Days 5-7 - Fall 2015 Blanket Drops Tour - HOPE and 640 Blankets, City Rescue Mission Jacksonville

"Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future." Elie Wiesel, a man who experienced and overcame horrific suffering, spoke these words in his Nobel Lecture.

Throughout our trip and since, I kept and now keep being reminded of the power of hope. Certainly all of our nonprofit partners as well as the blankets our customers help us send offer hope to people in need, but this realization goes beyond that. Over the weekend sandwiched in the middle of our trip, Wilder and I were able to visit both coasts of Florida. For most of us, a visit to the beach is a time of relaxation and rejuvenation but for Wilder it represented hope for his future because he wants to work with animals and devours any information or closeness he can get to them. He's not categorized as an "at-risk" youth, but he too has the need for hope in his life, a vision for the future.

Likewise, during our visit on Monday, November 2nd, to our nonprofit partner City Rescue Mission in Jacksonville, we experienced an organization that uses a recipe of generosity, empathy, accountability, and hope to help their clients regain independence. The pictures below tell the story of this multi-faceted organization that serves men, women, and women with children at two primary locations with a variety of services, several which demand high participation and engagement from the individuals served.

Later that week, after our tour had ended, I traveled to Los Angeles. There I had a conversation with a doctor (actually at an event for a foundation that provides scholarships and an annual camp for youth in Romania) regarding his work with inner city youth in Los Angeles and elsewhere. We discussed how his work with communities involves not only helping youth in need connect with a network of ever improving resources but also helping them to expand their horizons and have a vision of what is possible in their lives (e.g. attending an upper echelon university).

All of this reminded me of why I was at the foundation's event in the first place. Ultimately, I had been accepted to volunteer for this foundation because I had spent time living with street people in Romania. Related to hope, during that time, I took three of the individual young men on a short trip to a mountain town to experience life outside of the daily squalor in which they lived. This seemed critical in the journeys of two of them who shortly thereafter found jobs and regained housing.

City Rescue Mission, our other nonprofit partners, and, actually, each one of us in finding our lives' purposes or helping others tap into theirs must access a mosaic of hope that spans the globe. The material things we give to others (in this case 640 blankets thanks to our Florida and Florida State lines) have truly lasting meaning if they are connected to a message of hope. Our customers join us in giving because when others are suffering, we all care. The women and men who comprise our nonprofit partners' staff especially live that message of caring and compassion every day, and we are grateful to be in partnership with them and their organizations.


Almost immediately after we arrived at one of the Venice beaches, Wilder found the large shark tooth on the right. Ironically, it was the largest one either of us found the whole trip. The white one was also the only white one we found. A man we met who was fishing said he had been frequenting the beach for nearly two decades and had never found a single white one!

Wilder searches for more teeth as the sun sets.

We made it up to Jacksonville Beach the night before our meeting, and Wilder tried to dig a trench from a pool of water behind a small sand bar to the ocean.

Before we made it over to City Rescue Mission, we had to stop by EverBank Field, not just because two of our schools (Florida and Georgia) had just squared but also because Wilder's favorite NFL team is the Jacksonville Jaguars (chosen because they're one of his favorite animals).

City Rescue Mission's men's shelter and meal service campus is less than two miles from EverBank Field. After meal service each evening, women and children are bused over to the campus we visited that houses women and children, the mission's administrative offices, various client services, and their drug treatment programs.

Paul Stasi, Director of Resource Development for City Rescue Mission, took us on a tour of the rather expansive campus. Here he shows us one of the rooms where women they serve sleep each evening. They can sleep about 40 single women each evening.

Down the hall, four individual rooms are arranged for mothers with children.

During our tour we met Jaime Davis, Manager of Emergency Services for the City Rescue Mission. Incredibly friendly, she shared with us about some of the joys and challenges she faces in her role. As an interesting note, as part of their life skills acquisition, clients within the program actually help with small renovations on the property. In this room some of them built the wainscoting lining the lower wall behind us.  

Thanks to help from a nearby junior college and seven local dentists, the mission is able to provide dental services for many of its clients. They even have a wall of pictures of clients' mouth makeovers that look incredible. A medical doctor also provides care for residents on a different part of the campus one day each week.

Across the street from the rest of the campus sit a couple of buildings and an adjoining yard where male residents in the LifeBuilders Addiction Recovery program live together in community. Participants are usually introduced to the program at the mission's downtown shelter and then transition to this campus. The program lasts up to 18 months and includes 100 classes, each comprising two hours. According to the mission, 70% of graduates are still gainfully employed and in permanent living situations half a year after graduation compared to a national average of only just over 25%.

The main building houses a similar LifeBuilders program for up to 30 women. Local groups and churches care for and decorate the several shared living spaces throughout the women's living quarters.  

The women are able to enjoy a community area that includes games, books, and workout equipment.

Here is a picture of one of the facility's classrooms where LifeBuilders or other classes take place. Nearby as well, there is a computer lab to assist women in pursuing GEDs, employment, or other personal development.

As a Christ-centered organization, the mission does encourage its residents to attend non-denominational chapel services on its campus.

To further support their residents and develop a long-term support community, City Rescue Mission is in the process of raising funds to renovate 12 houses (an additional one has already been completed) that they will then rent out to graduates of their programs. 

Here is the first home of the 13 that was completed. While residents will work on the renovations of several of the homes, a local builder donated the renovations on this one.

Nick Bundra
Nick Bundra