More Than Work: Step Up Director Mike Mason

Mike talks about what really makes work important and how to help each person cross over their own unique barriers.

“I love…work.” Mike Mason Step Up Director here at Water Street Mission sees something in work maybe most of us miss.

Done well—work can be the glue to your life. It can be a center for building healthy community, a second family, a chance to grow your career and of course…build your finances. And people who haven’t experienced a positive work space will know…somethings off.

That’s why Mike loves work. “Work can be a place where people can serve other people the way God has gifted and wired them.”

As Step Up Director, Mike is motivated each day to help the men and women who come to Water Street not only see his vision of work, but obtain it for themselves. He and his team provide career and vocational coaching—but they don’t leave it at that.

Many guests here at Water Street have known trauma in their lives — which can often present challenges when it comes to re-entering the workforce. Understanding that each person experiencing homelessness has also experienced deep pain and spiritual brokenness has led Mike to build a trauma-informed approach to career management.

“Work can be a place where people can serve other people the way God has gifted and wired them.” Mike Mason

Water Street’s Enrichment Center

Recently, Mike brought a young man named Trevor* to an open house at Thaddeus Stevens. The gymnasium was packed with people. Different stations and speakers filled the room, leaving Trevor overwhelmed and sticking to the wall. Just then, a lady approached. She asked if Trevor and Mike would move through the bustling crowd and into the bleachers.

Waiting for Trevor to respond…Mike held his breath for what felt like minutes.

“Alright,” Trevor suddenly agreed.

As they made their way up to the top of the bleachers, Mike realized that what might have seemed like an easy solution to you or I—was really a massive step to this young man. Feeling out of place…like he looked different…didn’t have the right clothes…the right past…he made the decision to push through his discomfort. After they sat down, Mike and Trevor were able to relax, talk, laugh and of course, learn more about vocational training.

This is what Mike does each day. He comes alongside men and women struggling to know what their next step will be…how they will find long-term solutions to provide for themselves and their families…and he helps them overcome each barrier they face.

No matter how big or small it may seem to us—Mike wants to build the stairs to allow each person to take that “step up” for themselves.

*Name has been changed for anonymity


An Update from Jack 5/4/2020


Dear Friends,

Throughout this season, we have encountered a number of challenges in operating our shelter safely. Thankfully we have been blessed to see no community spread among our guests. This is due not only to the work of our team, but also the ways that upgrades to our facilities came at just the right time.

For example, Providence Shelter, which opened in November 2019, provides additional spacing and a top-tier air filtration system. We have also been able to implement the same air filtration standards in our dining hall prior to the most recent wave of COVID.

Because a high percentage of our guests have preexisting health conditions, we have had to be diligent in our safety protocols, doing our best to ensure their safety. For us that has included implanting all CDC disinfecting, masking and social distancing from the very beginning. This has led to major changes in roles and responsibilities of staff. Staff have taken over disinfecting in shifts all over campus. They have also delivered much of our support services and programs through zoom, hosting counseling sessions and classes virtually and meeting in-person with plexi-glass dividers only when necessary.

For meals, we’ve changed preparation and delivery to help minimize interaction of guests who live in different facilities. At times that has meant delivering meals to certain Residential Floors so we can keep smaller groups in the dining hall. We have also had to restrict guests’ travel on and off campus to only essential trips such as going to work, the doctors, shopping etc., in order to minimize unnecessary exposure.

Another change in this season has been how we do intakes. Currently, the intake process requires new guests to be tested for COVID-19. They await their test results in a separate temporary shelter we have set up, before entering Providence Emergency Shelter.

All of these changes have been made while severely limiting the number of volunteers on campus. At one point, all volunteering was completely put on hold. Now, we are running with a third of our normal volunteers.

And it’s been tiring, for both staff and guests. We have had times where many staff were working remotely due to their own health risks. Other times where staff or guests have been quarantined due to exposures. But even with all of the schedule changes, increased overtime, and cross-shift working, our team has done an amazing job persevering through all of the challenges.

What to Expect This Winter Typically we have over 200 total guests on campus, over 100 in our Residential Programs over and 100 in our Emergency Shelters. Although our Residential capacity remains about the same, we have had to reduce the available beds in Providence Shelter to ensure safe spacing overnight from about 75 to 55.

Winter always presents its own challenges, so we anticipate this year will be no different. Women in our Providence Shelter have moved over to the shelter at St. Mary’s across the street, run by the Lancaster Food Hub. During their stay there they have full access to all of our services, including showers, food and staff support. Not only does having women shift to St. Mary’s enable us to free up additional beds for men, it will help us keep the shelter populations separate and limit the risk of spread.

Thank You We have been so encouraged by the support we have received this year. Without a community coming around us and our guests, we would not be able to keep our guests safe and continue to guide them in their restoration journeys. We truly couldn’t do what we do without you.

Jack Crowley