Honoring My Father’s Fight to End Homelessness: A Message from Jennifer Reed

Pictured above: Canon Brian S. Kelley and his wife Sara Kelley on their 60th wedding anniversary.

In December, I had the honor of presenting the Canon Brian S. Kelley Public Servant Award, named after my father, to Secretary Marylou Sudders of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The Canon Brian S. Kelley Public Servant Award recognizes those who are making a difference in the fight to end homelessness. It was a privilege to be in a room surrounded by people doing the good and important work that my father valued so much.

Of the many lessons my father taught us, his children, one of the most important was to see each person as a unique individual, and that we should not generalize or stereotype. This outlook has been a guiding force in my life in all realms. I remember one specific night answering the phone and talking with a woman who wanted to speak with my father, who was out. We conversed for a while about my being in high school and the homework and pressure I was experiencing. I took a message for her and we hung up. When my father returned later that evening, he explained that she had lost her parents, was overwhelmed and not able to go to work, and, without a paycheck, was in danger of losing her housing. He helped me see the interconnectedness of things and appreciate how fragile life can be. I learned that homelessness occurs for many reasons, like a significant loss. The power behind so much of the work my father did was not just in listening, but in hearing. I imagine a story like this is familiar to most of you reading this blog post. I imagine you spend your days not just listening, but hearing.

Secretary Marylou Sudders of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services knows this work. Secretary Sudders has also listened and heard. She has served the underserved. She understands the myriad of reasons behind homelessness. She has worked to protect the most vulnerable, including homeless children. Reading about Secretary Sudders on the State’s webpage, it is evident why MHSA chose her to receive the Canon Brian S. Kelley Public Servant Award this year:

“She was the Massachusetts Commissioner of Mental Health from 1996 to 2003, championing significant legislative reforms including insurance parity, fundamental patient rights and the first children’s mental health commission. In 2012, Sudders was appointed to the state’s Health Policy Commission (HPC) for her behavioral health expertise; she remains on this important Commission in her capacity as Secretary.

For almost ten years, she headed the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, promoting the rights and well-being of some 24,000 children and families. Just prior to her appointment as Secretary, Sudders was an associate professor and Chair of Health and Mental Health at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work. Sudders has served on many charitable boards throughout her career, including the Pine Street Inn, Massachusetts Association for Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.”

I recently came across a piece my father had written for a Vigil Against Hate that was held at the Massachusetts State House on October 4, 2000. My father finished his piece with his adaptation of the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

These words make me think of those fighting to end homelessness, the critical work that my father valued and felt called to himself.

Thank you, Joe Finn, for your kind and gracious words about my father. You, too, are a compassionate member of our Commonwealth, and the work you do each and every day matters.

Thank you to the committee that selects the recipient of this award. My family recognizes and appreciates your care and attention.

Thank you to the MHSA staff for their organizational assistance.

Thank you to the partner agencies that make up MHSA. My father knew that together you would be stronger, and stronger you all are, as can be seen in your work protecting the most vulnerable in our communities across the state.

May the Canon Brian S. Kelley Public Servant Award continue to be an instrument to recognize, support and encourage the critical work of ending homelessness in Massachusetts.

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