by Tom Sims
When someone spends the night at the Visalia Rescue Mission, that person is not a client or a consumer of services, but an overnight guest. Overnight guests are treated with dignity, respect, and love. That is the mood and attitude of this organization, founded in 1981, to represent the church to the homeless, formerly incarcerated, and people with addictions in Tulare and Kings Counties.
The mission describes itself as “a Christian-based non-profit organization. We serve the local community by providing a homeless shelter for men, women and children. We sleep on average 130 people each night and serve three meals a day, 365 days a year.“ Their mission is “Providing Hope and Restoration through Jesus Christ.” And VRM is true to its mission. These commitments are noted on the VRM website. The VRM strives daily:
• To minister the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
• To serve the total needs of the resident.
• To make disciples in Jesus Christ.
• To prepare residents for return to societal living and become assets to the community.
• To strengthen ties with area evangelical churches and give them opportunities to reach out to the needy on an on-going basis.
• To cooperate with other agencies and organizations (i.e. Tulare County Drug Court, Probation Departments, State Prisons, County Jails) to alleviate hunger, homelessness and substance abuse. This will in no way prohibit or compromise our goal of professing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
• Everything we do at the Visalia Rescue Mission has as its purpose to seek and follow the will of God and honor the name of Jesus Christ.”
Community Development Director, Jessica Van Ginkle, sees the organization as not only a vital part of the community, but as a catalyst for building community between individuals, organizations, businesses, churches, and public entities.
People come together, pool their energy and create excitement. She points to 220 volunteers a week who, among other duties, help to serve 530 meals a week. In the process, they build relationships with the agency, with the guests, and with each other. Relationships are the genius of Visalia Rescue Mission.
Visalia is a small city with a big heart and enough enthusiasm to create an explosion of innovation and energy. By employing the use of social media as well as traditional means of communication, Van Ginkle says that she can rally prayer and action within a very short time. As an example, she cites several occasions when a posting on their Facebook page generated multiple responses within 10-20 minutes.
VRM’s enthusiastic energy for creative action begins with the staff. Executive Director, Danny Little, sets his staff free to dream, innovate, and to be cutting edge. The teamwork approach, which is nurtured in staff devotional times, is foundational to all that happens in the organization. Community partnerships have energized some significant growth in recent months. In addition to the soup kitchen, overnight shelter for men, women, and children, drug and alcohol recovery programs, food boxes, chapel services, and two thrift stores, the mission has recently opened a new transitional living center.
The center is a renovated 4-plex comprised of two-bedroom, one-bath apartments. Each apartment is occupied by two residents and features new floors, cabinets and kitchen appliances. It is part of the mission to transform the lives of people as well as neighborhoods and communities.
The recovery program is for nine months, with multiple stages culminating in an active “after-care” process. Discipleship, life-skills, and job development are integrated into the program. Many graduates return to be volunteers and mentors for others entering the program.
The continuum of services is well-developed and comprehensive. The mission seeks to help people eliminate all obstacle to their success while creating opportunities to move forward. The mission is currently building a new chapel and community center on its campus. The 15,000 foot center will house the worship area, a learning center, and space to develop new ministries. It is a bold undertaking.
At the core of the organization’s success is a board of directors made up of wise members of the public and business community who oversee the policies, strategies, and finances of the mission. VRM has built sustainability into its future with a strong program of integrating earned income with community giving to produce visible results.
As an example of earned income, Simply Chic is located in the shopping district at 100 E. Main Street. It opened in May 2009 as part of the thrift shop, Rescued Treasures, on Mooney Boulevard. Rescued Treasures supports the organization by selling affordable, donated items as thrift store prices. Simply Chic sells name brand and vintage items at greatly reduced costs. They graciously accept donations and are willing to pick up any donations directly from your house or business. Simply give them a call to schedule a free donation pick up. (contact info can be found at the end of this article)
Visalia’s population is growing and changing, according to Jessica Van Ginkle. Visalia Rescue Mission is profoundly involved in that process. In addition to the traditional activities associated with rescue missions, the Mission also has a Feed the Hungry Garden, a gym, and a food and clothing distribution center.
They are also partnering with the City of Visalia to manage a building in Oval Park, which provides influences in a part of the city that has been frequently associated with gangs and drugs. VRM is interjecting the presence of Jesus Christ into that neighborhood. It is about transforming lives and community.
Visalia Rescue Mission is celebrating its 30th anniversary of changing lives this year. There is much to celebrate and much to be done. VRM is positioned to meet the challenge and embrace the future.
Every program is dependent, not only on staff, but on volunteers. The organization says, “we rely heavily on volunteers from our local communities to support our work within a hurting sector of our society.” According to the mission, “We are funded entirely by donations from local churches, businesses and individuals.” To become involved as a volunteer or as a donor, call the mission at 559-733-2231 or email them, firstname.lastname@example.org.