Durham Rescue Missions expands campus, services for homeless

The front of the original church that housed the Durham Rescue Mission since 1978. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)


The Durham Rescue Mission is building three new dorms in an effort to continue providing more warm meals and safe places to sleep for the homeless of Durham.

Ernie Mills, 72, the CEO and co-founder of the mission, says he was inspired to help those in need after watching his father combat alcoholism. He believes in the power of treating those in need with dignity and showing them that they are loved.

“The better conditions they have, the better they feel about themselves,” said Mills. “We try to treat the homeless with respect.”

The Durham Rescue Mission was established in 1974 to help homeless people and those struggling with addiction.

An illustration of the expansion and new construction on the Durham Rescue Mission campus after its completion. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)

An illustration of the expansion of the Durham Rescue Mission campus after its completion. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)

The three new dorms follow the success of the Center for Hope, opened in January 2013. The center provides a larger dining area, a better equipped kitchen, state-of-the-art classrooms and additional housing to residents.

“I cannot tell you how that improved the attitude of our residents,” Mills said. “It made them feel like somebody loved them, to create something this nice for them, and it just gave them a motivation that seemingly you just don’t get any place else. And the quality of our graduates has increased since then.”

Each of the new dorms will be capable of housing up to 60 new residents. The dorms will provide housing as well as more classrooms. The Durham Rescue Mission hopes to have the first of these dorms open by the end of this month.

Ernie Mills poses with his friend and colleague Lynn Frederick Holloway. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)

Ernie Mills poses with his friend and colleague Lynn Frederick Holloway. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)

Supplies and labor for the project have been donated by local businesses, such as Poole’s Plumbing and Jacobs Glass.

By building the new dorms, Mills hopes to facilitate more success stories like that of Lynn Frederick Holloway.

Holloway, 61, came to the mission in 1994 and was able to attain a scholarship through the mission to attend Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem. Holloway now works as the director of education in the men’s division of the mission and as a biblical counselor.

“The guys can relate to him, and he can relate to them,” Mills said. “What a valuable asset to have on staff. And that’s why we want to build these dorms, so we can duplicate Lynn over and over again. That is a success.”

The Durham Rescue Mission emphasizes education to help residents succeed. With the assistance of Durham Technical Community College, the mission hosts classes to help residents get their GED certificate and gain new culinary skills in the Center for Hope’s kitchen.

Ernie Mills exhibits the kitchen’s steamer. The steamer, like much of the kitchen equipment was donated. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)

Ernie Mills exhibits the kitchen’s steamer. The steamer, like much of the kitchen equipment, was donated. (Staff photo by Thaddeus Berglund)

“Education is so vital to helping them get out of poverty,” Mills said. “Our goal is for them to graduate from our Victory Program, to go on to college, if not Durham Tech, get a job.”

The Victory Program is the mission’s addiction recovery program.

Bryant Scales, 56, graduated from the program in 2009 and now works as the lead supervisor at the mission.

“Going through that program I established a relationship with my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, and that is what I recommend to anybody that has been broken,” Bryant said.

About half of the staff at the mission are former clients, showing the level of success the mission has achieved since its founding. It currently helps 64 percent of Durham’s homeless population and last year donated around $6 million in food alone, and $16 million in total. For every dollar the mission receives, it donates $4.25 worth of services back to the community, according to Mills.

The center plans to have an Easter celebration on April 14 at 11 a.m. The event will feature an Easter basket giveaway for any children in attendance, as well as a clothes giveaway of over 10,000 items.

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Avery Rodriguez of Springdale, Ark., is a senior advertising/journalism major at UNC-CH. He is a staffwriter/photographer for the VOICE.


Thaddeus Berglund of Hillsborough is a senior advertising/journalism major serving with the Durham VOICE as the teen mentoring coordinator.


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