Denver Rescue Mission Posts

Today, I’m A Full-Time Dad

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As you know, being a good dad doesn’t happen by accident. Providing for a family takes intentionality, commitment and love.

 

Dwight grew up in a good home. He grew up in the church and his parents were committed to loving him well. But at 15 years-old, Dwight went searching for a new family, one that would let him live a life that he wanted—no rules, no convictions. “I joined a gang when I was 15,” he says. “My parents were there for me; they treated me right, but I was looking for a different kind of family.”

 

Dwight spent 15 years in a gang. During that time he began a family of his own, and while his son, Jonathan, was growing up, Dwight was living on the streets in California doing what people in gangs do. “I didn’t care about anything, not even hygiene. I wouldn’t change my shoes, and I remember one time my wife had to peel the socks off my feet. I didn’t go home often, but I’d go for a month or so, and when I did, I’d sleep for days.”

 

All the while, Jonathan was at home with his mom. “It wasn’t the easiest childhood,” says Jonathan. “At one point my dad wasn’t home at all. Then he was there on and off, but when he was at home, deep down, he knew he wanted to stay there. I think he had to defeat whatever it was keeping him on the streets.”

 

Gang-banging and drugs were keeping Dwight from being a good father. “For a long time, I had no convictions of what I did and who I did it to,” says Dwight. “I had a choice, and I chose the streets, gang-banging and drugs over my family.”

 

One day, when Dwight went back for getaway from the street, his wife said enough was enough. “She told me that until I got help, I couldn’t come home. She allowed me to wash clothes and shower, but then she said, ‘you have to go.’ She wouldn’t let me sleep there anymore.”

 

Dwight was homeless for 10 months before he reached out to Denver Rescue Mission.

 

In May 2017, he joined the Next Step community and three weeks later he was accepted into the New Life Program. “The New Life Program…it basically saved my life,” says Dwight. “I’ve been through too much; I’ve been beat down, left for dead. I’ve done been through it all, but I’m here now. I remember where I came from, but the first time in my life, I know where I’m going.”

 

During his time in the program, Dwight has reconnected with Jonathan. The two are still navigating their relationship and strengthening it, but it’s never been so good. “This is the best Father’s Day I’ve had, says Dwight. “I’ve missed out on a lot. And a lot of that I can’t get back. But I’m here now; I’m not a part-time dad. I’m a full-time dad, and I’m living for Jesus and my children.”

 

‘I’m glad that he’s here and doing what he has to do,” says Jonathan. “Our relationship is top notch. If I have questions, I know who to ask; he’s stepping into the role of my father.”

 

At the Mission, we love hearing stories of redemption and families reconnected — like Dwight and Jonathan — especially around Father’s Day when we’re reminded of the vast impact that our fathers have in our lives. Happy Father’s Day from our Mission family to yours.

We’re Honoring Volunteers this Month!

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Denver Rescue Mission Honoring Volunteers this Month

Here at the Mission, volunteers are our heroes. They serve meals with a caring smile, tutor kids who are behind in school, spend time mentoring adults & children, care for kids in transition, sort donations, and so much more. Volunteers provide 122,276 hours of their time at Denver Rescue Mission each year, which is equivalent to 59 full-time employees.

Throughout #VolunteerAppreciationWeek, volunteers will be honored and thanked for their service to the Mission on our social channels. We’re excited to share the passion and commitment of these seven featured volunteers. Read their stories below and consider signing up to make an impact at www.denverrescuemission.org/volunteer.

Thanks for all YOU do to #ServeDenver #VolunteerAppreciationWeek.

Kyle Gjersee

Kyle Gjersee

You can find Kyle serving breakfast five, sometimes six, days a week at our Lawrence Street Community Center (LSCC) in downtown Denver over the past year. Kyle recently became a mentor for a New Life Program participant at The Crossing as well.

“I enjoy giving back to the community and being part of something bigger than myself” -Kyle.
Thank you Kyle for your servant heart!

Scott Farleigh

Scott Farleigh

Scott has been a volunteer with us for nine years! He volunteers primarily in the Denver Broncos Youth Center at The Crossing tutoring kids. Scott donates his money as well as his time, working to organize projects with the Eagle Scouts. They most recently replaced some fencing and put in a new flag pole in front of The Crossing.

“The greatest experience I’ve had so far was teaching one of my third grade kids in the Bronco Room how to read. He started at a 1st grade reading level and is now almost up to a 3rd grade reading level.” -Scott

The kids are blessed to have had your help in the Denver Broncos Youth Center over the past 9 years, Thank you Scott.

Carroll Dannettell

Carroll Dannettell

Since 2008, Carroll has been tutoring our kids at The Crossing in the Denver Broncos Youth Center.

“I enjoy knowing I am making a difference in a child’s life,” Carroll says.

