Eric Anthony may have come to Chicago on a whim, but that serendipitous choice has made all the difference in the lives of Mercy Home’s kids.

After graduating from San Diego State with a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, Eric and his fiancée made the decision to come to Chicago after she got a job opportunity here.

“I was like, you know, there’s probably no better place for an African-American male therapist to be than Chicago with the inner-city kids,” he said. “So we made a decision to come out here with no obligations, [we] can always go back.”

Eric then saw an opening at Mercy Home for a youth care worker position and decided to apply. Shortly after, he was offered the position of therapist and is currently working in Noha Home with boys ages 11-14. And, fortunately for us, his no-strings-attached move has turned into a new home for him.

“I plan on being here for the long haul,” he said. “Chicago’s the new home. I love it.”

Eric grew up in Palmyra, New Jersey, and went to East Carolina University in North Carolina for his undergraduate degree. He also played football there, as well as becoming involved in his fraternity. He made the decision to leave his hometown to escape the negative components of it—substance abuse and poverty, specifically—and seek new experiences. He was also able to be closer to his biological mother and a brother who he didn’t grow up with, and credits this decision as a key factor in his success.

Eric Anthony

“[My mother and brother] just thought it’d be great if I got out of New Jersey and kind of opened myself up to new experiences,” he said. “Which, honestly, I could probably say without that, I probably wouldn’t have made it out of Palmyra.”

After graduating from East Carolina University, Eric decided to move to San Diego to stay with another brother. He started working in a behavioral school as a teacher’s aide, and “fell in love” with working with kids, specifically those who are high risk and live in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.

Following that position, he worked in an outpatient therapy program in a position similar to our youth care workers, where he gained clinical knowledge.

“I was like, oh this is great,” he said. “I love this and I’m really good at connecting with kids. I was like, I should probably make a career out of this.”

Eric then decided to pursue his master’s degree. During his time in grad school, he worked in an internship with kids who were suffering from psychosis due to illness like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder. He also worked in a juvenile detention hall in San Diego with kids aged 14 to 19 who were convicted of violent offenses.

“That was the realest thing I did in my life,” he said. [Being] in the units with them [and] playing cards with them, doing therapy … There’s gang fights and stuff like right next to you, but you start learning they don’t go after you [because you’ve built] those relationships. So I really learned how to be attuned to kids and understand what it means when they’re doing these different behaviors.

“I had the stereotype [in my mind] that kids that are involved in gangs and black and brown kids are just violent, aggressive kids and I just found it’s so much different. And I really fell in love with working with kids at that point.”

From that job, he came to Mercy Home. During his time here, he has worked in both Mahoney Home with kids aged 14-17 and Noha Home.

A part of his job that Eric really enjoys is the opportunity to hear the perspectives of our young men.

“Every single one has a different story,” he said. “They have a different way how they got here and they have so much information to share with you. … I get energy from interacting with them. I coach basketball [at Mercy Home]. I just tried to get into as much as I can, immerse myself in Mercy Home culture, to get next to these kids because these kids are, honestly, they’re amazing.”

“Every single one has a different story. They have a different way how they got here and they have so much information to share with you. … I get energy from interacting with them.”

Eric has also enjoyed the opportunity to be a role model to our boys.

“It’s not only a privilege to be a male here [at Mercy Home], but it’s a privilege to be a black male,” he said. “I don’t take that for granted … and we desperately need more black men in our mental health programs to be role models, advocates, be leaders. Not that I feel like people that aren’t of color can’t work with these kids, [but] the way I look at it is, you know, you eat with your eyes first. And with these kids, they make connections with their eyes first.

“I definitely think [Mercy Home] does internal looks and looks in the mirror and is trying to see how we can be more diverse.”

Eric says that he prioritizes being a role model through his actions, not words, but also takes the opportunity to talk with our boys and tell them that he’s had similar experiences and empowers them to succeed.

“[I] let them know they’re not alone in their struggle and that everyone has a story to tell,” he said. “And it’s very important [that] your story is heard because you’ll find that in a community, a lot of people are like-minded and had similar experiences.”

Eric has found his own community at Mercy Home with fellow coworkers Justin Earls, Jaquan Grier, and Eddie Meredith.

“Since I’ve been here, they’ve took me under their wing and taught me, that’s how we do it here. … It’s just this great cohort that I found here where we bounce things off of each other. It’s a natural brotherhood. It’s nice to come to work and also work with family. That’s how I feel—Mercy Home is like a really big family.”

“Since I’ve been here, they’ve took me under their wing and taught me, that’s how we do it here. … It’s just this great cohort that I found here where we bounce things off of each other. It’s a natural brotherhood. It’s nice to come to work and also work with family. That’s how I feel—Mercy Home is like a really big family.”

In addition to his friends throughout the Home, Eric also relies on the coworkers in Noha Home to encourage and support him each day.

“I can’t say enough about Yolanda [Whitfield, Noha Home’s senior day coordinator] and Misty [East, the Noha Home program manager],” he said.

“Since I’ve been here, Misty has grown me as a therapist in ways I never thought of, she’s taught me a lot about residential therapy. Ms. Yo’s given me a lot of reality therapy, like how do you infuse the clinical with reality? Misty is probably the best boss I’ve ever had and Ms. Yo has been such a great sounding board for me. … And then our youth care workers, they’re always open to feedback. They’re always giving me feedback. I couldn’t have fallen into a better situation.”

But at the end of the day, Eric’s favorite part about being at Mercy Home is the kids.

“The one thing I can always say when I wake up, I know there’s five kids that are waiting on me and counting on me to be there and that’s the best thing in the world. There’s no salary, there’s no benefit package, no experience I could have better than just knowing when I come in, there’s five kids that are looking forward to seeing me. And that’s all the difference in the world.”

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