Bringing the “Thresholds” program to homeless shelters

The Sathya Sai Centers of the Greater Boston Area collaborated to bring the “Thresholds” prison program to two local area homeless shelters. The “Thresholds” prison ministry entails trained mentors meeting with prison inmates  over the course of six to ten weeks, to help them learn discrimination and critical thinking skills, to make proactive decisions, and improve their life situation. The training incorporates an easy-to-remember, six-step approach to goal-setting, decision-making, and problem-solving. It is taught in six to ten one-on-one sessions involving a mentor with a client. These “micro-sessions” are augmented by group “macro-sessions.” Subsequent to an initial Threshold training in 2004, a number of individuals from the Sai centers successfully implemented the Thresholds training with inmates of local prisons in the region. However, the Thresholds program did not take widespread hold as a core service activity.

In 2009, another Thresholds training session was arranged, and we explored how we could incorporate the Thresholds program into the existing service activities in the homeless shelters. For many years our Centers had been providing various services to homeless shelters – serving food, renovating buildings, collecting clothes, and so on. Our members had built close trusting relationships with the shelter administrators. Implementing the Thresholds program seemed a logical next step of the Sai Centers’ close association with homeless shelters. Due to our previous successes in conducting the program with prison inmates, the Thresholds organization authorized our endeavor and provided updated materials specifically oriented to non-correctional-facility clients.

You are here going through sentences from courts for delinquencies. Let me tell you that all people are undergoing sentences for long or short periods, with simple or hard labor, to atone for misdemeanors and crimes done by them in past lives. Every fall makes a dent. Every fault has to be corrected, every sin has to be cleansed. Everyone is a prisoner.

Sathya Sai Baba, April 1973

People-in-Peril (PIP) Shelter

The Sathya Sai Center of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, began to implement the Thresholds Decision-Making and Problem Solving Program in the People in Peril (PIP) Shelter of Worcester, Massachusetts, run by the Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council, serving the clients from the Aurora House, who are in transitional, semi-permanent housing.

Besides being homeless, many of the clients had battled alcoholism or other forms of addictions, as well as chronic unemployment. Initially, there were many challenges in terms of no-shows and a lack of response from the clients. But these hurdles taught us the humbling lessons of perseverancepatience, and purity of intention. Over time, as the program progressed, it was truly humbling for many of the volunteers to become aware and be touched by the resilience, courage, and perseverance of the clients who faced insurmountable obstacles that none of the volunteers could even begin to imagine having to deal with on a daily basis. Indeed, in terms of growth and understanding, it is hard to tell who benefitted more from the program – the clients, or the mentors. Indeed, the clients often taught us significant lessons about courage, endurance, and coping with life’s slings and arrows!

In the initial round, approximately eight volunteers from the Sathya Sai Center of Shrewsbury implemented, conducted, and sustained the Thresholds program at the PIP shelter. The weekly mentoring we received via phone conferences, with all the Sai volunteers involved in the project, was a key ingredient contributing to the success of this service project.

When a criminal is punished after being found guilty, he is kept in prison. Only the body gets punished, but the real culprit is the mind, which caused the convict to commit the crime. The mind can travel anywhere even when a person is in prison. The police have no control over the mind - only the supreme power of the Device can have control over the mind.

Sathya Sai Baba, 13 May 1994

Reflections of volunteers (video)
The experience was truly impactful on both clients and volunteers. We learnt many spiritual lessons and were so grateful for the opportunities to practice, in a profound and personal way, Sai Baba’s universal message of loving service and truly seeing the Divine in all beings. In the following video, we shared some of our experiences as mentors:


Reflections of clients (video)

Perhaps, even more meaningful and gratifying were the words of our clients at graduation as they shared the lessons they imbibed and how they had been transformed by the program:


Clearly, this project has been an inspiring and deeply meaningful journey for all of us, mentors and clients alike, and has touched and transformed us in ways we never would have imagined when we first embarked on this service.  These opportunities are not easy to come by and setting them up initially can be daunting. But seeking guidance and mentoring from those devotees who have done it for years is the key to making it work.

If we earnestly, and with pure intention, surrender and practice the teaching of seeing God in all (even in the homeless), the journey becomes ever more joyous and sweet, and with His loving grace, all obstacles melt away!

~ Sathya Sai Baba Center of Shrewsbury, MA.