A Passionate Social Entrepreneur
Kevin Lilly '14
Not every 20-something gets it into his head to bring together the church and the LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) community-two groups often at odds-around the issue of youth homelessness. But not every 20-something is Kevin Lilly '14.
The personable Dorchester native is parlaying the skills he honed as a Lasell Entrepreneurship major to shape a social justice effort called Rainbow Bridge-which seeks common ground around a timely issue that impacts both the church and the LGBTQ community. And, so far, Lilly's grassroots formula for progressive change has been a win-win.
"Youth homelessness is not an island issue," Lilly tells Leaves. "It connects to poverty, human trafficking, drug and alcohol addiction, housing, education, unhealthy relationships, failed systems, broken homes, mental health and on and on. For us to effectively tackle youth homelessness, we also need to address these related issues."
The founder and executive director of Samaritans Steps-a nonprofit agency whose overarching mission is to help end youth homelessness-began his Lasell career as a Boston-based commuting student who, at first, "felt disenfranchised from College life because I didn't live on campus." Characteristically, Lilly took action to improve commuter life and became the Student Government Association commuter rep. In addition, the energetic undergrad was also a student coordinator for the America Counts tutoring program and a peer mentor and advisor. He traveled to New Mexico on an Alternative Spring Break trip, where he worked with the Native Health Initiative (NHI). And, he was involved with many Center for Community Based Learning (CCBL) efforts. Not surprisingly, Lilly was named Lasell's Student Leader of the Year and CCBL's Student Leader in Civic Engagement for 2014.
"Kevin was grounded, intentional and inspiring," CCBL Director and English Professor Sharyn Lowenstein tells Leaves. "He was not just a student, he was, honestly, a colleague." Through the CCBL, the College supported Lilly's resourcefulness by allowing him to utilize his senior year internship to develop the nonprofit business plan for Samaritans Steps.
And, now, to bring things full circle, Lasell is sending interns to Samaritans Steps.
Drawing on the expertise he sharpened at Lasell, Lilly launched a Love Your Neighbor campaign during Samaritans Steps's first year that sponsored a drive to deliver blankets and winter clothing to the homeless in Harvard Square and downtown Boston, created two book scholarships to benefit homeless college students as well as high school students "with less-than-stellar GPAs," ran a Christmas toy drive for homeless children, co-created the organization's Campus Initiative that seeks to help homeless students on high school and college campuses, worked with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless on an initiative to pass House Bill 135 (to provide housing and services to homeless youth) and serves on both Governor Charlie Baker's Special Commission for Unaccompanied Youth, as well as the steering committee for Y2Y Harvard Square, a Cambridge homeless youth shelter.
"I lead a Clark Kent life," Lilly tells Leaves, referring to the Superman dance his does to balance his day job as a bellman/valet at a downtown Boston hotel with his myriad volunteer activities. The 24-year-old also finds time to keep up with reading, early morning boxing and even some baking. Through it all, the social justice mission of Samaritans Steps remains the priority.
"Racism, sexism, poverty, homophobia and injustice in general rob people of their dignity," Lilly says. "Social justice is simply love in action; it repairs what was broken and returns what was taken."
In that spirit, Lilly is working to create both a local shelter to provide emergency beds and transitional housing for homeless youth (on and off campuses) and is developing a mobile app to make homeless services accessible 24/7.
"I want Samaritans Steps to be one of the most innovative, fun, effective and transparent nonprofits in Boston," the determined Lasell alum adds. "I want to make a difference, not only in the lives of those we serve and those who serve with us, but also in the city I am proud to call home."
And, given his success rate to date, the odds are trending very much in Kevin Lilly's favor.