APRIL GAMIZ / THE MORNING CALL
By DANIEL PATRICK SHEEHAN | The Morning Call
PUBLISHED: October 24, 2023 at 10:19 a.m. | UPDATED: October 25, 2023 at 1:26 p.m.
Two years ago, Sister Virginia Longcope ostensibly stepped back from her role as director of Stephen’s Place, the halfway house she founded to assist recovering addicts after they left prison.
No one believed Longcope would really slow down, and she hardly did. Earlier this year, however, she finally retired, and friends are feting her Nov. 4 with a gala in the University Center at DeSales University.
Longcope, 85, a Missionary Sister of the Sacred Heart, founded Stephen’s Place in 1993 to provide a structured environment for adult men with a history of substance abuse.
Tim Munsch, chair of the Stephen’s Place board, said 340 men have passed through the program since its founding and 73% have gone on to rebuild their lives, avoiding relapse or reincarceration.
Some residents exceed the program’s 90-day timeline but persist and ultimately succeed.
“As Sister always pointed out, ‘Their addiction was much longer than 90 days — so it will take longer than that to regain their lives,’” Munsch said.
The Stephen’s Place story began in the mid-1980s. Longcope, a longtime teacher, had been volunteering for Lehigh County’s Probation and Parole Department when she decided to become a prison chaplain and traveled to South Carolina to study in a chaplaincy program.
She obtained a master’s degree in social work and spent more than three years with the South Carolina Department of Corrections, watching in dismay as offenders got caught up in what she called the revolving door syndrome: reentering the community with good intentions but relapsing and ending up back in prison.
One of the success stories was a young man named Stephen Poston — a parolee without family who, without Longcope’s intervention, almost certainly would have relapsed into addiction and its near-inevitable companion, crime.
“You should start a house where you can help people like me,” he told her one day.
The idea took hold. Longcope returned to her native Lehigh Valley in 1992 and, with $1,000 in hand, started Stephen’s Place, naming it in Poston’s honor.
Located in south Bethlehem, Stephen’s Place is a nonprofit, tax-deductible organization that relies on private donations and grants from individuals and foundations, so the gala will double as a fundraiser. If you are unable to attend, but would like to make a donation, go to www.stephens-place.org.
The gala will take place from 6-9 p.m. in the University Center. Tickets are $100 per person. For more information, contact Sherman Myers, Stephen’s Place program coordinator, at 610-861-7677, or [email protected].
This story has been updated to correct the time of the Nov. 4 gala. It will be held from 6-9 p.m.
Morning Call reporter Daniel Patrick Sheehan can be reached at 610-820-6598 or [email protected]