Leonard Prentice has been the overnight host for Family Promise Union County’s shelter program at Calvary Episcopal Church for about four years, consistently spending the night with families experiencing homelessness.
Prentice, as he is known in his community, was homeless himself for 40 years prior to securing stable housing in Summit just two years ago. While all the volunteers at Calvary Episcopal Church serve Union County guests with grace and hospitality, Prentice understands homelessness better than most.
Overnight hosting slots are often the most difficult to fill, a fact Prentice immediately recognized when he started volunteering at Calvary.
“I will do every overnight to keep families safe,” he says.
Prentice knows the social systems can make it difficult for people to come through an experience of homelessness, but Family Promise offers families an opportunity to rebuild their lives in a secure and stable environment. He also recognizes that Family Promise cannot continue to provide emergency shelter to families in crisis without the help of volunteer overnight hosts. Prentice wants to make sure he’s there for these families during their time of greatest need.
After the dinner volunteers have left for the evening, the special activities and programs are over, and the children are asleep, the space quiets and guests are sometimes reflective about their lives’ journeys. Prentice is always available to listen to their stories and share what he has learned from his own experience with homelessness.
“You can’t wait for someone to pay you to use your gifts,” he says, “You have to do what you were created to do.”
A lifelong advocate for the poor, Prentice is most interested in changing the social paradigm that allows poverty to continue. He leads the Center of Occupational Learning, LLC in Newark, NJ, which he affectionately calls “The Cool School,” whose mission is “giving the homeless and families training, opportunity, and hope to have a place in the world.”
Leonard Prentice serves his community with a humble spirit and tremendous wisdom. He is a bright light for Family Promise and, more importantly, the families who witness his compassion every day.