Sometimes I feel like a motherless child …. A long ways from home. — “Motherless Child,” the African American spiritual, dating back to slavery
In the energy industry, Jan Vrins is well known as a Guidehouse partner and leader for the consultancy’s global energy, sustainability, and infrastructure segment. As such, he is always glad of a comfy hotel bed at the end of a day.
But on the evening of Nov. 19, Vrins will sleep rough in Miami, in a sleeping bag atop a collapsed cardboard box on concrete.
It will be a hard night for Vrins and many other executives in North America as they sleep out to raise funds and awareness for Covenant House, a shelter for youth experiencing homelessness, abuse, and trafficking.
“I will be sleeping on the street again to show homeless young people that they are not alone. I have been doing this for eight years now, and I am asking for your support again. This year has been very tough on homeless kids, and more than ever they need our support,” Vrins wrote in a letter to colleagues and friends in the energy industry.
A Virtual Dinner and Sleep Out
Last year, and the previous ones, Vrins and other executives slept out in the parking lot of Covenant House in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But Renee Trincanello, CEO of Covenant House Florida, told me that this pandemic year the event will be a virtual one – on Webex — with volunteers laying down their cardboard box mattresses and sleeping bags on paved areas where they live. Before they sleep out, they will have a virtual dinner with the children – in person in previous years – which is where “they share their stories with us,” Vrins said.
The sleep out is the main event in the charitable organization’s calendar year. Last year, Trincanello said, the sleep out raised $350,000. She hopes that this year’s event will raise $500,000.
Covenant House, Vrins wrote in his letter, “offers these young people so much more than a safe place to sleep: They welcome each kid with absolute respect and unconditional love. Their continuum of care provides essential services to help kids transition from homelessness to independence.”
Trincanello told me that some children find Covenant House on their own, but others must be found through an outreach program. These children, between the ages of 13 and 21, have become street dwellers for many reasons: broken homes, drugs, alcohol, poverty, sexual abuse, and trafficking. Trust is a big barrier, Trincanello said, but “it’s amazing what you can do with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a pack of potato chips.”
The Covenant House children are from all economic strata and ethnicities, but they have two things in common: They are in pitiable straits, and they are welcome at any one of the 31 Covenant Houses located in six countries, but mostly in North America. Before being admitted, they are tested for HIV, Trincanello said.
Last year, Vrins introduced me to Covenant House in Fort Lauderdale, one of the nation’s most prosperous cities, home to many uber-rich. Yet in Fort Lauderdale, there are children who are forced through no fault of their own to live on the street, forced also into danger and misery.
For a homeless child, I thought as I toured the Fort Lauderdale facility, being welcomed here must be a hell-to-heaven experience It didn’t feel like shelter. Covenant House is a home to those who live there; where the things of home are available plus tutoring, remedial education and GED-preparation classes, and vocational training. There is special provision for young mothers (sometimes fathers) and their babies and pregnant girls.
The pandemic’s two biggest effects have been in employment and education. Initially, Trincanello said, 100 percent of the Covenant House children who had been employed lost their jobs. “I’m glad to say that 60 percent are back at work,” she said. But that employment number was before the latest virus surge. In-person educational programs have been replaced with virtual classes, she said.
Covenant House is why Jan Vrins, global energy consultant, is also Jan Vrins, child advocate. “One night can make a difference. Make a donation in support of my sleep out,” Vrins asked in his letter. “I can’t do this without you.”