Carroll also loves working alongside the Interns in the Denver Broncos Youth Center because she feels she has been able to mentor them as well. She enjoys watching both the interns and the children grow and mature. Carroll believes that her life has been changed by volunteering at the Mission.

Thank you Carroll for your ten years of service with Denver Rescue Mission!

Jenelle Wilson

Jenelle Wilson

Jenelle has been a Youth Mentor since November. “Serving my mentee and her family brings me a joy I cannot express. She reminds me that God is alive and present even in the youngest of lives and being part of something so much bigger than just me, it’s humbling and exciting,” Jenelle says.

Jenelle brings her mentee with her to church every Sunday morning. She loves how her mentee sings during worship even if she doesn’t know the words and always holds Jenelle’s Bible when the pastor speaks to follow along. “It’s amazing how much she retains! She is thoughtful and connected to the message. God is doing great things in her!”

Thank you Jenelle for bringing God into the lives of your mentee and her family at The Crossing!

Rylee Bennett

Rylee Bennett

For the past year, Rylee has been mentoring one of our STAR Transitional Program participants. “I knew that when I moved to Denver about a year ago, that I was craving a deeper, more meaningful relationship with someone in need.”  Rylee was thrilled to find Denver Rescue Mission and applied to be a long-term volunteer immediately.

Rylee’s most impactful experience as a Mentor has been watching her mentee persevere despite adversity and stand as the determined, selfless, God loving woman that she is today. “When I first met her it almost felt like our time spent together was a one way interview as she would only give short little responses to my pleading questions to get to know her. Since then our relationship has done a 180 and she’s been able to open up her heart to me and allow me to encourage her and just love on her.”  They’ve tackled topics that she initially wanted to stay so far away from, like going back to school to get her GED, building a resume and applying to jobs, getting her permit, and seeking a deeper relationship with Jesus. Rylee is so grateful for this opportunity and wants to help others be able to have the same experience as a Mentor at the Mission!

Rylee, we thank you for showing God’s love and grace to your mentee. We are blessed to have you.

Laura Skladzinski

Laura Skladzinski

Laura is a Mentor to one of our STAR Transitional Program participants. She also tries to serve meals at our Lawrence Street Community Center at least once a month. Laura loves how easy it is to serve meals even when she has a busy schedule. “Although the line moves quickly, I try to at least say hi and give a smile to everyone who comes through.”

Becoming a Mentor for the STAR Transitional Program has made her feel like she is truly making a difference in someone’s life by getting to interact and help someone one-on-one. Laura really enjoys meeting with her mentee and is grateful for the opportunity to not only help but also make a new friend. “I often think my mentee has helped me more than I have helped her, in that my time with her has given me a different perspective and made me appreciate the many blessings I’ve been fortunate to receive.”

Thank you Laura for serving with us over the past two years!

Dan Polizzi

Dan Polizzi

Dan combines his love for music and kids by teaching the children at The Crossing guitar and piano lessons, over the past eight years! “I feel a part of the community/family when I’m there.” – Dan

Dan has always volunteered for causes he has felt strongly about and giving music lessons at the Mission was a perfect way to show his gratitude for what people have done for him. “Knowledge is power and can open doors to opportunities you otherwise would never have access to” said Dan. His hope is that the kids he works with will have a better quality of life having gained some ability to play an instrument.

Dan, thank you for sharing your passion for music with the kids and with us at the Denver Rescue Mission.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month

Did you know that April is National Alcohol Awareness month? Substance abuse is something we see frequently in Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program. Addiction can be all consuming and can drastically affect every area of someone’s life. However, our goal at the Mission is to ensure that every person who enters our New Life Program knows deep down that their addiction does not define them and that there is always hope for renewal and recovery.

This idea that “our mistakes do not define us” is important for us all to remember, especially those struggling with addiction. This verse from Psalms is one that our program participants reflect on often…

Psalm 25:7

Participants in our New Life Program often come to us struggling with addiction, without hope and without any connection to a stable community. They also struggle with maintaining employment and finding a stable place to live. Their abuse of alcohol and other substances is often a pathway used to cope with deeper issues. Our program provides them with the chance to deal with those deeper issues head-on, reestablish positive relationships, maintain a stable living environment, give them a sense of purpose through work readiness, and, ultimately, lead them into a spiritual connection with God.

No one knows more about teaching others the love of God and the power of His forgiveness than our New Life Program staff. I sat down with some of our program staff to get their perspective on alcohol awareness.

“[Our] staff embraces the Mission’s mission statement of ‘Changing lives in the name of Christ.’ We tell our New Life Program participants that they have a purpose in life and that they are gifted to accomplish many things.  The guidance of the Holy Spirit gives us the advantage to help our participants uncover and rediscover their gifts and guide them into becoming what God created them to be,” says Patrick Mary, Counselor & Clinical Supervisor at the Mission.

