UTICA — The John Bosco House is in the neighborhood where St. Marianne Cope grew up in the mid -1800s. It’s an area now in transition, as are those who now live in the former St. George’s Church rectory. Homeless men between the ages of 16 and 21 are welcomed at the red brick building in a family-like setting.
Opened in February 2011, the John Bosco House was founded by deacons in the region. Named after the 19th-century Italian priest — now saint — who ministered to underprivileged children, John Bosco House is a 501(c)(3) organization with tax exempt status. New York State has designated it as one of a handful of groups allowed to operate such a residence. Under the leadership of Executive Director Deacon Gil Nadeau, the Bosco House operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week with two full-time and four part-time staff.
The Diocese of Syracuse provided the buildings and property. Community foundations, the federal and city governments and the United Way have provided grants of support. Various churches, businesses, groups and individuals have also helped out with monetary donations. But the program is in jeopardy. There’s a hole in the Bosco House’s $180,000 budget for 2014.
The last of the start-up funding runs out at the end of 2013. An appeal to more than 900 people on the Bosco House mailing list has managed to raise a significant amount of money, but the organization is still more than $10,000 short. Without the funds, they may have to close their doors.
Meanwhile, the need for help continues. This summer, one homeless teenager even arrived barefoot, wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. So far, he and 28 other homeless young men have been part of the John Bosco House program.
Residents must abide by strict rules: no drinking, no drugs and no missing curfew. They have to finish high school and get a job. The Bosco House staff will feed, clothe and shelter them, and help them on the road to becoming financially self-sufficient.
Residents also learn practical skills. They are responsible for taking care of their own rooms and helping out with chores around the house. Each evening they come together to cook and share dinner family-style, gathered around the dining room table with a staffer.
“Sometimes they [residents] get into legal trouble because no one has been around to supervise them or give them guidance,” Deacon Nadeau explained. “It’s not their fault. These young men have come from broken families and many suffer with some physical or minor mental health issues.
“From a pragmatic point of view, it costs the taxpayers three times as much to take care of a county [jail] inmate as it would if they are in our program. This is a huge savings to the taxpayer,” he said.
Beyond the savings to the taxpayer, Deacon Nadeau added the importance of the Christian component of the House, based on its patron, St. John Bosco.
“We offer a ‘family’ and ‘home’ environment which they don’t get if they are institutionalized. Can a county jail offer the love that Jesus or Bosco House would give? John Bosco knew that jails were not the place for his young men. He and Mama Bosco gave the boys a home. They fed them, they cared for them… they loved them.
“Imagine not having that kind of support and being out there all alone. This is what John Bosco House is all about: family,” Deacon Nadeau added.
The Bosco House has a unique source of income that’s growing. Deacon Nadeau brought an idea back from a monastery visit a couple years ago: micro greens. The small vegetable shoots are a hit on TV food shows and with restaurants. The former St. George’s Church has become home to an indoor, year-round growing operation for a variety of micro greens and hydroponic lettuce.
Certified organic seeds come in big 50-pound bags, are sown and harvested every two weeks. The micro greens are cleaned and packaged by the residents for sale to restaurants, supermarkets and a health food store.
It’s a project that’s also offered the young men a chance to learn about growing, preparing and marketing a product. Most of all, they also get the opportunity to interact with the public in a positive way and even meet the store managers.
For people who want to help the John Bosco House, Deacon Nadeau said simply: “Donate whatever you can afford. Spread the word about us. And most of all pray for us and especially for the ‘boys.’”
To learn more about the John Bosco House, visit www.johnboscohouse.org. Donations may be made through the website or via mail to John Bosco House, 425 Lafayette St., Utica, N.Y. 13502.