Program for Young Men to Re-Open After COVID

Program for Young Men to Re-Open After COVID

Mercy Home delivers customized care for young people within 14 smaller living spaces, or homes, each named after a notable figure in our institutional history. Our Kelly Home, named after our 6th president, Monsignor Edward J. Edward Kelly, served as a semi-independent living program for young men ages 18 to 24. 

But a staff shortage resulting from the Covid-19 forced Kelly Home to shutter by late 2021. After the last remaining residents transitioned to fully independent living, Kelly Home coworkers signed their names and left messages on a large whiteboard. But as solemn and ceremonial as this act appeared at the time, it was not a farewell.

“I knew I was going to be back,” said Andre Simmons, who was a youth care worker in Kelly when it closed. “[I told myself], I’m going to speak this into existence and no matter how things play out, we’re going to be back and it’s going to be better than ever.”

Simmons’ instincts were right. Nearly three years later, Mercy Home is fully staffed and preparing to re-open our Kelly Home on July 8. And with Simmons signed on as the program supervisor, Kevin Felisme as the program manager, and a whole new team and philosophy in place, it’s set to be an incredibly successful part of Mercy Home’s mission.

Kelly Home will still serve young men ages 18-24 and prepare them for successful careers and independent living. Only now the re-imagined program will feature a warrior theme, which will emphasize “unlocking the power within you,” Felisme explained.

“It’s not about dominance, fighting, or hyper-masculinity,” he said. “[But] if you can unlock the inner warrior, the inner being within you, that is super powerful, and you can conquer anything.”

The new theme is meant to empower our young men and help them feel confident that they can overcome any obstacle. Kelly Home’s program will focus on physical exercise, cooking, jobs and career paths, chores, budgeting and saving, therapy, executive functioning, healthy relationships, and spiritual reflection. Felisime and Simmons developed these nine domains as they revised Kelly Home’s program structure.

“We’ve had a lot of support but also a lot of freedom to be able to create the curriculum or the treatment that we want within the Mercy Model,” Felisme said.

“I love the freedom to be creative,” Simmons added. “The reality is that [post-Covid], the youths’ needs are different. The things they’ve experienced are different. Our approach needs to be modeled toward meeting their current needs. [It] has allowed us to be creative and meet them where they’re at while also giving them the skills they need now in order to be successful.”

Kelly Home will place a particular emphasis on employment and careers. If the residents don’t have a job or are not in school, they are expected to take a significant amount of time to plan for employment and work on developing a career path. Those with jobs and/or who are in school will also work closely with Mercy Home’s Post-Secondary Options Coordinator Megan Franklin and transition coaches to keep taking active steps toward achieving their career goals. 

“Finding legitimate career paths and jobs and careers that are meaningful to them, that’s the biggest thing [we’ll work on],” Felisme said. “Being ready to have an income that is allowing the youth to leave here and be independent is a big part. We’re going to be focusing a lot on budgeting.”

In addition to creating a monthly budget to understand what income is coming in and going out, the young men are also expected to save 30 percent of their pay in a Mercy Home account. Those funds will be returned when they transition out of Mercy Home. 

Felisme and Simmons plan to discuss budgeting with the young men in a non-judgmental way. Those discussions will be centered around on skill building and understanding where money is going. Felisme said he hopes to help our youth view their spending within the context of how it helps them reach their goals. Youth will also create a forecasted budget for when they move out of Kelly Home, so they are prepared to support themselves when they are living independently.  

Because Kelly Home will focus so heavily on preparing our young men for a successful transition from Mercy Home to the “real world,” that has brought about another change: youth care workers in the program will be called transition coaches. 

“We really want them to have a big focus on transitioning our young men into the next phase of their life,” Felisme said. 

Two other key parts of the program are physical exercise and cooking. 

By tapping into the importance of movement, whether it’s taking a walk or jog, doing yoga, swimming, or any other type of exercise, the young men will reap the benefits of being active, like reducing stress and anxiety. Kelly Home will hold regular workouts in Mercy Home’s weight room, and residents will also be expected to do some workouts on their own. 

The residents will also learn cooking and meal prep skills. Youth are expected to make their own meals and once a month will prepare a brand-new meal. The program staff will also cook a meal for residents on Tuesdays and the youth will trade off cooking Sunday dinners for the entire program. 

Felisme and Simmons acknowledged that they are expecting a lot of its residents but are confident that this intensive program will ensure our youth leave Mercy Home with all the skills they need to be successful.

“One of our mottos is ‘handle hard better.’ It’s embracing the grind, understanding that it is going to be work, it’s going to be tough, but we’re all here together to go through it and support each other.” 

– Andre Simmons, Kelly Home program supervisor

“One of our mottos is ‘handle hard better,’” Simmons said. “It’s embracing the grind, understanding that it is going to be work, it’s going to be tough, but we’re all here together to go through it and support each other.” 

Both Felisme and Simmons are excited for what lies ahead for Kelly Home. Felisme previously worked in various capacities around the Home, most recently as the manager of employment connections/supports in Community Care. Simmons worked as a youth care worker in a variety of programs and was the milieu supervisor in Speh Home. They both joined Kelly Home looking for new opportunities.

“I really loved what I did in Community Care, and I was ready for another opportunity if it were to come,” Felisme said. “The opportunity to create a framework that could be lived out in Kelly Home was just so attractive to me. I wanted a challenge professionally. The opportunity after 10 years here to express my vision on what could be best for this age group to help them get to independence, those two things made me really want to jump on this and give it a shot.”

“To have a new vision and new goals, a new theme, all of that is exciting,” Simmons added. “In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve noticed you have to find ways to continue to stay motivated and be creative and enthused to come in and do the work. Building from the ground up has been exciting.”

Simmons is also thrilled to be back in Kelly Home after nearly three years and is hoping to replicate the success of the old version of the program.

“We had a lot of success,” he said. “There were a lot of really fun times here and you forge really great working relationships and also friendships. This is where I met some really great people and I always accredit my success to just being a part of some really great teams.”

Felisme and Simmons are ready to embrace whatever comes when Kelly Home opens in less than a month. 

“I’m just excited to be ambitious and put a plan out there and see how it goes,” Felisme said. “I’m really excited about the culture and the spirit we are putting out with our energy and with the warrior theme. I’ve always been excited to be here at Mercy, but I haven’t been this excited for a while so I’m on fire and ready to go.”

“I don’t expect it to be easy,” Simmons said. “We know there’ll be some bumps in the road. But we’re embracing those things and we’re going to be actively involved. Kevin and I are excited to lead by example. Every meeting, I get more excited. There’s nothing like just coming in here every day, excited to work.”

Check the website for more news on the Kelly Home re-opening. 

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