Stephanie J. Block happened upon Covenant House about six years ago. She joined the organization’s benefit concert in support of homeless youth and it changed her life. “I stood in the wings and listened to some of these kids tell their stories,” says Block. “It really redefined what homelessness was to me and I found myself weeping. I found myself changing the whole course of the night in how I was singing songs and why I was singing them. I took a meeting with Kevin Ryan, the president of Covenant House, and said ‘What else can I do?’”
Block teamed up with friend and fellow Broadway star Capathia Jenkins (Newsies), who serves on the board of Covenant House and was originally working on a Sleep Out event with CEOs and executives. But with Block on board, together they founded the Broadway Sleep Out.
The fifth annual event joins members of the Broadway community with the youth residents of the House for workshops before they part ways to sleep outside in solidarity. This year’s Sleep Out took place August 21 and took the Broadway community’s fundraising total past the $1 million mark.
Actor Sebastian Arcelus (Madam Secretary, Elf The Musical), Block’s husband, marvels at the awareness and the money the community has raised. “It’s one night and we’re sheltered and when you think about what these kids are going through out there in the world unprotected…” he says, reflecting on his changed perspective—particularly since becoming a father.
“Steph insisted on sleeping out when she was pregnant with our child,” he recalls. “It put a different weight to the experience that I still haven’t wrapped my head around. It ties into seeing how much we love and adore our child and to think there are families out there, children out there who might not feel that kind of love or are in the kind of home they need to escape from into a life of homelessness is something I can’t wrap my head around. So I’m here to try and support because everyone deserves the safety of having a place to go home.”
“I think being a mom changed everything for me,” Block adds. “If you envision your little person out on the streets you have to do something and so this is our something.”
A national organization, Covenant House has two homes in New York City—one with 240 beds for homeless youth and another with 50 beds for homeless teen mothers and their babies. Approximately 1,600 kids come through the front doors of Covenant House each year.
“They’re young people who might have aged out of foster care, they’re kids who are trying to get out of gangs, they’re kids who don’t have an inspiring circle of love around them,” says Covenant House President Kevin Ryan. “Broadway is blocks away from this shelter so these kids walk past our stage doors every day,” says Jenkins. “We see them working at Starbucks, working at Duane Reade, they’re all around us.
“I’m so deeply proud of the Broadway community,” she continues. “I always say if there’s a cause and we step up to that cause, we step up to it with our hearts wide open because we’re just a special breed.”
To learn more about Covenant House and to make a donation, visit CovenantHouse.org.