For some men the path to a Better Life takes many different turns.

Drew Gavins, a 56 year-old man, dropped out of 10th grade because at the time he had a job and felt like he didn’t need to stay in school. Over the past 40 years he has held many manual labor jobs, but now he has a dream to become a nurse. In June 2018, almost 40 years after he left high school, Drew received his high school diploma from the Ballou S.T.A.Y. program in DC. (This is not a GED, but a completed high school diploma.)

“This summer I will enroll in a med tech program and after that I plan to enroll in Montgomery College’s nursing program. I now have a five year plan. After many years of struggling to stay ahead, I finally decided I want a better life and now is the time!” Drew has been homeless for about two years. He had been living with a brother, but when the brother got married, it was mutually agreed that he would move out – but he had no place to go to. Now he is working toward a more stable life and following the Better Life Pyramid.

“When I left school I had jobs like landscaping, housekeeping and other manual labor positions that paid minimum wage. I have helped raise nine children – six of whom are now successful adults. I am still involved in the lives of my three youngest children, aged 17, 8 and 3. I want them to look up to me and see a man who has been true to himself and to them.”

“The Father McKenna Center has been instrumental in helping me set a new direction for my life. Cortez McDaniel has been an inspiration and he has been my guide. As I move ahead I choose to make good decisions for myself and for my children.”

Cortez McDaniel, Director of Services at The Father McKenna Center, commented about Drew’s efforts to rebuild his life, “Andrew did not always project this positive, forward thinking attitude. Under our watch Andrew has addressed the ‘inner man’ and made good choices to make real change in his life. Like all the men who seek our help, he received compassion with expectations. That is we offered him real help, that comes with a set of goals.”

Congratulations and good luck, Drew!

Dennis D.

The journey through life is full of people who make a difference.

On August 27, 2014 Dennis Dee arrived at the Father McKenna Center. He had accepted that his life had unwound in ways he could not have imagined five years before. Due to his alcoholism Dennis had lost a great career as an investment banker. He also lost so much more; his marriage dissolved, he lost contact with his children and sisters, he lost friends and colleagues. In addition, Dennis had lost his relationship with God and had lost himself.

He began to come daily to the Center. He found food and friendship. But more importantly, Dennis began to find a path to himself! He requested and received direction from Cortez McDaniel, the Case Manager. He allowed others to care for him. The “spark” or inspiration to change unequivocally occurred at Cortez’ daily 11 o’clock meetings. On September 18, 2014 he declared himself in recovery from alcoholism. He began to attend, on a daily basis, AA meetings, here at the Center and in the community. He took to heart Cortez’ advice that recovery would be “the fight of his life.” Simply put, Dennis adhered to Cortez’ direction to a better life, which prominently features developing and maintaining a relationship with God.

Dennis chose not to attempt to revive his prior career, but rather to move in new directions. He recognized that a first step was to find a job – any job. He became a waiter at a local Denny’s. He reached out to his three children and sisters, and began to mend those relationships. Dennis’ daughter, Caity, who lives in DC, was immediately a steadfast source of unconditional love and support for him.

In October 2014 he was invited into the FMC Hypothermia Program. His stay was just 6 weeks because he sought out and found a sober group home where he could live and continue to live focused on his recovery.

At Christmas 2014 Dennis was asked to take a part-time job at the Father McKenna Center to help coordinate the reception desk. From there he quickly moved on to helping in the Food Pantry, becoming the driver to Food Bank and other errands, a shopper at the Food Bank and other tasks as needed. By the spring he gave up his waiting job to work at the Center, even though it meant a “cut in pay.” His work at the Center had become his passion.

By summer 2015 Cortez was so impressed with Dennis’ care of the men that he asked him to become “Assistant Case Manager.” While Dennis’ background (a degree from Georgetown University and Georgetown Law Center) didn’t obviously prepare him, his quick study approach led him to be great in the role.

Dennis’ work at the Center became more and more important to the whole program.

Two years to the day from when he first came to the Center, Dennis left the Center to pursue a new life in Chicago. Dennis intends to focus on addiction counselling and has identified and registered for a program at the Haymarket Center in Chicago. That program will begin during the Winter of 2017 and lead to certification as an Addictions Counsellor.

In reflecting on his two years with us, Dennis said, “The Father McKenna Center is extraordinarily unique. Like NOWHERE else, the Center’s environment allows a man whose spirit is all but extinguished to be rekindled. The Holy Spirit undoubtedly resides at The Father McKenna Center.”

Dennis Dee will long be remembered with great fondness here at the Father McKenna Center. He made each and every one of us better for his having accompanied on the journey of life.

God bless you, Dennis, and may God grant you every choice blessing.

Syd S.

Every day the Father McKenna Center works with men who are “lost.”

Reclaiming my life – a success story

For men willing to do the hard work of self-assessment and follow-through on the strategies they lay out for themselves, success is possible. Below is one such story, told by our guest, Syd.

Hey Cortez:

Let me tell you my story.

I gave up my apartment in February 2014, but I was waiting for a government contract position, so I thought I could stay with relatives. But the days turned into weeks, and I had worn out my welcome, so I chose to stay in a shelter. I went to Adams Place and stayed there. It was a whole new environment for me. It was a brand new experience for me to be in a homeless situation, and I learned a whole new vocabulary that included words like: SOME’s; “801” “New York Avenue” and Franklin Park. [SOME is the social service agency serving two meals and offering a wide array of services to large numbers of the poor and homeless; 801 and New York Avenue refer to two of the men’s shelters in the city operated by Catholic Charities; and Franklin Park is a major meeting place for many of the homeless people in the downtown area.]

