Smithfield Rescue Mission needs donations

pseligson@newsobserver.comNovember 8, 2013 

Melissa Grice says she would be dead without the Smithfield Rescue Mission.

But the mission that has helped Grice get back on her feet is facing financial trouble. The homeless shelter relies almost entirely on private donations, and those have recently slowed. The group needs about $12,000 a month to run its two shelters and recovery program, but this month it has just $3,000.

The Rescue Mission operates two shelters, one for men and one for women and children. It also runs the New Life Program, which provides weeks of training and counseling to help the homeless renew their lives through self-reflection. The aim is to help them get a job and find a home.

“It’s a holistic approach to dealing with the hurts, habits and hang-ups in life, and we work through all these things to get down to the root of what’s causing some of the problems that they’ve had,” said Margie Olsen, who co-founded the Rescue Mission with her husband, Paul, in 1977.

New Life is based on Christian values and lessons, but participants can believe in whatever they want, she said.

Grice has stayed at the women’s shelter through the summer. She was a drug addict living on the streets until one day, “I just hit bottom,” she said. So Grice went to the Smithfield police and asked for help, and they sent her to the mission.

She was also off her medication and having suicidal thoughts. Without the mission, Grice said she doesn’t think she would be here today.

Grice is clean now, attends the New Life classes and is looking for her own home.

“Little by little, they walked me through the steps,” she said.

The New Life Program provides structure and self-reflection. Participants have to help cook and keep the shelter clean, and they must respect each other.

“This is a place that gives you a hand up, not a hand out,” Grice said. “If you’re willing to make a change and you’re willing to do the work, they will back you up, but it has to come from you.”

Need sparks growth

Originally, the Smithfield Rescue Mission offered only an overnight men’s shelter. But the mission kept growing because the need was there, Olsen said. That led to programs designed to help people escape the cycle of homelessness. Olsen started the New Life Program in 2010, and about 30 people have completed it since then.

Over time, expenses have gradually gone up, and revenue has gone down, but the mission has been able to get by. But in the last month, the usual stream of private donations trickled off.

“I think we tried to take on too much too quick, probably,” Olsen said. “And the people were there needing it. And, you know, you hate to turn somebody away and not take them in. That’s what it amounted to.”

The women’s shelter holds up to six, and the men’s shelters up to 21. The New Life Program has around 12 people in it at any given time.

“It’s never been this tough before,” said Olsen. “It looks like we’re going to have to cut some staff. We’ve already cut everybody’s hours.”

For now, she said, the utility bills and roughly nine staff members, many of them part-time, aren’t getting paid.

The Rescue Mission is asking for donations, both of money and in-kind donations of food and clothing. The womens’ shelter also needs a new stove.

Stephanie Johnson is staying at the women’s shelter with her 2-year-old son, Noah. Johnson said the stability is especially important for Noah.

“It’s a big impact that we’re safe,” she said.

Johnson lost her job and ended up homeless, wondering where the next meal would come from.

“I’m really glad to be here,” Johnson said. The New Life Program is helping her learn new skills, ranging from good nutrition to handling her finances. She’s hoping to earn a certification to work at a daycare or become a certified registered nurse.

Gary Ridout, chairman of the mission’s board, said he hopes people will support the organization.

“We are in the season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is the season of giving,” he said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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