The Catholic University of America

March 22, 2012

Leading Child Advocate to Receive Catholic University’s Gibbons Medal

  Kevin Ryan
  Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan, a nationally and internationally recognized child advocate, will receive the 2012 James Cardinal Gibbons Medal from The Catholic University of America Alumni Association. The award is given to an individual for “distinguished and meritorious service to the Roman Catholic Church, the United States of America, or The Catholic University of America” and is the highest honor that the association confers.

Ryan, a 1989 graduate of CUA, will receive the Gibbons Medal during the Alumni Awards Gala on April 14 at the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center in honor of his work as president and CEO of Covenant House, one of the largest charities in the Americas. The gala, hosted by the Alumni Association, will cap a weeklong celebration of the University’s Founders Week, and complete its year-long 125th anniversary celebration.

A cornerstone of the celebration has been the Cardinal Service Commitment, an endeavor by students, alumni, faculty, and staff to complete 125,000 hours of service. The commitment was launched last fall with the challenge to reach the goal by Founders Day on April 10. The University community reached the goal of 125,000 hours ahead of schedule in January and continues to record hours with renewed zeal as it nears the 200,000 hours mark.

“Kevin Ryan is the true embodiment of the Cardinal Service Commitment,” said Thomas Zoeller, president of CUA’s Alumni Association and chair of the Gibbons Medal selection committee. “He has dedicated his adult life to the protection of desperate and abandoned children. He embodies the ideals of Catholic University and the purpose of the Gibbons Medal.” Zoeller is a 1984 graduate of the University.

Covenant House helps more than 50,000 homeless and trafficked children and teenagers annually in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala. The Vatican Mission to the United Nations presented Ryan with its 2010 Path to Peace Award, recognizing Covenant House’s efforts to save thousands of homeless, trafficked, and runaway children from the streets. The charity’s international human rights work has been awarded the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award, the Olaf Palme Peace Prize, the United States Department of State Hero Citation, and, earlier this year, the Guatemala Hands of Peace Award.

During the 1990s, Ryan spent nearly a decade on the frontlines of Covenant House’s work with homeless and trafficked children on the streets of New York and New Jersey before he was appointed by the governor of New Jersey as the state’s first child advocate. In that role, he founded a public watchdog agency charged with monitoring conditions for children at risk of abuse and neglect. His work received national acclaim, including two appearances on “60 Minutes,” front-page stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, when he uncovered conditions of severe and illegal overcrowding in many of the state’s juvenile centers.

He was subsequently appointed by the governor to lead a reform of the state’s foster care system. During his tenure, New Jersey set new state records for adoptions, net gains in foster families, and safety for children in foster care. His reform work established him as one of the nation’s most effective child advocates. He was appointed chief of staff to the United Nations special envoy for malaria in 2008 to marshal public and private resources to tackle a disease that, at the time, killed nearly 1 million children a year, mostly in Africa and under the age of 5.

He then returned to the charity of his heart, Covenant House, as its fourth international president in 2009. In October 2012, John Wiley & Sons will publish Almost Home, a book by Ryan and former New York Times reporter Tina Kelley. Three years in the making, the book chronicles the extraordinary true journey of six formerly homeless teenagers in the United States and Canada as they overcome abuse, violence, and heartbreak to achieve their dreams.

Ryan wrote an essay in the fall 2011 issue of CUA Magazine in honor of the Cardinal Service Commitment. In it he offered his advice for choosing a path to service, which he said is “an intensely personal decision. Working with homeless children is but one of countless and worthy options. You must follow your heart, and follow your passion… Pray about it. Learn about the cause. Talk with your family, your spiritual advisors, those whose opinions you respect. And then, get going. Watch as you bring your faith to life in a new way. The service you provide to others will enrich your own life in ways you never thought possible.”

Ryan said he intends to accept the Gibbons Medal “on behalf of the thousands of men and women who have dedicated their lives to helping the kids of Covenant House and the extraordinary donors who make this work possible." He added receiving the Gibbons Medal is a “particularly special honor because it comes from Catholic University, the place where I met my wife, met the mentors and teachers of my life, and first learned of a special place for hurting kids called Covenant House.” Ryan lives in New Jersey with his wife, Clare, and their six children.

He joins a list of more than 60 Gibbons Medal honorees dating back to 1949, including then-Rev. Fulton J. Sheen (1953), then-Senator John F. Kennedy (1956), Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver (1965), actress Helen Hayes (1973), First Lady Nancy Reagan (1986), and best-selling Dead Man Walking author Sister Helen Prejean (2003).


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