Knowledge is Power

City Mission staff Brianna Kadlecik and GED Students

City Mission Residents Pursue GED

“You can’t do anything without a GED or a diploma,” said Mandy, a current City Mission resident who is studying for her General Educational Development(GED) exams at the Mission’s Career Training and Education Center.  “There were jobs I really wanted. They’d tell me, ‘Get your GED and call us back.’”

According to Kaplan Test Prep, “People with a high school equivalency diploma earn an average of $9,000 more per year than people without an equivalency diploma.”

Mandy dropped out of high school nearly two decades ago.  She started working toward her GED multiple times since then but was never able to stick with it until coming to City Mission in December.  She has been studying four days a week, three hours a day for the past six months and has been able to pass three of the four tests required to earn her diploma.  She plans to take the math exam in mid or late August.  

“When I passed that first test, I couldn’t believe I made it that far,”she added.  ““Everybody here at the Mission was just as excited about it as I was. The staff here in this place encourage you every step of the way – even when you mess up.  They tell me I can be more, and I’m starting to finally feel that way about myself now too.  I have a great feeling in my heart right now.”

Miguel grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico. “In my household, we didn’t have a lot of money,” he said.  “And there was a lot of drugs and violence.”  When Miguel, who was raised by his grandparents, turned 12, his grandma got sick, and his family moved to the United States in search of better healthcare.  For Miguel, it was exciting at first, but unfortunately, his family moved into a worse situation, with even more drugs and violence.

“I lived in a drug-infested neighborhood in North Philadelphia,” he explained.  It wasn’t long before he started hanging out with the wrong people in the wrong places.  He became addicted to drugs.  He dropped out of high school and ended up living on the streets of Philadelphia. “I didn’t even know the language back then,” he said.  Eventually, he learned English by reading the Bible, but it has been a lifelong process.  

Miguel came to City Mission six months ago, and he has been working on his GED since April.  He loves learning about history, specifically ancient civilizations, because he believes it gives you an understanding of how societies were formed and why things are the way they are.

In the future, he hopes to study drug and alcohol counseling or further his trade, studying painting or welding.  “I don’t want to just survive,” he explained.  “I want to live.  I want to open the doors to a job that I love.”

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.”  

Kadlecik has had the opportunity to work 1-on-1 with Mandy and Miguel and other residents pursuing their GED. “It’s been a blast getting to do GED tutoring with them during the recent lockdown,” she said.  “The best part is all the 1-on-1 time.  The lockdown stopped everything else for me, and I’ve really been able to focus on training and education.”

In the process, she has learned a lot about the GED exams and the challenges involved with studying for them. There is a cost associated with the GED, and taking preparatory classes can also be expensive and time-consuming. The exams themselves are not easy and require significant time and commitment to prepare.      

“It’s not enough just to do it by themselves.  You really do need someone working alongside you,” explained Kadlecik.  “You have to learn to work independently but you also have to ask for help when you need it.  It takes hours and hours and months and months.”

The discipline, dedication, humility to ask for help, and the goal-driven focus it takes to successfully pursue your GED are all invaluable skills for achieving recovery and independence.  And the self-confidence that grows and blossoms throughout the process helps residents build a brighter future.

“My kids are proud of me,” said Mandy, whose three children live with her mom and step dad in York County.  “That’s the biggest thing for me.  My oldest son,he can tell how far I’ve come.”

A few years ago, Mandy was introduced to heroin.  Within a year, she lost her home and sold her car to get high.  Eventually, she relinquished custody of her children to her mom and started living in a car in the woods.  Last year, she overdosed and came to on the floor, looking up at a woman who told her if she hadn’t come to,she was about to drag her out to the woods to die.

“That terrified me,” Mandy said. “I started bawling.  All that flashed before me was my kids.  I kept thinking that that’s all I would have left them. Overdosed on drugs and left in the woods to die when I should have been fighting for them.”

“After a lifetime of being told I would never amount to anything and feeling like I could never do what other people did,” she added, “as I get further into this program, I just keep getting more excited!  I’m finally starting to think more about what I can do instead of what I can’t do.”

Your generous donations are helping Mandy and Miguel overcome barriers to their education.  You are changing lives.  And you can continue helping them and other City Mission residents along their journey to independence and life-transformation by donating at  

July 24, 2020
Gary Porter - Communications Manager
Gary Porter
Communications Manager
Gary has been with the mission since 2017. He writes many of our resident stories, getting to know many of them and seeing their transformations at the mission from the start.

Recent Articles

Life Changing Call

September 10, 2020

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.”

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.”