Cap-and-Gown Ceremony Marks Completion of Yearlong Program and Return to Society
NEW YORK – Several hundred graduates of The Doe Fund’s award-winning Ready, Willing & Able program recently celebrated their successful completion of the organization’s transitional work program with a traditional cap-and-gown ceremony at The Church of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Each of the more than 300 graduates has completed the 9-to-12-month paid work program and has secured independent housing and full-time employment in the private sector after extended periods of homelessness or incarceration.
“You pushed the bucket through heat waves and blizzards. You helped tourists and locals find their way – at the same you were finding yours,” remarked George McDonald, founder and president of The Doe Fund and co-founder of Ready, Willing & Able with his wife, Harriet Karr-McDonald. “But the hardest work of all didn’t happen on the street or in the class. It was in the mirror… That change; the change within, is one of the greatest challenges a person can undertake.”
Ready, Willing & Able aluminus Don Pridgen, who now works as a case manager at The Doe Fund’s Harlem facility, provided perspective and advice for the hundreds of graduates who will have achieved self-sufficiency, rebuilt their lives and connected with family.
“This program was a door I needed to go through. It was a door that led back to my family. It led to my future. It was a door that brought me back to myself – the man I was supposed to be,” he recalled. “Tonight is the night you walk through that door. On the other side of that door is the life you deserve. So start walking and don’t you ever, ever look back.”
Class of 2016 valedictorian Angel Lopez shared his emotional journey that included foster care and prison before he finally reached The Doe Fund. He discussed the challenges he faced during the past year while rebuilding his life and beginning a career in the culinary arts.
“Some old friends from the neighborhood walked by me while I was cleaning and kicked my bucket, laughing at my uniform,” he recalled. “I just kept thinking, yeah, but I’m a working man. I’m a working man and I’m not going back to prison. And I picked that bucket up and kept on pushing it.”
Also joining McDonald on stage was New York Human Resources Commissioner Steve Banks, who oversees the city’s homeless services; and the Reverend Alfonso Wyatt, who delivered an inspiring speech on resisting temptation and facing the obstacles and challenges that lie ahead for the graduates.
The event was catered by The Doe Fund’s own kitchens, where professional chefs train participants in the culinary arts – one of six professional career tracks available in Ready, Willing & Able. The evening concluded with a traditional diploma ceremony and cap toss.