How one Grand Circle associate’s generous vision has helped homeless families around Boston
On March 20, 2010, a young mother named Andrea and her three-month-old daughter, Jeiralisse, began a new chapter in their lives. They moved into their very own apartment—and into a much different place from the last spot they called home.
Andrea and Jeiralisse became the 25th family to move out of the Boston Family Shelter (BFS) with the help of Up & Out, a community service program begun in 2006 by Grand Circle associate Chris Penn.
But the idea for the Up & Out program was conceptualized three years earlier—during Grand Circle Foundation’s annual Christmas party at the BFS in 2003. Chris, a Grand Circle associate since 2001, was asked to serve as Santa Claus that year.
Grand Circle’s Chris Penn as Santa at Boston Family Shelter’s Holiday Party, sponsored by Grand Circle Foundation in 2009.
“When I first heard about everything that Grand Circle Foundation did—like Rebuilding Together Boston and the holiday party at BFS—I became really excited,” shares Chris. “It was hard to get involved in a lot of the community service events because my job keeps me so busy, but once I started doing more with the Foundation, I wanted to participate in every single event.”
After speaking with Amanda Brown, BFS’s program coordinator, Chris learned that the families living in the shelter faced an immediate challenge upon finding housing: being able to handle the financial requirements of moving into their new home. Acquiring items like furniture, bedding, kitchen appliances, and even cleaning products can seem insurmountable for families struggling to get back on their feet.
With that knowledge, Chris and former Grand Circle associate Jean Kenney created the Up & Out program.
Chris Penn with former Grand Circle associate Jean Kenney.
During Up & Out’s first few moves, Chris realized there was more he could do to help: He found that the families they moved had few possessions to fill their new homes. So Jean Kenney spoke to Alan and Harriet Lewis, and with the help of the proceeds from Grand Circle's annual holiday raffle, the home’s costliest furnishings (like beds, tables, couches, and more), could be purchased. But it takes more than furniture to truly make a home—and that’s where Grand Circle associates do their part. Flyers listing each family’s needs are placed around Grand Circle’s Boston headquarters—allowing associates to donate new and gently used household items and clothing.
Volunteers also pitch in to clean the empty apartments and assist with packing and moving. By the time the apartments are ready for their new residents, there's even food in the cabinets and refrigerator. “It’s like a miniature Extreme Home Makeover,” says Chris.
Grand Circle associates Joelle Davis, Lisa Migliaccio, and Chris Penn—with Andrea and her daughter, Jeiralisse—at Up & Out’s 25th move.
Chris’s hard work and dedication have not gone unrecognized. He received Grand Circle’s Community Service Award and was recognized by Heading Home, which provides emergency shelter, housing, and supportive services for the homeless in 2007. Chris was also honored at Grand Circle’s annual Christmas party in 2009 for all of his work with the Up & Out program.
After seeing the success of Grand Circle’s Up & Out, Heading Home decided to start its own program. “Up & Out is no longer just a Grand Circle community service program,” shares Chris. “My greatest hope is that more companies and businesses—like Grand Circle and Heading Home—will adopt other homeless shelters and create their own Up & Out programs.”
Chris Penn with one of the many children helped by Up & Out.
“It’s addictive,” Chris says about Up & Out. “The most important thing to me is the children—and finding a better place for them to live. Their mothers have enough on their plates already, so the least we can do is help to alleviate some of their financial worries and provide a real home for them.”
To learn more about the work of Grand Circle Foundation—or to sign up for their monthly e-newsletter—visit their website.