City Mission Resident Returns Home for the Holidays

Dave making his rounds at City Mission

City Mission Resident Volunteers for Service at Both City Mission Holiday Meal centers

Dave posing in the hallway for a picture.
Dave, who has been living at the Mission for a little over a year,  is always looking for ways to give back.

City Mission started a new initiative this holiday season to reach out to the community by serving hot, home-cooked meals to people, outside their walls,who might not otherwise get a good meal for the holidays.  This year, they served Thanksgiving dinners to the community at two, off-site locations: Arc Human Services and Thomas Campbell Apartments, both in Washington.   

“It was hard work, but it paid off big time,” said Dave G, a current City Mission resident who volunteered to serve at both locations.  “It was worth it all to see the smiles on their faces.”

During that time, Dave continued to work at the restaurant where his mother had been the manager.  He started out busing tables and washing dishes but quickly worked his way up the ranks and eventually became head chef.  “I was very young to be running the kitchen,” he said. It was a stressful and demanding job with long hours. 

Dave concentrating at work

Dave, who has been living at the Mission for a little over a year, is always looking for ways to give back.  He acts as a mentor for the other residents and volunteers to help around the Mission, doing whatever is needed.   So, it was natural for Jason Johnson, City Mission’s Director of Operations, to ask Dave for help coordinating the off-site meal serving.  “I’m always happy to help anyone in whatever way I can,” Dave said.

But Dave also had another reason for volunteering at Arc Human Services.  His aunt works there.  “I hadn’t spoken to my aunt in over three years,” he explained.  “When Jason asked me to help him serve at Arc, that really got my wheels turning.  I had been wanting to touch base with her fora while, but I was afraid of how she would respond.” 

When Dave was in high school, his mother died of cancer.  She was only 43 years old.  “I was raised single-handedly by my Mom,” he said.  “She was my best friend.”  Losing her was devastating.  “After that, moving in with my aunt was my single best option.  I lived with her for five or six years, into my early twenties.”

Unfortunately, Dave’s health started to slowly deteriorate.  He began having severe pain, stiffness, and loss of motion in his neck and back, caused by a degenerative calcification of the spine.  Eventually, he had to start taking pain medication to keep up with the demands of his work.  “That really got my addiction rolling,” he said.  “It’s painful.  Every day is a struggle.”  As his health continued to decline, he needed more and more medication just to function.  

His addiction caused a strain on his relationship with his aunt, and he decided to move out on his own.  They eventually fell out of touch.

“My anxiety was through the roof that day we were going to serve at Arc.  I didn’t know how she was going to respond when she saw me.  But here at the Mission, I’ve learned, as it says in 1 Peter 5:7, to ‘cast all my anxieties upon the Lord.’” 

Dave arrived at Arc Human Services knowing that he could be face to face with his estranged aunt at any moment.  As he was setting up for the meal with the other volunteers, she walked in.  Their eyes met across the room, and they both started to cry.  They ran to meet each other and fell into an embrace. “It was pretty emotional.  We were both crying.  Everybody was crying.  It was like the weight of the world had come off my shoulders.  I was afraid I had burned that bridge forever.”

Dave’s aunt invited him to dinner later that week so they could catch up.  “She was living in fear for me all this time, thinking that she might see my name in the obituaries any day.”  Dave and his aunt now talk on the phone every morning.

After his reunion with his aunt, Dave had the privilege to serve the people that she serves every day.  “It was a blessing to be able to serve them,” he said.  “It was so rewarding to put a smile on their face and to show them that there are people who care.”

“In the past, I would lie to my aunt and tell her I was OK even when I wasn’t,” he said.  “To be able to be completely open and honest with her now is amazing.”       

December 28, 2018
Susan Gartland - Social Media Manager
Sue Gartland
Social Media Manager
Sue has a vast career in gospel rescue missions adding great value to the City Mission team. Sue has been in many roles in the mission and is always filling in where she is needed - which is A LOT!
sgartland@citymission.org

