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    McKenna Center’s hypothermia program offers help to the neighbors we may not know we have

    The Father McKenna Center is located under St. Aloysius Catholic Church. Volunteers posed here serving a meal. Photo from @thefathermckennacenter on Instagram

    Every year as the weather gets colder, more people flock to the comfort and warmth of their own homes. Unfortunately, the members of the homeless community are often left to fend for themselves and combat the cold of the Washington, D.C. region. However, for the 13th year in a row, the Father McKenna Center is opening its doors to a number of homeless men who have proven their commitment towards success and security. 

    Every year since 2010, the Father McKenna Center has become home for a number of homeless men living on the streets. Not only does the center become home for the men, but it also becomes the springboard for homeless men looking to get back on their feet. 

    “When we get to the end, guys are working, housed and have established themselves in the community,” said Mr. Cortez McDaniel, director of operations of the McKenna Center, when asked about the goal of the center. 

    So far, McDaniel said the program has been 75 percent successful in achieving its goal, and this is something he is extremely proud of. This goal is not only a goal of the Father McKenna Center, but is also a goal of other volunteer groups around the District. 

    This year, for the first time, men are participating in a certification program run by S.O.M.E. This center for employment training works with the men and offers six-month certification programs in trades such as carpentry and plumbing, tools that are extremely beneficial for someone looking to get off of their feet financially. 

    Not only does the hypothermia program look to help men financially, but the program also looks to help men emotionally. 

    “It provides an environment that takes away those distractions that exist in the shelter system,” Mr. McDaniel said. “Some of these guys have really never had a chance, and so they don’t know what it is like to live in a structured home.”

    Mr. McDaniel himself also ended up homeless at one point in his life. However, he grew up in what he called a “bougie upper middle class family,” and so this feeling of homelessness is one that created a lot of doubt for him. One night, he found himself needing to use the restroom. Around 10 p.m., he had no other choice but to venture out to Union Station. There, he ran into an old friend and former drug dealer who reinvigorated his sense of hope and faith. 

    “I’m a preacher, Cortez. I’m a minister now,” said Dave, Mr. McDaniel’s friend to him. 

    This interaction with faith later found Mr. McDaniel on his knees in the middle of Union Station. 

    “I happen to look up and it’s about 100 people standing around. He’s praying and most of them have their heads bowed. It was like a service up there,” Mr. McDaniel said. 

    All the negative energy Mr. McDaniel had previously had, left his mind from there. He created what he calls his “Better Life Pyramid,” a guideline for homeless men to get on the right track, a tool he also uses in the program. This pyramid hangs in his office right next to his desk and is what he uses when interacting with all the men of the program. 

    Not only does this pyramid serve as a guideline for the men of the program but as guidance and motivation for Mr. McDaniel. 

    “I think it is our responsibility as those who aid the homeless, to provide services for them that will actually help them change their lives,” Mr. McDaniel said. 

    This belief is exemplified through his creation of the hypothermia program and through his actions at the Father McKenna Center each and every day.

    This belief is one that is relevant to the Gonzaga community as well and can be most seen through Ms. Katie Murphy’s Social Justice in Action class. 

    “Like a person’s love of God and love of neighbor, Jesus never separated those two things and neither can we,” Ms. Murphy said when highlighting that service to the poor is vital to our faith.

    Not only does the pyramid serve as motivation for Mr. McDaniel, but Father Horace McKenna, the man who the shelter is named after, is also a daily inspiration. The picture of Father McKenna in Mr. McDaniel’s office is proof of that, and the legacy he wishes to carry on. 

    “I think about Father McKenna and how he would feel about how we do things here, So one of the things we emphasize is treating the guys who come in with dignity and respect. Father McKenna was all about that,” Mr. McDaniel said. 

    Mr. McDaniel concluded by extending an invitation to Gonzaga students to participate at the shelter. Mr. McDaniel called it a place of healing that can be revisited over and over again. 

    “It’s like having this book over here,” Mr. McDaniel said. “They can read it as much as they want. Right? You can read it as much as you want; you can. You can come over here and foster some great relationships.”

    Mothers of the Gonzaga Mothers Club are able to sign up before March 31 to volunteer and serve a meal for the Hypothermia Program. This involves cooking a meal, serving it, then eating and bonding with the men of the shelter for just an hour and half. This little act of kindness can go a long way and is what Mr. McDaniel says makes the program so special.

    “The hardest part of homelessness is isolation,” Ms. Murphy said. 

    In turn, connection is what builds up the spirit of a homeless person and at the root can restore one’s dignity. 

    “A person does not change in a day,” Ms. Murphy said. 

    With continuous dedication towards a restoration of dignity and connection, the men of the Hypothermia Program can undergo serious change.

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