After being in an environment like that I went into “survival mode.” There were many lessons to be learned for me. I was slowly adjusting to “Shelter Time Zone” when everybody else was living in Eastern Standard Time Zone. It was very hard to adjust to living in and out of a small locker for your belongings. Many things I took for granted, but soon learned that the only way to survive is to “pray,” and it made me a humble man.

When I was eating breakfast one day at SOME, I learned about the Father McKenna Center at Gonzaga High School. I visited a few times, then got hooked on the food. My routine became visiting SOME for breakfast, then walk down to the Father McKenna Center for coffee, to wash my clothes, another breakfast and a hot lunch. At the Center I was introduced to a “Reality Classroom” in the sanctuary called Life Skills Class, facilitated by Cortez McDaniel. It was like I had the chance to take a “make-up exam on LIFE.” All the small things that I took for granted, and my arrogant personality began to take a back seat. I took a hard look at myself – I am nearly a senior citizen and the outlook for me was bleak if I kept going on the same path. I attended many of the Life Skills classes and participated in many exercises. Little did I know at that time, that it was meant for me to pay close attention, readjust my thinking and move forward.

The experience has been very helpful to me – it helped me focus on myself. It made me reflect on where I am and where I am going. There have been many trying moments along my journey, but I will survive. I know that God had to take me through this experience to make me a better man, and to teach me to “be humble, endure and move forward” back to a life as I once knew it – self-sufficient, independent, sustainable, employed and living in my own home, again.

The Emory Work Bed Program gave me a transition housing to be the “anchor” that I desperately needed to rest, re-focus, re-adjust re-position myself, and re-group my life to be a productive citizen again. And for the first time in a while, I am able to imagine myself in my own home, vehicle and rebirth to my business. It has been a never-ending journey.

I thank you for your companionship on my journey. You have taught me much, but mostly you were there for me when I needed you!


Prior to coming to The Father McKenna Center, Syd was employed by a major appliance chain and working toward a place of his own. He worked as an Assistant Case Manager with us for a year, then transitioned to being a Hypothermia Coordinator. At the end of the Hypothermia season, Syd retired from FMC and is now pursuing his creative endeavors in his own apartment. For over a year, he gave back and helped others as he had been helped! He is a Father McKenna Center success story!

James W.

“Cortez said things I needed to hear.”

James Wells is another shining example of the role of the Father McKenna Center in the lives of men struggling with homelessness. After many years of struggling with homelessness, James has a new home – an apartment of his own in a senior citizen building near So Others Might Eat (SOME) on O Street, NW.

James is from Augusta, GA. He’d been married, raised his family and had worked blue collar jobs for a lifetime. And then he was divorced and homeless. He was able to find housing and was there for a couple of years. He ran afoul of the law and was jailed for six months because he had no money for bail. During his incarceration he lost his apartment and all his possessions.

Then one night a gang fight broke out in a park where James was sitting with friends just moments before the gun battle happened. He decided “I need to get out of here (Augusta).”

He began walking to South Carolina, and was picked up during a rain storm by a motorist who asked, “where you going?” “Columbia, South Carolina,” James replied. But when they reached Columbia the driver was going on, and James asked where he was going. “Maryland” was the answer. “Can you take me to DC?” James asked. The man not only brought him to DC, but provided meals and cigarettes along the way, and then offered advice as to where to go in DC.

James ended up at the Central Union Mission in August 2014. And from there (the former Gales School at 65 Massachusetts Ave, NW) it is just a three block walk to the Father McKenna Center!

“I came with nothing. But I heard Cortez speak about getting an ID and the other key elements of his “pyramid” to success. I knew I needed help and Cortez was willing to offer me that help.” (Cortez McDaniel is the Director of Men’s Programs and Services at the Father McKenna Center, and his life’s work is to help men struggling with homelessness to find solid ground and to move toward stability, productivity and meaning. Cortez developed a step-by-step guide to move from homelessness to stability. The steps look a bit like a pyramid.)

“With Cortez’s guidance I have an ID card, I have SNAP (food assistance formerly called Food Stamps), I have applied for and been granted disability payments, I have health insurance. And now I have a place of my own.”

Cortez reflected, “James was humble enough to take the help offered to him. He came to us and was willing to do what we suggested. He was anxious about how things would go, but he followed our lead and has made great progress toward his goals.”

And now I am doing something I need to do for me – I’m studying for my GED. It will be a lifelong goal fulfilled.”

All because he listened when Cortez spoke!

Little Friends For Peace

FMC Partners with Little Friends for Peace

The Father McKenna Center, for the past three years has been partnering with Little Friends for Peace, a nonprofit led by MJ Park that focuses the attention of the poor and underserved communities on Inner Peace and relieving the stress caused by conflict.

The following appeared as an article in the Little Friends Winter Newsletter:

A Yen for Zen

About 40 men shared openly about the conditions in their lives that have been making and breaking their peace during Little Friends For Peace’s fall kickoff at the Fr. McKenna Center.

This is the third year that LFFP has led peace programming in the men’s shelter, and participation has not waned. Participants were eager to identify and address the elements of their days that have caused discomfort, and they were relieved to discover and intentionally seek out daily peace-giving situations.

Thank you to MJ Park and her team for leading the 11 Am Meeting every other week and for leading the Peace Circle each Thursday morning!

Gonzaga Canned Food Drive Supports the Food Pantry

Gonzaga Canned Food Drive Supports the Food Pantry

The Gonzaga College High School community came together during the week of November 2-6 to hold a canned food drive to support the Food Pantry at the Father McKenna Center.

Gonzaga collected some 9,300 food items for the Food Pantry. The drive focused on soups, breakfast items (pancake mix & syrup) and peanut butter and jelly. It will be enough to supply the Father McKenna Center for weeks and months to come.

Thank you, Gonzaga! Go Gonzaga, Beat St. John’s!!!