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Retiree helps the homeless get off the street and into jobs

(During the United Way campaign that runs through December 29, Tech Talk is periodically printing updates on fund-raising progress, as well as profiles of MIT community members who volunteer for agencies eligible to receive funds from United Way of Massachusetts Bay donors.)

When he was manager of labor relations for MIT's Personnel Office, Jim Fandel dealt with employment issues every day. He still does, but now it involves a very different group of people.

Mr. Fandel, who retired in 1990 and is now president of the Quarter Century Club, volunteers for parts of three days a week at the St. Francis House Day Shelter for the Homeless in downtown Boston. He works as an employment counselor, running seminars and working with individuals on finding a job and eventually getting off the street.

When he first volunteered at St. Francis House in early 1992, he began by just sitting with guests in the day center, "but that wasn't enough, so I started serving meals on Saturdays," he recalled. At first, "I was stunned by the difference between what it was like and what I expected it to be." Like many people, he had had some preconceived notions about the homeless, "but this experience proved them all wrong."

The people assisted by Mr. Fandel run the gamut from former inmates and those with past or present substance abuse problems to well-educated men and women with successful job histories. "It's professionals of all kinds to people who can barely read and write," he said. Many people who must live by their wits on the streets "have a native intelligence that was never tapped by an education. But they've managed to survive out there," he noted.

St. Francis House provides homeless job-seekers with a post office box number and telephone service to provide to prospective employers, Mr. Fandel said. He points guests toward other resources such as job listings or even the Yellow Pages while also helping them put together resumes. "They have to get jobs on their own, but we show them how," he explained. "I'm kind of a coach."

Whenever someone lands a job, the information is posted at the shelter for other guests to see and share in the success. "They really can reach out and help one another in ways I'm not sure you or I could," he said. "There are no barriers. If they think you're doing something wrong or right, they'll tell you so in plain English."

St. Francis House serves lunch each day to about 450 people, plus breakfast to a bit more than half that number. The facility also has medical personnel, psychiatric clinicians and therapists on staff as well as housing and substance abuse counselors. The facility also recently initiated the Moving Ahead program that combines substance abuse treatment with assistance in finding housing and employment. There are 60 full- and part-time paid staff assisted by at least 200 active volunteers (though more are always welcome) whose work includes serving food and tutoring guests in reading or English as a second language, as more than 30 percent of guests are from a foreign country, said Thomas Hunsdorfer, director of basic services.

"Whatever needs a person might have, whether it's food, clothing or simply a place to be, we have it," Mr. Hunsdorfer said. "But we also try to help people get out of shelters and back into self-reliant lives."

"Being on the streets is a pretty awful experience," Mr. Fandel observed. "I get satisfaction when they're successful, when they can smile and be happy and become productive people again."

(Although St. Francis House does not currently receive regular United Way allocations, it is one of many social-service agencies for which United Way contributors can target their donations on their pledge forms.)


United Way notes

As of Monday, Dec. 11, MIT's United Way campaign has raised $114,961 in contributions and pledges from 419 donors, including 24 Leadership Givers who contributed at least $1,000 each. This puts the campaign at nearly 36 percent of its $322,000 goal.

The bake sale held on December 7 raised a total of $466 for the United Way (up slightly from last year's $457).

The clothing drive benefiting homeless shelters will end Friday, Dec. 15. Bring clothing and other donated items to collection containers in Lobby 7, the E18-E19 Lobby, the Sloan School, the Medical Department atrium, the lobby of Walker Memorial, the Student Center (first floor near The Source), and the United Way campaign headquarters in Rm 20A-023. Attached to containers are "wish lists" of items that are most needed.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 13, 1995.

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