Every day in the New Life Program, which can last up to one and a half years, our participants are encouraged and counseled by our staff. One participant recalls life before the program, “Before, alcohol was killing me; today, I am really enjoying life, my wife, family sunrises, and sunsets. Finding God in the New Life Program has changed my life. Before, my work day was mundane; today, I am enjoying the work readiness program in the program.  I have rediscovered the truth of enjoying work.”

Our New Life Program recognizes the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-Step Program, which, in a way, become a part of what we do. A Recovery Support Group – facilitated by Patrick Mary – meets weekly to inspire discussion, mutual encouragement, bonding, and sobriety. Along with elective groups, each participant is required to attend individual counseling and group sessions. These sessions are designed to “dig deeper” into childhood trauma and other issues related to present-day addictive behavior.

“It is a joy to see the transformation that occurs when freedom from bondage is realized,” says Steve Swihart, New Life Program Graduate Chaplain.

“A misconception exists that addiction or homelessness is simply a matter of will-power or choice. This is not always the case. Each participant that we come in contact with has a story. Each story comes with layers,” says Austin Morrow, Next Step Community Coordinator.

“The first step in correcting these misconceptions is to listen. Not just listening to someone’s problems and immediately trying to find a solution but truly listening to someone’s story and understanding that there are more layers than what may be seen initially. Addiction and homelessness can be difficult to understand.  It can be messy. But, through the love and grace of Christ, lives can be changed and misconceptions can be corrected,” adds Morrow.

“The Mission’s approach to helping people struggling with alcoholism isn’t going to be the right fit for every person who walks through our doors. But, over the years, I have seen so many lives change – fathers who reconnect with their children after years of being estranged, men who find newfound self-confidence and energy in their sobriety.”

This month, as we acknowledge Alcohol Awareness Month, it’s an important reminder that rehabilitation is a journey and it’s different for everyone. May we all listen a little more and judge a little less.

 

 

 (Contributors to this article include Austin Morrow, Zach Titus, Patrick Mary, Stephen Swihart.)

 

Faces of the Mission :: Lori

Lori Sometimes people make statements that aren’t true. They say things like, “I’m good” when in fact they aren’t well. These are the statements often heard in passing, as one walks by acquaintances and colleagues in the office or the hallway.

It was mid-afternoon on a Friday when Jennifer and I walked by Lori, who was seated at a table inside the courtyard at the Lawrence Street Community Center. Jennifer has a contagious personality, one that often lends itself to laughter and long conversations.

“How are you?” asked Jennifer.

Lori turned toward Jennifer and me, her back to the table. “I’ve had better days,” she said.

Lori isn’t one to make cordial conversation, the type that people expect in passing, at least. Her words reveal more truth than that, and so does her story.

“When I was eight years old my mom married a pedophile,” said Lori. “He not only abused me, he also got my brother, my cousin and the girl up the street. And those are just the ones I know about.”

As she told about her childhood, Lori did so with a sense of peace; not like the type of peace a person experiences during meditation. It was a different kind of peace, less reflective and more of a graceful confidence.

Lori 2To this day, I struggle to understand where Lori’s peacefulness comes.

I think back to my own story. My childhood was different than most. I was born with a birth defect. As a kid, I endured surgery after surgery after surgery, so many that I lost count after the eighth. None of my friends could relate to the feeling, to the anxiety and the fear that comes with being operated on as a child. I navigated those experiences with the help of my family. But Lori’s childhood was more than just different, it was wrong and it was traumatic and the trauma came at the hands of her abusers, people she knew and people she called family.

Yet, as she sat there in front of me on that Friday, she told her story with grace. Few people would dare criticize Lori if she had thoughts of rage and even vengeance. “I don’t look back with anger or regret,” she said. “It happened. It was bad. And it made me who I am.”

Of course, she doesn’t understand a lot of things about her past; like when those police officers, the ones who listened to eight-year-old Lori tell her story—of how she was running around the house in her pajamas and then was raped by her step-dad—replied, “You shouldn’t have seduced him by being in your pajamas.”

When I asked Lori what she would say to those officers today, her eyebrows raised to the middle of her forehead, she put her hand on the table in front of her as if to provide herself with support, support that the younger Lori was often without, and she said, “I have a lot of choice words for those people.”

And when asked what she might say to her mom, Lori struggled to find the right words. She has a fondness for her mom, an empathy that I can’t fathom.

“I don’t know what I would say to my mom. It was her worldview,” said Lori. “She was brought up to please the man. Back then, if you didn’t please the man, you deserved what you got. I’m not saying that’s right, but that’s what they taught us. It was the 60’s and 70’s. Till the day she died my mother was taught, and believed, that men do no wrong. One time, after my ex got a hold of me, she took me to her house. When the police finished photographing my bruises, you know what she asked me? She didn’t ask me how I was or if I was okay, she asked, ‘what did you do to antagonize him?’”

