< Return To News Archive
December 15, 2005
In Harlem, Doe Fund Program Leader Doles Out What He Once Needed Most

by Alec Magnet
Earlier this week, one of the men Nazerine Griffin was looking after took presents to a foster care facility that once housed his children. Carlos also delivered presents last year, when his children lived there; now they live with him. Once homeless and addicted to drugs, Carlos is now sober, gainfully employed, and rebuilding his family.

Mr. Griffin, 50, is the program director of the Doe Fund's Ready, Willing & Able program's Harlem branch on 155th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard. Carlos is one of the program's graduates, as the Doe Fund calls men who have lived in their facilities for at least nine months, stayed sober, worked 35 hours a week cleaning the sidewalks, and gone on to find housing and employment while staying clear of drugs and the bottle. Most of the "clients" currently enrolled in the program were once homeless and addicted to drugs. Many recently were in jail.

Much of Mr. Griffin's job consists of talking to his branch's 198 clients, often after they have done something wrong. Following each incident - there can be up to 20 to handle in a day - he sits down with the client, his case manager, and other administrators to hear everyone's side of the story and decide what to do. A common penalty is suspension from working - clients make about $6 an hour. If they miss a day, they don't get paid for it.

Most of all, he talks to them, explains that they are responsible for their own actions, that the world owes them nothing, that success takes years and hard work to achieve. He has high standards for his clients and said he respects them enough to expect their success.

"It's about building you up from when you come in the door. I expect you to succeed," he said. "Human beings respond to dignity and respect." Most of the time, he said, he just listens. His clients often know what's wrong with what their doing - they just need to learn they can fix it.

"A lot of people don't believe they can tap into their inner resources. They need to know that it's possible to succeed," he said. "We surround them with the evidence."

Mr. Griffin is such evidence. In 1993, after two decades of drug abuse and years spent living on the streets, in and out of jail, Mr. Griffin became a client of the program.

The paycheck was his first incentive - "How can you start your life over without money?" he said - but the trust the program had in him and the dignity it made him feel ultimately led him to succeed. He graduated, went to work for the Doe Fund, and by 1998 became the program director of one of the Brooklyn facilities. In 2001 he went to Philadelphia to set up a new branch of the program, and in 2003 he took his current job. In all three, he has served as a guide and a role model to the men he looks out for. Some, he said, even call him their father.

"A lot of the success is that he's the director," a current client, Jaime Dessus, 52, said. "There's no issue that you can find that he won't try to help you with."

Mr. Griffin, who is back in touch with his family, said he will help people for the rest of his life. "I feel that's the only way I can repair some of the major damage I've done both to my family and to society. I'm clear why I do this. I do this as amends and as goodwill. ... because of my gratitude. I just do it because of where I've been," he said. "That's who I am, who I've developed into."

< Return To News Archive ^ back to top