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September 5, 2006
Ready to celebrate 'Ready, Willing and Able'

by Dennis Heaney, President, The Christophers

Every now and then I come across something that makes so much sense I wonder why no one had ever thought of it before. Or even more to the point, why I've never thought of it before.

Be that as it may, I'm ready to celebrate "Ready, Willing and Able" as a good idea and then some. It's a perfect idea, in fact, and the best thing is that it fits in so well with the Christopher ideal of making a difference in the world. "Ready, Willing and Able" does just that, believe me.

I first read about "Ready, Willing and Able" early this year in The New York Times, where a feature story by Conrad Mulcahy told about a man whose future was intricately tied in to the association. His name was Cortez Jackson, and he had found out about this organization, run by the Doe Fund, that emphasizes self-sufficiency to homeless men and women.

Jackson came to "Ready, Willing and Able" the hard way. He dealt drugs, became an addict himself, and, in the words of the Times, "lurched between prison terms and homelessness for almost 20 years." At the age of 48, he said, "I made a conscious decision that I need to get my life together." That's where "Ready, Willing and Able" came in.

As a subsequent fund-raising letter explained, "Ready, Willing and Able" is an organization that offers homeless men the life-saving opportunity of paid work, along with safe and comfortable housing and an array of educational, vocational and social services. For six to nine months, the letter said, each "Ready, Willing and Able" "man in blue" works 35 hours a week, sweeping and bagging trash. For this he earns $7 to $7.75 per hour. Anyone who accepts the opportunity becomes one of 600 men participating in the program, which sees to it that over 150 miles of New York City streets and sidewalks are cleaned every day. In the course of it, the city gets a sprucing up and the workers gain the skills and work habits they need to succeed in the mainstream workforce.

That's the rationale behind it, and that's exactly what Cortez Jackson subscribed to-with a vengeance.

"As much dirt as I've done in New York City," he said, "it's about time I pick up a little. It's more than a bunch of guys just sweeping the streets. The feeling you get having this blue suit on, it's deep," explained Jackson.

Some might think it a menial job, but, in the words of the Times story, for Cortez Jackson it's a path to redemption. He found out about Ready, Willing and Able while he was still in prison-where he managed, finally, to quit drugs-and after his release became part of the "men in blue" workforce.

George T. McDonald, founder and president of Ready, Willing and Able, described the thrill of watching some 250 of the men "graduate" from the program last spring, having attained a full-time job, a place to stay and a life free of drugs and alcohol. "This is an enormous accomplishment," he wrote, "when you consider they once slept on the very streets they cleaned."

Other than "I wish I'd thought of that," there' s not much left to say. Ready, Willing and Able says it all.

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