May 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 1 
Cover Story

Serving up a new life

What's on the menu at McMurphy's Grill? Self-support, thanks in part to ECF's assistance

Serving up a new lifeOne day, Donald Shields decided to save his own life.

His addiction to drugs and alcohol led him to homelessness, unemployment and a dangerous life on the streets of Topeka, Kan. But on this particular day, he resolved to get what he wanted: "Recovery and help, but I couldn't do it on my own," said 33-year-old Shields. "Not with drug dealers on the street corner and no money."

His plan was to head to Canada for a fresh start. But unexpected twists and turns changed his itinerary, and he wound up at St. Patrick Center in St. Louis—a place that altered the course of his life forever.

Since walking in to the St. Louis–based homeless service agency nearly 11 months ago, Shields has used the facility's services to become sober, earn a paycheck and find a new outlook on life. He's happily employed as a food runner and waiter at the center's McMurphy's Grill restaurant, which is supported by The Employees Community Fund of Boeing–St Louis.

Founded in 1982, St. Patrick Center, the largest homeless-service agency in Missouri, offers 19 programs in mental health, employment training and basic living skills that assist more than 10,000 people each year who are homeless or at risk. One-fifth of the organization's clients are U.S. Armed Forces veterans, including Shields. McMurphy's Grill is the first U.S. full-service restaurant that trains mentally ill and homeless clients on all facets of the food-service business.

"I never knew life could be this good," Shields said. "I feel very comfortable. I have a nice bank account, and I love working at McMurphy's. It's fast-paced. I love dealing with the public and seeing the smiles on customers' faces. It's been great here." He also is a living-skills class assistant, helping peers with their substance-abuse recovery issues.

The center presented Shields with the resources and opportunities to help him beat his addictions and homelessness. But it was Shields' courage and desire that steered him toward a positive new life in less than one year.

"Donald was sick and tired of being sick and tired," said Dan Buck, St. Patrick Center CEO. "He knew he needed to change; he wanted to change—he just didn't know how to change. He is a living testimonial to the strength of the human spirit."

Boeing (then McDonnell Douglas) first partnered with St. Patrick Center in 1990, with funds specifically supporting the restaurant.

"The board of The Employees Community Fund of Boeing–St. Louis feels very strongly about supporting McMurphy's Grill because it has proven to be an effective training ground for homeless and substance-abuse clients who are on the path of self-sufficiency and independence," said Bonnie Brandt, Boeing–St. Louis community relations manager. "We have always had a strong relationship with St. Patrick Center and continue to find ways to support and strengthen its capacity to deliver services."

In 2004, 35 clients were placed in McMurphy's three-to-six-month training program; 31 of them successfully completed the program and were placed in St. Louis–area restaurants and hospitality jobs. Nearly all of them, including Shields, now live independently in transitional or permanent housing.

"Homeless does not mean hopeless," Buck said. "Our clients prove every day that where there is a desire to change, coupled with programs and opportunities to do so, life holds great promise for all."

Shields, born and reared in Kansas, said he never expected to end up happily living a new life in St. Louis: "If it weren't for St. Louis and St. Patrick Center, I don't know where I'd be right now."

—Katherine Sopranos

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