City Mission Vets Give Back
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 over abundance. 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.
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.
“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.”
Life Changing Call
Michael always knew he wanted to go to college. It was his best opportunity to live out a calling to help people. He wanted a job he could be passionate about, one that truly made an impact. But he felt stuck. “He was hoping for a future path that included a career in the medical or counseling field,” explained Colleen Riker, City Mission’s Manager of Medical Services, who worked closely with Michael during his time at the Mission. “His desire was to attend college, but he wasn’t sure that was even a viable option since he was living in a homeless shelter and had no income.” Michael had a very difficult few years. In 2016, he lost a close friend to suicide. “We really didn’t know how he was feeling,” he said of his friend. “I want to be able to help prevent that from happening to someone else.” He even volunteers as a Crisis Counselor for the Crisis Text Line to provide support for those who have lost hope. But his opportunities to help people are limited, and he has long dreamed of earning his degree and becoming a nurse or a social worker. When Michael graduated from Wash High, he began the process of completing his college application, but he hit a roadblock completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). He and his family also had a falling out at that time, which resulted in him getting kicked out of the house. For several years, Michael moved around and hopped from job to job. “I was couch-surfing for a while until I ran out of options,” he explained. When he had exhausted all other options, he made a call to his longtime friend, Brianna Kadlecik, who happened to be the Career Training and Education Center Coordinator at City Mission. “Michael and I met in the youth group for West Washington and Jefferson Avenue United Methodist churches,” Kadlecik explained. “We ended up becoming part of a praise band called the Fools for Christ, where we both sang.” It was a life-changing call for Michael. “I don’t like asking for help,” he said. “I always like to do it myself. When I had to reach out, it was a big step for me.” In May of last year, he moved into City Mission. At first, he was not at all sure that City Mission was the right fit for him. “The first day was really scary,” he said. “There are a lot of people in one room. Disagreements are going to pop up. I tried to stay out of it.” Many of the men around him were much older and in drug and alcohol addiction recovery, which was not one of Michael’s struggles. He felt out of place. “When Michael first came to City Mission in May of 2019, he had a lot of anxiety issues,” said Riker. “But he worked with our Medical Clinic and Drug-Free Pain Management Team to establish a doctor and utilize Alpha-Stim technology to manage his anxiety.” And he managed to stick with the program. He had some meaningful conversations with City Mission staff and his fellow residents, and he eventually decided to stay. “The Mission taught me to not be in a rush, to just let the process work.” He started going to the Career Training and Education Center at the Mission, and he used the computers there to work on his college application. Now that he was living at the Mission, he could complete his FAFSA application form as an independent, and that helped him out tremendously. “We were able to help him finish his application,” said Kadlecik. “This was a barrier that I had seen Michael run up against for years with no hope of getting past it, and It was so rewarding to see him finally get past it. Michael was filled with hope where there had been so much disappointment and frustration.” Kadlecik also helped him write a resume, which eventually helped him get hired at Gabe’s in Washington, where he was able to save up money toward the additional costs of college that his loans would not cover. He was even able to save up enough money to purchase his own vehicle. Then, one day, a letter from California University of Pennsylvania came in the mail at the Mission with Michael’s name on it. “The moment when I was accepted into college, that was a fun moment,” he said. “Everyone was excited!” “There were high-fives and tears of joy when he received his acceptance letter,” said Riker. “Michael was excited when he got the acceptance letter,” remembered Kadlecik. “He made the rounds to all the staff that he’d been working with, and we were all so excited for him. His dream was finally going to become a reality.”
Family homelessness can be devastating and have a lifelong impact on mothers and children, but lives are being transformed at City Mission’s Women with Children Shelter. Kazmiere and her family are living proof of that. “Without the Mission providing me the opportunity to keep my kids, this journey would have never started for me. It means everything to me. I’m forever grateful--for real.”
Knowledge is Power
City Mission’s Career Training and Education Coordinator, Brianna Kadlecik, and volunteer instructor, Dee Dee Zinn, have been working alongside the residents as they pursue their GED, and it has been very rewarding for them to watch the residents learn and grow as people. “It really builds their confidence,” Kadlecik explained. “When everyone is cheering them on, they start to see that they can really do it.”
A New Lease on Life
“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.”
For six months, Randy lived in a tent in the woods. He found a nice spot between two trees. “It was home,” he said. “It kept me warm and dry.” After losing his job, Randy saw a story in the newspaper about Steven Adams, the new Manager of Veterans Services at City Mission.
City Mission Gave Me Hope When I Had No Hope Left
Pete found his way to the Greenbriar Treatment Center - the Lighthouse for Men where he began to learn about recovery. He also learned that he had no-one to count on and nowhere else to go. The staff at Greenbriar referred him to the Washington City Mission. Pete recalls, ‘I came to the City Mission in June of 2014. The first couple of weeks were rocky for me. I was running on self-will. After a few weeks I broke down to the Lord. I needed his help.”
Grateful for Your Kindness
"This place has opened up a whole new world for me! I can’t even count all the blessings. For once in my life I’m stopping and noticing all the blessings all around,” said Amanda, a resident at City Mission’s Women with Children Shelter. Amanda has suffered through ten years of addiction and five years in an abusive relationship. “He shot at me. He tried to stab me,” she explained. “He threw me out of a truck in New York and told me to find my own way home.”
Celebrating Her Blessings
”When she came to City Mission, she was surprised at the feeling of community here. “I’ve been in rehabs and other programs. This is the best one I’ve ever been in. I don’t just feel like another drug addict passing through. It’s different here. It doesn’t address just the addiction. It helps you with your spiritual life. It encompasses everything.
