn’t already out there, but we empower them to harness it.
What are the most challenging aspects of helping homeless men secure long-term independence?
There’s a severe need for workforce development and re-entry programs in NYC, and there are a lot of people out there that really need programs like ours. But committing to a program like this is very difficult—not everyone is ready. We do our best to encourage men to stick with it and take advantage of what we offer.
Sometimes, I meet people years later, and it was just a matter of timing. They weren’t in the right place in life to commit to change. But they get there eventually. All we can do is present the opportunity, provide unwavering support, and hope that people take advantage of it.
What originally brought you to The Doe Fund?
I’m a formerly incarcerated person, and some time after I was released, I worked for an organization that helped people with substance abuse. I really wanted to continue working with this population, and with other people who had been incarcerated. A friend of mine told me about The Doe Fund, and it really appealed to me, so I applied.
I got the opportunity to work with a woman named Jennifer Mitchell, and we clicked from day one. She kept challenging me and giving me more responsibilities. When she left, I was promoted to her role and have been in that position ever since.
What goals do you have for the future of Ready, Willing & Able?
After 30 years, we know that Ready, Willing & Able is a model re-entry program for people coming out of prison. We are the go-to place where formerly incarcerated people can rebuild their lives through work, and make meaningful contributions to their community and family. I hope we can continue to grow and expand to help people who desperately need this opportunity.
Anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
Even though I am not a graduate of Ready, Willing & Able, I believe I succeeded after my release from prison because I unknowingly followed The Doe Fund’s model. I wanted a strategy to get ahead and a job to earn a paycheck; I was looking for a way to structure my life around work. Once I did that, I was in a much better position to adjust to life outside of prison.