Kevin Ryan has completed the New York City Marathon twice, which he humbly notes is one of his most memorable accomplishments. But Kevin’s achievements aren’t just athletic in nature. In fact, they only seem to get more impressive.
He is a motivated runner, a father of six, and a best-selling author. Kevin heads Covenant House, an organization that serves over 50,000 homeless teenagers.
No small feat.
Kevin and Covenant House work to create a sense of home for the ones they serve.
“We’ve learned that home plays such a role in their flourishing, in their ability to emerge and thrive,” Kevin said.
As a child, Kevin’s parents and aunt wrote his definition of home. “They built the scaffolding of my life,” he said. Although Kevin notes that nothing could have prepared him for meeting hundreds of teenagers without families.
Covenant House was created in response to the problem of homelessness that plagued New York City in the 1970s. Started in 1972, the organization has worked tirelessly to give teenagers a place of refuge.
But it hasn’t always been easy, and Kevin has realized inevitable challenges in his work.
“When I served as New Jersey’s Public Child Advocate back in 2004, my team and I uncovered appalling conditions for nonviolent youth jammed into overcrowded juvenile jails,” Kevin said. “It was hard to believe.”
But seeing these roadblocks to ending childhood homelessness only fueled Kevin’s demands for change, and he has since devoted his time finding solutions.
One such effort is Sleep Out, an event held annually in the United States and Canada, calling on people from different backgrounds to experience what it’s like to be homeless for just one night. “Thousands of business executives, celebrities, political leaders, young professionals, and parents join our Covenant House Sleep Out Movement,” Kevin said. The event raises funds for Covenant House.
Despite the seriousness of Kevin’s work, he finds inspiration from a multitude of sources. “Beyond Covenant House, it’s music,” Kevin said. “I love listening to my wife play her guitar. I love concerts, theaters, live bands.”
Kevin also finds inspiration from his six children, who he said he’s learned a lot from. “They are big-hearted, generous young people and they have taken up the cause of Covenant House with gusto,” he said.
Kevin’s role as a father has also impacted the standards he holds for the organization.
“Whenever I visit one of our Covenant Houses, I ask myself, is this a place I could entrust one of my Ryan kids in a crisis,” he said. “That’s the test for any child advocate – is this good enough for my kids?”
Throughout his years battling homelessness across cities and communities, Kevin has spent a lot of time trying to pin down the essence of home and the best way to create it out of less than ideal situations.
“There are so many kids who aren’t connected to home or a family,” Kevin said. “We get to use our lives to be a bridge from the status quo; one kids can cross on their trek from homelessness to hope every day.”
Kevin will speak at the upcoming TEDxNavesink April 9 at Monmouth University. His talk, “HopeMakers: Helping Homeless Youth Embrace Life,” will discuss the way he came to his own understanding of the meaning of home, through the encounters of three homeless teenagers.
“It’s the central question for parents and grandparents: how do we make a home that does it’s job, that gives kids roots and wings,” he said. “We must uncover the essence of what makes home the central animating force in launching kids into the great promise of their futures.”
Want to hone in on the essence of home? Tickets for TEDxNavesink are on sale now.