Earlier this March, 21 Bay Area Rescue Mission graduates received their “discipleship program” completion certificates at Richmond’s Community Alliance Church. Each of the 17 men and four women finished a yearlong program designed to aid them in their fight against addiction, poverty or homelessness.
“Graduations are always a great time because they’re a celebration of lives that have been transformed. You get to hear the stories of the folks who came in–just hear them talk about their journey and where they’re going from there,” said Tim Hammack, the vice president of programs for the Bay Area Rescue Mission.
The Richmond-based nonprofit Christian organization, founded in 1965 by the late general contractor Larry Wattell, seeks to help men—and, in a separate facility on the same grounds, women and children—work to become self-sufficient individuals. That help either comes through their emergency shelter, which provides a meal, chapel time, and a bed for the evening, or through a long-term residential assistance program.
The assistance program, Hammack said, is separated into two parts—one for men and one for women and children—that teach life management skills such as budgeting and balancing checkbooks; offer counseling and spiritual guidance; give job placement advice; and help people obtain their high school General Education Development (GED) certificates through local community colleges. Tailor-made courses for each person to address their particular struggles were added to their course loads too, he said.
The program’s first phase, which Hammack refers to as “stabilization,” lets newly-joined members take a breather from the circumstances that led to their poverty or dependency on substances or alcohol. They enter the shelter and provide their personal information before meeting with the Bay Area Rescue Mission team to create a plan to tackle their issues.
In the second phase, which Hammack refers to as “new life,” the client and the team assesses what problems stopped them from getting back on their feet and what steps they’d need to take to combat them.
In the third section, called “overcomer,” people focus on making their dreams a reality with support from the team. For some, that includes taking DUI classes in order to get a driver’s license back or working through legal and financial matters like owing child support or money to the IRS.
In the last phase, which Hammack refers to as “victory,” members create an exit strategy for reentering the world independently, although the group offers participants further assistance with transitional living by providing temporary housing or helping people pay their rent, as well as teaching money-saving strategies, and helping people develop transportation plans while taking part in vocational training opportunities.
James, a 26-year-old former Marine who graduated from the program this March, said that through completing the program he gained a sense of accomplishment—he’d set his mind on using the 52 weeks to help overcome his dependency on drugs and alcohol. He said was having a hard time with issues pertaining to his marriage and, later, being discharged from the military. He said he was determined not to let himself down.
“I was always told at a young age that if you accept failure, you’ve already lost the battle,” said James.
(Richmond Confidential will use only the first names of recent graduates to protect their identities.)
“I knew before I came to the mission that I needed anger management,” said graduate Erica, 31. “I came to the mission, I was blessed to have those classes already here in the same roof.”
Erica said she lived with her mother after returning from Paris, France, with her two daughters. She said one of her girls died from pneumonia and the other needed assistance with her behavioral issues and disabilities—and Erica said she needed help dealing with her own temper and ego. One day, she and her mother got into what Erica described as “an altercation” which resulted in her entering the program via a police escort.
Watching people from different walks of life take the time to rebuild themselves as they made their way through the program was awe-inspiring, said program project manager Carey Kachurka. “I’ve seen people that we’ve worked with that came in our doors broken and without hope. Finding that hope, that hope in Christ, has changed their lives and helped them succeed,” said Kachurka.
Andy, who graduated this March, worked in the mission’s warehouse and then its kitchen before landing in his current position as part of its security staff. The 41-year-old said drug and alcohol abuse coupled with trouble with the law brought him to the mission, and he enjoyed what his roles enable him to do: “Stay busy, help people out, help out the community, give out food, and distribute food to other places that the mission helps out, too.”
The Bay Area Rescue Mission students weren’t the only ones benefiting from the program, said Kathleen Suduth, the program’s interim manager. “This program isn’t one-sided. Yes, we’re here for the women, children and men, but we also go through the program learning a lot as well. We learn from their lives and how to approach the next person who comes in with a similar situation,” she said.
Now that they have graduated, this year’s participants are planning for what comes next. Andy intends to complete a job training program in order to go back to full-time welding and mechanic work. James wants to become a registered nurse but needs to find a school via vocational rehabilitation first. Erica is excited about starting school this coming fall and, later, becoming a behavioral specialist.
Suduth wasn’t surprised to hear about everyone’s prospective plans and said she’s always believed whenever a person accomplishes anything, they will hunger to continue achieving. She said she also expects the feeling to keep them moving forward.
“Once you graduate, your life is not ended. You’ve got to continue to go on and strive to do those things that are right and honoring and at God’s side, as well as society. Everyone’s life changes for the good or for the bad, and our goal is to give them good principles—Christian principles—that will help them in their success in life,” said Suduth. “That’s what the ministry is all about.”