When she said those words, her face softened, she peered down toward the table in front of her, but only for a moment. She lifted her eyes up at Jennifer. “I have empathy where a lot of people don’t have it,” she said.

And then she told a story about her daughter and how difficult it is to keep a child safe in the world. As her kids were growing, Lori talked with them about her childhood and the abuse she experienced growing up. She understands the shame and embarrassment and silence that follow victims of sexual assault. There is this feeling that it’s your fault; that you shouldn’t have been there alone; that you should have taken a different route; that you should have known better. There’s a fear of telling someone, anyone, because shame and judgement and embarrassment linger. Lori gets it because she experienced it.

Lori stressed to her children the importance of vulnerability, “I’d talk to my kids about it,” said Lori. “I told them that if someone ever touches you, tell me, tell someone.” But when Lori’s daughter was molested by a man from their church, her daughter was silent. “She’s embarrassed. She’s ashamed,” said Lori. “I get it. It makes me look back at my mother … and you know what? Being a mom is hard. Mom’s make mistakes… .”

Family and support systems are crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But as child, when your support systems fail to support, then what? Where does one turn for appreciation and comfort and acknowledgment and love? There are several answers, Lori’s answer was meth.

“I ran away at 14. I did a lot of drugs after that, I used to use meth.”

Sometimes we hear stories that are alarming. It’s hard to know why these stories are difficult to hear. Perhaps it’s because we are humans, and as humans we are image-bearers of God, beings that yearn for good, for harmony, for beauty. To this point, this has not been that story.

My office faces west, and through the windows I can see the Rocky Mountain range. After writing this story I find myself staring out the window, brooding over this story. A friend of mine is the President/CEO of a non-profit who reaches out to victims of sex-trafficking. She reminded of an important insight, she said, “You have to remember this is a part of her story, it’s not the story.”

And she’s right. This is not all of Lori’s story. It’s not the story.

Eventually, Lori will go on to end up homeless. She will become irate at how it happened, how they kicked her off of SSDI, causing her to lose her monthly income of just over $800. She became two weeks behind rent and then was kicked out by the property managers.

I’ll let Lori tell you the rest of her story. “Since I’ve been homeless, I’ve had jobs,” she says. “I used to work for AT&T, in their call center. But I couldn’t pass the computer test. I get sick, too, and it makes it hard to work. When I worked, I couldn’t take a shower. There is no shower out at the women’s shelter, and when I went to work, I’d show up too late in the day to take a shower at the community center. I made it work for a while. I would just paint my fingernails so my employer wouldn’t see the dirt that is constantly under them, but…”

Her voice trails off and the interview ends.

I haven’t spoken with Lori since the first week of February. I was at the Lawrence Street Community Center last week. I tried to follow up with her, but I didn’t find her, and many of the people I spoke with didn’t know her.

I showed a picture of Lori to a friend who lives on the street. He told me that a women’s transitional housing program offered Lori admittance into their facility. Lori accepted the offer and will now have a stable place to live and shower while she works with a case manager toward developing skills to find more sustainable jobs.

And that’s Lori’s story, that’s the story. She is not defined by her experiences, experiences that have often been unfair, wrong and traumatic. Lori’s story is defined by her resilience. That’s Lori’s story. That’s the story.

 

 

Faces of The Mission is a blog series written by Jordan Smith, Denver Rescue Mission’s Writer/Photographer (with contributions by Emergency Services Coordinator, Jennifer Fitzgerald), offering insights and real-life stories from people experiencing homelessness and hardships.

January is National Mentoring Month

Ralph Waldo Emerson (2)
January is a month of resolutions and fresh starts. It’s also National Mentoring Month. Seeking out the guidance of others who can remain objective to life’s challenges can be extremely positive for anyone. Here at Denver Rescue Mission, mentoring is an important part of our New Life Program and STAR Transitional Program. The relationships that are built can last for years.

 
I was recently inspired by Jim, one of our Change Makers who has been mentoring the same kiddo since 2014! Here’s what Jim had to say about his experience:

 
“My experience as a mentor has been fantastic. You need to put work into your mentorship but the result is great. You will have to make the first big effort. Appointments probably will be missed and it will be difficult to find things in common to talk about in the beginning. Then when your mentee realizes that you are serious and this is not a passing fad, things will begin to change. So next you will draw on your creativity to find things to do and maybe you will decide to teach them something or other. This is the next hurdle, this relationship is for him or her, not for you. Be flexible. Listen. Adjust to the one you are mentoring. I have never regretted being a mentor.”  -Jim Lanyon

 

The opportunities to mentor include youth, individual men and women, homeless and refugee families. You can mentor one-on-one or with a group of colleagues or friends. Learn more about becoming a mentor on our website.