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The Aquilian

The Aquilian

    The McKenna Center helps students have a safe place to volunteer

    The line of men out the door for breakfast service on a brisk morning.

    As crime has risen in the District, so have the tempers of some of the men who visit The Father McKenna Center each day. Back in September, an altercation took place in The Father McKenna Center, causing the center to shut down operations for two days and create a plan to continue day-to-day operations with additional security measures; they still provided to-go breakfast even during this shut down.

    Many aspects and pieces make Eye Street unique, but one aspect that separates Eye Street from every other high school in this country is The Father McKenna Center. This center was founded by St. Aloysius parish in 1983, one year after Fr. McKenna passed. Fr. McKenna is most commonly known for his work and dedication to the men in the neighborhoods surrounding Gonzaga, as he founded S.O.M.E. (So Others May Eat) and co-founded Martha’s Table. Fr. McKenna dedicated his life to upholding the dignity of the homeless. 

    Because of his legacy, Gonzaga still remains the only high school with a homeless shelter on its campus, with the shelter located in the basement of the St. Aloysius Church. Each and every day, groups of students volunteer during the day at the center to serve the men during their free periods or lunch blocks. Recently, the everyday protocols have changed to keep the students volunteering safe.

    On the center’s end of the student service operation is Ms. Emily Dold, who began her work at The Father McKenna Center in 2021 as the Volunteer and Food Pantry Manager. Ms. Dold keeps the men of Gonzaga who volunteer busy; there is always a task or job that needs to be done. 

    The center as a whole is grateful for the non-stop service the men of Gonzaga provide. Tempers of some men have flared in the center recently, forcing the leadership staff of the center to take extended measures and institute new safety protocols. 

    “Now we have Gonzaga security as a presence, and it’s helping, so Officer Bolas is typically the officer that comes up here,” said Ms. Dold, explaining the new security in place. 

    After an altercation between two guests of the center, it was difficult for the staff of the center to de-escalate this altercation without security on staff.  The individual who escalated the situation is no longer invited back to the center. The Father McKenna Center is not the only place in the city dealing with this, though. 

    “I think this issue of escalations is not unique to us,” Ms. Dold said when asked about the rise in the tempers of the men visiting. 

    In addition to the added protocols of an additional security presence at all times, The Father McKenna Center has taken other measures, as well. To combat the chances of escalations, the amount of interactions between visitors is limited. An additional reason for this new protocol is to allow visitors of the center who are coming to get work done and speak to case managers so they can do this without interruptions. 

    “So what we’re doing now to limit the chances for any escalation is to essentially limit the number of people that are waiting in the center during the day, so if people are not signed up for a service, we just ask them, like ‘hey, like, you’re done eating breakfast, can you please exit the center?’” Ms. Dold said.

    As all protocols are in place now, Gonzaga students have resumed their service to the center on the same day the center reopened and all has been smooth since then. It’s an important service site for many students.

    “I like to get to know and understand where these people came from and how they ended up where they are and how they’re doing in life,” said Joe Matan ‘24. 

    As the center continues to uphold its mission of dignity and respect, they do so knowing every day will be different from the last. The staff of the center acknowledges that each visitor’s mood can change drastically from one day to the next. The center continues to be dedicated to doing its best to provide for the men who knock on their door each day.

     “We still want to provide them dignity in the best way possible. We’re trying our best. I think that’s the most important thing,” Ms. Dold said.


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      Harry Geib, SJFeb 1, 2024 at 4:44 pm

      Very good article, Finn, on the Father McKenna Center. I am glad to see you wrote about Ms. Emily Dold. She is a wonderful person of service and presence. And thank you for explaining who Fr. Horace McKenna is for everyone, especially our new students this year.
      Fr. Harry Geib. SJ