Happy at Last
Since coming to City Mission, Shawn has transformed his life. “I’m getting my mind, body, and soul back,” he said. “This place is definitely a God-send. It’s so peaceful here. For the longest time I didn’t even consider myself a veteran. Now, I’m proud to be a vet. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned here.”
Tonya's Amazing Story of Hope
“It’s amazing here,” Tonya said of City Mission. “I tell a lot of people about this place.” Tonya and her daughter Jariyah,4, moved into the Women with Children Shelter in December of last year. When Tonya, who is originally from Brownsville, finished her program at the halfway house where she was living for six months, she didn’t really want to come to City Mission. She wanted to hurry up and get on with her life and reunite with her two sons who have been living with their Dad for the past three years. But she had nowhere to go except back to her hometown.
A Safe Haven
On Friday, October 25, City Mission celebrates the first anniversary of their Women with Children Shelter. Over the past year, the shelter has become a place of love, security, and encouragement for mothers and children who have nowhere else to go. “The sense of community in the Women with Children Shelter is wonderful,” said Leah Dietrich, City Mission’s Director of Residential Programs. “The kids love having their own space for their family, but they also love playing together. There are best friends in the making all the time. There is a lot of love in that building.”
Walking with the King
Nettie’s addiction started at a young age. “I grew up with structure. But after Mom died, that structure went away. Dad was working in the steel mill and there was no one to watch the kids. That’s when I started getting into trouble,” she explained. “I got involved in drinking at 12 years old"
"Don't Ever Give Up"
Derek came to City Mission on a cold, rainy day last September. He was walking out in the rain, with nowhere to go and no plan for the future. His health was deteriorating rapidly, and the outlook was bleak. Suddenly, a minivan pulled up out of nowhere, and the driver offered him a ride.
A Year of Hope
In the army, Will had a very stressful job, working with explosives. He battled depression and even tried to kill himself, though he does not remember doing it. He was diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and honorably discharged from the Army thinking that his training would gain him a good civilian job. “But I made and detonated bombs in the Army. There’s no steady, civilian job around here like that. I couldn’t get a job, couldn’t provide for my family. All I had to give them was time and energy.”
Finding Hope Again
Richard, a former Marine and Vietnam Veteran was living under a bridge in an empty refrigerator box less than a year ago. "I couldn't find work. I have a disability, high blood pressure and diabetes. I was sick and disheartened, I had lost my faith." A friend introduced him to the Crabtree-Kovacicek Veterans House and since coming to the 22-bed shelter for homeless vets his life has been transformed! You can hear Richard tell his story to Biz'Burgh host John Hall on 101.5 WORD-FM.
Kevin - A Veteran - Is Our New Shift Supervisor
Dr. Michael Crabtree met Kevin only recently, but he’s made a huge difference in Kevin’s life for nearly a year. Kevin, a veteran of the US Navy and the Navy Reserve, was among the very first residents who moved into the Crabtree Kovacicek Veterans House when it opened last July.
Love Thy Neighbor
The Samaritan Care Center is a place where our neighbors in need can come and get food items and clothing vouchers to help them get by, but it’s also so much more than that. Here’s what happened there during a week as told by our Samaritan Care Coordinator, Paul Smith:“A young lady named Cathy came and asked if she could stay here today since she needs somewhere to wait for a friend to come and give her a ride. She told me her story and how she is nearly homeless herself. I was able to give her some advice about who to talk to for housing once she starts working.
YOU are Helping Nikki Make a New Start
Nikki joined our three-week Customer Service and Sales Fundamentals training course and graduated with a certificate from the National Retail Federation. As part of the course, she toured local retail businesses. On the tour at Shop & Save she noticed their bakery, put in an application and was offered a job. She is using her years of experience to decorate specialty cakes and icing donuts and cookies.
From Baseball Star to Prodigal Son
“I had the chance to play with some of the best baseball players in the world,” said Dave,a current City Mission resident. As a teenager, Dave played in the Pony League World Series. In high school, he traveled with an all-star team to compete internationally. “It was an experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “Little kids were actually asking for my autograph.” He even earned a full scholarship to play baseball in college. “I always had a mind for the game,” he explained. “I used to listen to every game on the radio with my Grandpa.”
City Mission Resident Returns Home for the Holidays
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
A Light at the End of the Tunnel
T’kora grew up in Greenwood, SC. “I really didn’t have a childhood,” she explained. “My Dad took that from me. He was very abusive.”At night, her Dad would have his friends over to the house, and he’d make T’kora and her brother, who was 9 months younger, fight for their entertainment. “His friends would yell and scream. They’d throw money at us and make us hurt each other and hit each other. It ruined my relationship with my brother. We can’t even look at each other."
An Amazing Journey
“I’m richer now with nothing than I was when I had everything.” “I’m on an amazing journey right now,” said Ron, a current resident at City Mission. “People here don’t see me as a failure. They look at me like I’m a victor and not a victim. ”Not that long ago, Ron was the General Manager of a car dealership. “I made really good money. I always had a new car to drive, and I was responsible for 87 employees. I’ve been blessed with so many good things in my life, and I’ve ruined them all.
City Mission Residents Go Back to School
On June 11, the City Mission Career Training and Education Center offered a three-week Customer Service and Sales Fundamentals training course. All three students who took the course successfully completed a National Retail Federation exam and attained a certificate that they can now list on their resumes and present to prospective employers. “We’re trying to show our residents that we can be a really great support system for them,” said Brianna Kadlecik, the Vocational Assistant at City Mission’s Career Training and Education Center.
Grateful for a Second Chance
The Crabtree -Kovacicek Veterans House is the best place there could be,” Randy said after a week in his new home. “If you’re really looking for help, you can find it here. I’m grateful to God for giving me a second chance at life. This is an answer to prayer.