First published in "her Magazine", June 2016 edition. It’s hard to miss the Valley Rescue Mission this time of year as you drive down Second Avenue. The fresh flowers, locally grown and cared for by the men at the Crossroads Addiction Recovery Program, are strategically and colorfully arranged outside the Mission’s main entrance and the sales tent is manned by the men who grew them. But outside of the flowers sold in the spring, the retail stores, and maybe knowing about about the resources offered to the homeless, what do you really know about The Valley Rescue Mission?
Taken from their website: “Founded in 1963, a group of Christian businessmen in the Chattahoochee Valley saw a need in the community to help the numerous homeless and addicted men on the streets. These men put together a plan to start a rescue mission. With a vision, faith, and help from the community, an old church and three shotgun houses were purchased on Second Avenue in Columbus, Georgia. On September 6, 1963 Valley Rescue Mission, Inc. became a fulfilled vision and the first and only rescue mission in the Chattahoochee Valley.” Today, The Valley Rescue Mission serves men, women, and children through shelters, addiction recovery programs, meals, utility expense assistance, a children’s camp, spiritual counseling and retail stores.
Mitzi Oxford, Development Director for The Valley Rescue Mission, has been sharing the story of the Mission for the last two years. “I think God put me here for a reason. I worked in television for many years, and through television, I developed the tools I needed to be able to tell this story, which is a particularly special blessing.” Mitzi says that before coming to work for The Mission, she didn’t have a background or have an understanding of the culture of homelessness or addiction recovery or any of the things that are a part of the various ministries that The Valley Rescue Mission offers. And yet, two years later, it is obvious that Ms. Oxford is deeply invested in the values and mission of the Valley Rescue Mission.
“At Damascus Way, our women’s shelter and addiction recovery program, we turn down over 100 women and children each month,” says Oxford. “That keeps me awake at night. That is unacceptable in our community or anywhere really.” Women suffering from abusive relationships, they come with children in the middle of the night because they have been put in a position where they have nowhere else to go. “We may have to turn them away long term, but we will put sleeping bags wherever there is room until we can find a place for them somewhere else and get them something to eat.” “Recently, one of the women in the addiction recovery program graduated from the program and we were able to help her get her daughter back. We were able to help her get the necessary paperwork to go back to college. And that will help her follow her dreams and support her daughter. If she had not come to Damascus Way, if someone had not put their arms around her and made her feel cared for and wanted, she may not have made it.”
When it comes to homelessness, Ms. Oxford thinks we have it all wrong. “When people drive by and see the masses of homeless people gathered outside our door, they might think ‘Well, those people are just lazy and they don’t want to have a different lifestyle’. I’ve talked to these people. They don’t want to be here. It embarrasses them. Nobody, I don’t think, wakes up one day and says ‘I think I’ll be homeless.’ People don’t think that way. Most aren’t raised that way. I have seen grown men come in here and cry because they are now in a position that they have to ask for a meal or a place to sleep. But they just need a helping hand.” Oxford continues, “A lot of times, when you are struggling with homelessness or addiction, and so often those go hand in hand, you sort of become invisible. You have probably passed by someone you know is homeless or possibly on some sort of narcotic and the natural inclination is to think ‘That’s not my problem. Someone else will take care of that.’ There is not a soul who knows what tomorrow brings. You could lose your job, suffer a major medical trauma, sometimes those two things happen at the same time. Where does that leave people?” She pauses. “Well, that leads a lot of people to the doors of the Valley Rescue Mission.
The Valley Rescue Mission is gearing up for Camp Joy, the summer program for children which serves children ages 7-11. “This year,” Oxford says, “we featured the story of a little boy who was able to attend for one year before he aged out. He loved it so much, he was a quiet little boy, but he blossomed at Camp Joy. He memorized the most bible verses and we made a big deal about that. He was so disappointed that he would not be able to attend again, that he wrote this long letter to the camp coordinator and she shared it with all the counselors last summer. She kept it in her pocket as a reminder as to why we do this. Most of the children who attend Camp Joy are inner-city kids. They go up to Camp Joy in Hamilton, Georgia and they get to climb a tree, maybe not a big deal to you and me, but it is to them. They get to see all the stars at night. And they get three meals a day. That’s a biggie. These children are thrilled to pieces that they get to eat three meals a day, because in the summertime a lot of these kids don’t get that.” Mitzi explains that often these children come back several years in a row as campers and then come back as counselors and sometimes, they end up sending their own kids. “Does this program have a life changing effect on each child, maybe not. But we are planting seeds,” Ms. Oxford states. “So many of these children go back into environments that are not stable, but for one week, we are able to care for them 24/7 and that’s a big deal.”
In Columbus, one in five people live below the poverty line. And The Valley Rescue Mission strives to fill the gap where they can. In addition to homeless resources, addiction recovery, and the “loaves and fishes” meal program, Mitzi says that the scope is wide when it comes to all that the Valley Rescue Mission touches in our community and yet, the story is still fresh to many ears. “I think we have to do a better job of connecting the dots here in Columbus as to what all we do here at The Mission,” Oxford says. “When I first came here, I met with a lot of city leaders and just asked them what they knew about The Valley Rescue Mission. It was amazing to me how little people know about what we do.” The Valley Rescue Mission also reaches out to the homeless who may never come to the doors of the Chapel, but tend to live near the river. The Mission takes food, water, blankets, and medical supplies to them and in the process, strives to offer a bit of hope of a better life. In addition, The Valley Rescue Mission is committed to personal development and works with those they serve as they work to go back to school, care for their children, and find work. The Mission also partners with the Pastoral Institute to provide counseling for the children who come through the doors, knowing that their lives are deeply affected by their circumstances.
The Valley Rescue Mission’s mission statement is “To exalt the name of the Lord Jesus Christ through spiritual, educational and charitable means directed toward those in spiritual and economic need.” It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance to be able to tell that the staff (of mostly women) are working hard every day to fulfill that statement but there is great reward in delving deeper into the work being done throughout our community by The Valley Rescue Mission. And as Ms. Oxford pointed out several times, the men, women, and children who are served at The Mission are Columbusites. They are our neighbors. They live on our streets. You may not know their name, but they call this city “home” too. For more information on how you can help our neighbors, visit valleyrescuemission.org or stop by The Valley Rescue Mission on Second Avenue. You’ll be glad you did.