As Elizabeth sits outside the Downtown Rescue Mission, she calls her 1-year-old son Shannon over to sit on her knee. She tells him to show the other women who are standing nearby how he can pray. Shannon folds his hands over his Mickey Mouse t-shirt and closes his big, brown eyes before saying, “God bless Mommy, and God bless Daddy. Amen.”
Daddy is in jail, but he’s too young to know that.
Things have been rough for Elizabeth and her four children. She was a drug baby who was put in foster care early on. She moved around to 13 different homes before aging out. Things were going good for her—she had her own place and was living on her own—until February 2016 when her father died in a head-on collision.
She was a daddy’s girl who fell apart without her number one supporter.
There’s a certain rhythm to the way Elizabeth tells her story. It falls somewhere between a ballad and a rap. Maybe it’s because she’s repeated the words to herself over and over again like a mantra: “Stop making a big deal out of little things because I got big dreams.”
For someone who has been through so much, Elizabeth seems unstoppable. She’s living at the Downtown Rescue Mission while she works at a local daycare. She just started her job, but the other daycare workers have already seen how invaluable she is. She’s the only one who can make one particularly fussy baby, Wolfgang, go to sleep. Must be that mother’s touch.
Elizabeth’s story isn’t an unfamiliar one. She’s one of the ones who was never addicted to drugs or alcohol. It was just a series of unfortunate events that landed her without a home.
In the past few years, workers at the Downtown Rescue Mission have seen a drastic increase in the number of women and children who need a home, so they’re doing something about it. They just broke ground on a 30,000 square-foot women and children’s center that will house more than 200 women and children—an increase from the 60 they can house right now.
Lisa Young, senior director of development for DRM, explained, “We want to make sure that we are loving on them and treating them as women and children created in the image of Christ,” and the new center will free up more space for men to come into the program.
Owen’s House will include a commercial kitchen, dining room, counseling offices, classrooms, play area for kids, laundry room, wellness room and study areas. It’s a $6 million project, but they’ve already raised $4.7 million through individual donors.
A Place Of Refuge And Safety
Lisa tells the story of a woman who came to the Downtown Rescue Mission with her two boys but had to leave when she failed a drug test—they have a zero-tolerance drug policy. This mother sent her two sons off to school and went out to get high all day. After the state took her boys, she went downhill fast.
One night, she was getting high at a motel on University Drive when she hit rock bottom. She fell on her knees and started praying. During her prayer, she felt compelled to go back to the Downtown Rescue Mission and get clean. She finished their Freedom from Addiction program and asked her sons for forgiveness.
“We’re not just talking about moments of rescue,” Lisa said. “We’re not just talking about moments of redemption. Those absolutely happen, but those are the starting point to not just redemption, but restoration of families, rebuilding and repurposing. We’re not just talking about moments in individual lives. We’re talking about shifting the course of a family’s legacy for eternity. The ripple effect on that is immeasurable.”
Cara Henderson, director of the women’s addiction program, said about 65 percent of the women who come into the Downtown Rescue Mission are addicted to something. The new center will have a one-year, highly intensive program for women who are battling addiction.
Alcohol, meth and other well-known drugs are still popular, but Cara is seeing an increase in women who are addicted to prescription medicines. Initially prescribed by a doctor, use becomes addiction, and they turn to the streets to get more pills. Right now those women seeking help cannot live with their children, but that will change in the new facility.
“God gave those children to them regardless of their past mistakes,” Cara said. “We want them to realize how special they are to have these children. How much God wants them to become good parents.”
Currently, the DRM boasts a 66 percent success rate for those who stay clean and sober after completing the program. By comparison, the success rate for Alcoholics Anonymous is somewhere between five and 10 percent.
While addiction recovery is a huge part of what the Downtown Rescue Mission does, it’s not the only way they help women. More and more they’re seeing women fleeing abusive situations only to find out they don’t have a place to live. The new facility will have security cameras, metal detectors and on-site staff trained to handle certain situations.
The goal is to create a “place of refuge and safety,” Lisa said.
A Place For Inspiration
Vivian cries happy tears now, but a few months ago she cried out of fear and anxiety. Vivian landed at the Downtown Rescue Mission after a job she had lined up fell through. She’s been there for four months with her two kids, and things have changed drastically. Her 7-year-old son prays every night. He goes into his closet, but Vivian can still hear him. This is the part of the story where she tears up. Every night she listens while he prays for all the moms in the shelter. This is the part of the story where everyone listening to her story tears up.
As she speaks, she mentions it was another DRM resident who inspired her to go back to college. She gives a smile and a nod to Shanice who is sitting off to the side, looking bashful with her hood pulled up over her head.
Shanice has been at the Downtown Rescue Mission for almost a year, but she hopes to be in her own place by December so her two sons can have Christmas in their own home. Shanice is soft spoken and stoic but takes pride when she repeats five words she’s worked so hard for: “I am a college graduate.”
She graduated from Virginia College with a degree in medical assistance and a certification in phlebotomy. She’s not comfortable being called an inspiration for someone else, but that’s what she is to Vivian.
For those who need more life-skills, the new center will offer classes in finance, budgeting, parenting, banking and hygiene.
These women are moving on. That’s the point. The Downtown Rescue Mission is a place for them to take comfort and get help. It’s safe. It allows their kids to play and play hard because they know they won’t go hungry or have to sleep in their car that night. DRM won’t do everything for them, but DRM will teach them how to do it for themselves.
“If you want to do something, and you want it bad, you got to get up and get it,” Elizabeth said. “This, right here, is where you can start.”
Right now the Downtown Rescue Mission is raising money to feed and serve the families and individuals they minister to. Your support goes a long way. For less than $2, you can provide Thanksgiving dinner to a homeless person. Other donations will go to meals, shelter, recovery programs and spiritual support. Click here to donate.