By Helen Grove
Craig Echols discovered The Night Ministry at a crossroads in his life. At 19 years old, he had recently been released from Cook County Jail and was living in a rehabilitation facility that brought about its own set of challenges, including hostile tenants that made the facility an unsettling place to live. Recognizing that the rehab facility was not a long-term option, Craig left and was facing homelessness when his case manager suggested The Night Ministry. Today, he is using his experience to help others like him find their way. And he has a message for other young people experiencing hardship: "Whatever it is that you do – do it with love."
With a referral from a social services case manager, Craig moved into The Night Ministry's Interim Housing Program in West Town. Over the course of his two years with The Night Ministry, Craig participated in the organization's Interim Housing Program and its STEPS Transitional Living Program. While he was there, he worked hard to utilize all of the resources available, including financial literacy training and assistance obtaining a grant to attend school. "The model is to get you prepared for the world," he said. "The program softens the blow for what the world has to offer."
Having experienced firsthand the challenges on the other side of The Night Ministry, Craig is dedicating his life to helping other young people find the right resources and support to navigate everything that life throws at them. He is engaged with the National Network for Youth, a non-profit public education and policy advocacy organization that is dedicated to preventing and eradicating youth homelessness. Through this and other professional organizations, Craig is working to help others navigate the complex network of services and offerings to help them face tough challenges. Simultaneously, he is working to raise awareness and pass legislation in order to pave an easier path for others than the one he himself has encountered.
Craig encourages other youth experiencing hard times to embrace those experiences. "Hard times are a necessity for growth," he says. "Times can be tough, but they will always get better. The hard times make you who you are and they define your character.That's an understanding that I have built from being a youth that has come up through programs and different shelters and urban life. They will make you a stronger person in the end."