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City Mission Vets Give Back

2nd Annivesrary Crabtree-Kovacicek Veterans House
July 8, 2020

On July 3, City Mission’s Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House celebrated two years of life transformation for homeless veterans. “This house is a testament to what can happen when a group of guys trust and believe in each other and work together to accomplish one another’s goals,” said Steve Adams, City Mission’s Manager of Veterans Services. Since opening its doors in 2018, the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House has helped restore 27 homeless veterans to independent living and helped 33 residents gain sustainable income. Boasting a 74% overall success rate for housing, employment, income, recovery, and spirituality, the Crabtree House is helping to restore hope and confidence for the 22 veterans they serve. City Mission’s program is about veterans helping veterans. The response from local veterans’ organizations who have donated money, clothes, food, and time to the residents has been overwhelming. “The donors have been so generous to this house,” said Tim, an Air Force veteran who came to the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House in October 2018 after breaking his hip. “The amount of donations that come in -- it’s just an overabundance. For me, it’s important to find a good way to give back.” In addition to getting help for our veterans, our residents are also finding ways to give help to other veterans. Every day, they are helping, supporting, and encouraging each other. “Vets are more willing and able to open up to other veterans,” explained Adams. Tim agreed, “It’s a matter of taking an oath and making a commitment. We all held up our end of the bargain for our country. And maybe that’s what sets us apart. An oath really does mean something to each and every one of us.” Veterans helping and supporting each other is key to their recovery. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, “The most effective programs for homeless and at-risk veterans are community-based, nonprofit, “veterans helping veterans” groups. Programs that seem to work best feature transitional housing with the camaraderie of living in structured, substance-free environments with fellow veterans who are succeeding at bettering themselves.” But the veterans in City Mission’s program are also reaching out to the community and giving back. Wendi Kraemer is the President and founder of Angels Journey Home, a rescue shelter for animals. A few years ago, her organization partnered with the Veterans Administration to create the Angels For Everyday Heroes program, which rescues animals, trains them to be service animals, and then connects them with veterans in need all over the country. “There are so many homeless veterans in need,” she said. “So many suffering every day.” Her organization donates to the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House every couple of months. “We’re here for vets,” she said. They were able to donate a nice suit to a resident who said he had never owned one. They even donated special shoes to a resident who suffered with foot pain related to diabetes. Last spring, a small group of residents from the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House went over to Kraemer’s 10-acre facility to give back. “They came and picked up trash, laid mulch all around the property,” Kraemer said. “We have a cat sanctuary, and they helped us out with that. It was great watching them laugh and joke around and just disconnect from their problems.” Joe, an Air Force veteran who came to the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House in April of last year, was there that day, helping to give back. “It was a lot of fun. I love doing that kind of stuff,” he said. Joe replaced some roof boards on the cat sanctuary. Tim helped Kraemer sort through donated pet supplies. Joe and Tim both agreed it felt good to give back to an organization that is doing good in the world. “It’s good to feel productive,” Tim explained. “That’s rewarding in and of itself.”

A New Lease on Life

Resident 'Tim' takes a smoke break
June 12, 2020

“A New Lease on Life” In 2018, Tim, an Air Force veteran, was living in a hotel behind a bar. He had lost his Mom and his job of nearly twenty years in 2010, and his life had been slowly unraveling ever since. “Before I came here,” he said, “there wasn’t a single activity in my life that didn’t involve a drink – even taking a shower.” On July 6, he tripped over a pine root in the dark and broke his hip. “I was intoxicated,” he explained. “I haven’t had a drink since that night. That just woke me up. I firmly believe God laid His hand on me.” That freak accident eventually led him to City Mission, where, in August 2018, after hip surgery and eight weeks in physical therapy, he began the work of healing his mind, body, and spirit. Tim was born and raised in Monongahela. His Dad, who had been a Navy gunner in World War Two, was a crane operator for a steel mill in McKeesport, and his Mom was a Registered Nurse for a local hospital. He spent 12 years in Catholic School and received an excellent education. After graduation, he knew he needed a change of scenery after dabbling with drugs and alcohol his last few years of high school. Also, his dad foresaw the closing of local mills and knew that times would be hard financially in the Mon Valley for years to come, so Tim joined the Air Force, attending Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX. After Basic Training, he trained to be an Air Crew Life Support Specialist. He would pack and maintain emergency items for the flight crew, such as flight helmets and survival kits – a job requiring significant attention to detail. In 1991, several years after leaving the military and returning home to the Mon Valley, he began working as a custodian for a school district in the South Hills, and he worked there for nearly twenty years. “It was the best job I ever had,” he said. “It wasn’t a high-paying job, but I really liked the people I worked with. It was very close-knit. And it was something different every day. It was the only job I ever had when I didn’t dread going to work.” Then in 2003, his drinking started to become more and more of a problem. “It was my own fault,” he said. “I can’t blame anyone but myself.” In 2010, he went to rehab, but he couldn’t complete the outpatient part of the program, because his mother, who had been ill, passed away. Completing the program was a requirement for returning to work, so he lost his job. Devastated, he moved to Oklahoma with his sister just to get away and start fresh, but that only lasted a few years. “This is home,” he explained. “The roots are sunk deep.” He moved back to the Mon Valley, but with his family all gone, he had nowhere to stay, so he lived for the next five years in a hotel behind a bar until the night he fell and broke his hip. He came to City Mission in August of 2018 and then moved into the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House that October. “This place affords you all the opportunities you need to heal,” he said. “It’s not a homeless shelter in the way you think. They offer career placement and medical care and classes. It’s a place to heal your mind, body, and spirit. When you heal physically, it helps with your recovery, and that helps you re-establish your relationship with Christ. And you’re just a walking shell unless you have a relationship with Christ. Mind, body, and spirit -- they all three mesh together.” “City Mission gave me a sense of self-worth and put me back in touch with the Lord,” he added. “Knowing that I could be of service is important to me. I just want to do something positive, effect positive change, and I know I’ve made positive contributions here.” “At the Crabtree House, we have confidence and self-respect. Perhaps it’s from our military experience. We’re all brother veterans, all working together for the betterment of all. I’m grateful to be able to have a sense of pride in something. And we take pride in that house.” “Thanks for saving my life,” he said to all the staff at City Mission. “For giving me a new lease on life.”