When John Bontemps arrived in Las Vegas from California in October, he was homeless, battling addiction and nearly out of medicine for his diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
His prospects improved immeasurably when he went to Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada for a meal and, within days, entered the nonprofit’s Renewing Hope program.
On Thursday, Bontemps was one of five proud graduates from the classroom phase of the nine-month program, which prepares clients to re-enter the job market with the goal of empowering them to put roofs over their heads.
“It’s the beginning for me,” said Bontemps, who like his fellow graduates was smiling broadly, wearing a suit and showcasing his recovered self-confidence. “It changed the way I think.”
He has had several job interviews since entering the program and said he is hopeful a door will open soon.
Albert Chavez, vice president of social services, congratulated the men and said that the program that began in 2016 signs up about 225 men a year, but only 82 have graduated from the classroom portion.
“The guys who came in with you, some of them are no longer here,” Chavez told the group. “But you all survived. We climbed this mountain together, and all of a sudden you’re at the top of this peak, you’ll notice there’s another peak.”
Catholic Charities spokeswoman Leslie Carmine said that many of those who didn’t complete the program were nonetheless on upward trajectories because of their participation. Many left to reunite with family, go to work or find housing and benefits, she said.
While staying in one of the shelter’s 64 beds reserved for program participants, the men create a list of goals, volunteer on the Catholic Charities campus full time and attend support groups and one-on-one case management meetings during the classroom phase.
They will spend the next five months choosing among job-training programs, going to school or securing employment. A month after landing a job, they start paying a small sum and learning how to save money in hopes of securing affordable housing by the end of the nine months.
“We’re launching new careers, launching new independence, reuniting them with family and helping them seek treatment,” said Nicole Anderson, director of social services.
“You made me believe in myself a lot more, more than I ever thought I could,” Bontemps told the Renewing Hope team Thursday. “I’ll never let anything get to me and always keep my head up.”
Two other graduates, Derrick Johnson and Ricky Delucia, also said the program put them back on a stable path. Johnson is in his second week at a new construction job while Delucia said he found faith and sobriety and is looking for jobs in retail.
“These grads are the same guys in the Corridor of Hope, the same men staying staying at our campus,” Chavez said. “The only difference is desire.”
At the end of the ceremony, Deacon Tom Roberts, president and CEO of the nonprofit, addressed the group.
“We all have much more in common than we do separate. This is the ability for us to come together,” he said. “You have shown us that the human spirit is indomitable.”
Then, one by one, he blessed each of the five men, his right hand hovering over their heads like a halo.