“Stress and fear are excellent motivators to make a person a visionary thinker in times when funding is tight,” says Jonathan, Executive Director of Victory Programs. “This is how Victory Programs, the umbrella for ReVision Urban Farm and ReVision Family Home started.”
ReVision House is a shelter for pregnant women and mothers with children. Together with the adjacent ReVision Urban Farm, it comprises one of twenty Victory Programs and was named one of the Top Ten Best Urban Gardens in Natural Home magazine.
Jonathan asks the question, “What can we do that is creative to protect our programs?” He notes that the organization’s greatest work has come out of the worst economic times, a testament to a strong board of directors, stability, and taking on projects that other organizations would not consider. “We look at the heart and soul of what a project was created to do,” explains Jonathan. “Then, we look at the finances to see if we can make it work.”
Victory Program’s ReVision Family Home was in dire straits and on the brink of closing, and funders were ready to shut down the house. Yet, twenty-five mothers and children were living there and had the goal of growing their own food. “These women had grown up in the inner city and just wanted to grow a small plot of food,” says Jonathan. Victory Programs had been looking to develop a social venture, and after researching a similar program—the Delancey Street project in San Francisco—learned that the organization had worked to build a restaurant and Christmas tree consignment shop as a way to give people job skills.
This inspired them to provide something similar, which could provide opportunities for clients as well as be another revenue source. Jonathan remembers asking, “Why can’t we turn this dilapidated farm into something else and teach the mothers all kinds of skills, from growing food to marketing and distribution?”
And so they did, and they continue to develop strategic plans. They are also not afraid to go into new markets. “For me, it is about having a team that is willing to be creative and take risks, and people love it. Today we have doubled our acreage for the farm, and we have a greenhouse, a farmhouse, a terrace,” says Jonathan. “We take our produce to Blue Hill Avenue, which is an impoverished part of town. Being there gives us a chance to improve communities.”
Evidence-based practices are also critical to the work at Victory Programs. Jonathan describes the community as living within them. “Through the practice of Motivational Interviewing, we accept people where they are at, and we do not try to arrange their lives.”
As a college freshman, Jonathan wanted to experience the world. His first day at Boston College, he signed up for volunteer work, not knowing this would be the first step on a path towards re-visioning how programs work with people. This led him to work at Victory House, Victory Programs’ first site, a halfway house with Vietnam veterans who were struggling with devastating Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and substance use disorders. Jonathan collaborated with another ambitious co-volunteer to open an unrestricted halfway house with the welcoming concept that their doors were open to anyone.
This sentiment remains a tenet of Victory Programs. “Every day we ask ourselves, ‘Who isn’t being served today?’ And that has always kept the work fresh,” says Jonathan. He says they try to do what nobody else has done and, to him, it seems like everything they have done has been controversial. “That is what keeps me ticking,” he says.
Sometimes the thing that drives people in their work is buried for years before they realize it is an internal compass that has been carrying them with force and forward motion. For Jonathan, this moment came in his early thirties. “My father died when I was a toddler in a car accident,” he says. “He was a drunk driver and paralyzed another person.” While it took a long time for Jonathan to be able to say this out loud, he now makes the connection that he is creating homes for people who have had similar trauma around addiction. He believes it is no accident that he found this path in life.
Victory Programs emphasizes the importance of creativity. Many of the residents do not relate to traditional counseling sessions; instead, they use expressive therapy through gardening that generates dialogue for people who may not respond in other settings. In this way, the individual is at the center of the healing process and staff members are sensitive to the fact that people have come to ask for help. “Since coming to understand this, I understand more deeply all of these connections,” says Jonathan. “We are open with all of the people we work with. It takes humility. I am no different from anyone I work with.”
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