Mental health services offer hope and healing

Our men’s shelter is often the last safety net for our homeless guests.  They have hit the lowest point in their lives and are there for a reason.  They have a story.   Jason Citty, licensed social worker and addiction specialist, knows this all too well.  He counsels these men several times a week in our shelter, and provides support and guidance so that the men can get back on their feet.

This past year has been unlike any other in recent history.  Those who have shelter, food, and jobs have suffered the effects of covid-19– how much more so have those who experience homelessness and poverty.  Poverty alone creates tremendous stress.  Add to that the isolation covid-19 has produced, and you have a recipe for anxiety, depression and hopelessness.

That’s where Open Door Ministries comes in.  When our guests do not have to worry about their next meal or shelter over their heads, they can focus on their mental health.  Jason uses cognitive behavioral therapy to help the men see things differently.  He says behaviors come from thoughts, and so he encourages them to believe in themselves.  He says if they feel empowered, it goes a long way toward recovery.

Jason spends roughly one hour per week with each shelter guest.  It is immersive, which he says is unique (versus an office environment).  This is their home.

When asked what he would do if he could wave a magic wand, Jason said he would provide work and stable housing for all the men.  He said they thrive most when they have a job, which is empowering and provides the greatest hope.

We are grateful for Jason’s invaluable services to our shelter residents.  When they know they have a friend—someone to talk to and someone to lean on—they can move forward in hope and equipped with skills to carry them through life’s journey.

The most amazing experience of my life

Since 2018 Kierra Lassiter found herself bouncing from place to place, and in 2019 she had a second child.  She was kicked out of her home, tried hotels, and last year was living in her car.  Her children were living with her dad at the time.  Like so many of our clients, Kierra had hit rock bottom. 

Kierra learned about Rapid ReHousing through a friend who benefitted from the program, and though skeptical after so many failed attempts to get back on her feet, she gave it a try.  Tonya Clinard, our Housing Program Manager, and Kendra Brooks, case manager, helped Kierra find a place to live with her children and get a job working from home.  She also received all the items necessary to start a new home: furniture, kitchen supplies, beds, and more. 

With joy and a smile, Kierra shared how amazing the program has been.  “The customer service and hospitality has been incredible.  They aren’t just doing their job—they truly want to help.” Kierra noted that her children (ages one and four) needed toys.  The program provided educational toys for Christmas, and now she says “they love them—my oldest is finally learning his numbers and letters.”

One of Kierra’s goals is to learn to drive.  She is saving to get a car.  Tonya and Kendra work with her on her goals and plans.  This month Kierra will pay her own rent. She has been saving so she can get back on her feet as much as she can.  The ultimate goal is self-sufficiency, and with the help of Rapid ReHousing, Kierra is well on her way. 

“This has been the most amazing experience of my life.”

We Rise

Kevin Mills has been a shelter manager at Open Door Ministries for over 11 years.  Like many of Open Door’s staff, he has a wealth of experience and knowledge to pass along to the men in the shelter.  Kevin has over 30 years of corporate management experience.  He found himself homeless in 2009 after an apartment fire, and like many of our guests, gave back to Open Door by volunteering.  He’s been connected ever since.  Kevin uses his background in finance to help the men with basic life skills—budgeting, credit, and saving money.  He says he’d rather “teach them to fish so that they can eat for a lifetime.”  Kevin works with young men who come from jail or rehab, and asks them three questions: “What have you done, where are you, and where do you want to go?”   He calls himself a tough love guy— “a hug and a kind word go a long way.”  Kevin says he often gives a speech when the guys walk through the door—that Open Door represents a clean slate.  When they tell him they’ve hit rock bottom, Kevin says “Great–you can only go up from here.  Where do you want to start?”  He says with consistent tough love and support, as he earns their trust, they make great strides.  He even gives them his personal cell number.   He recognizes that for many, they just made a bad decision along the way.  They’ve come from the worst possible experiences, straight off the street, and yet they manage to start over.  Kevin says many want to know how they can pay him back, and he tells them “just pay it forward.”    He notes,  “We rise—like the Phoenix out of the ashes—we rise.”

“If you love me, feed my sheep”

Linda Quick was out of work back in 2003 when former board member, Eileen Douglass, told her about Open Door Ministries.  Linda is a long-standing member of Temple Memorial Baptist Church, and has always been very involved in ministry there.  Linda has a heart for serving others.  So, she joined the staff of Open Door Ministries 17 years ago in November.

Linda likes to say that “You never feed without a message.”  And that’s exactly what she has done for all these years in the Father’s Table.  She has seen so many faces —both volunteers and guests alike.  Linda is quick to note that “I could be in their seat next week.”  She is also motivated by the scripture in which Christ says, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”  Linda has been faithful to this calling and says her love for the guests at the shelter motivates her. 

The reality of the hardship in the community hits home often.  On one instance a 14-year old brought two young children, one a baby, to the Father’s Table.  The rule stated that children under 18 years of age could not come without an adult.  It turns out that the 14-year old was the “adult,” trying to find food for the baby who was hungry.  This young person had walked all the way to the shelter.  Linda was greatly moved by this story because “hunger is real.”  She says they go through enough on the outside, and when they come to the Father’s Table, she just wants to show love.  In fact, she emphasizes that “love is colorblind.”

Sometimes Linda must be firm.  There are definite rules in place, such as no profanity.  Respect is always demonstrated.  She noted that the police have never been called while she’s been serving at Open Door.  Linda simply treats others the way she wants to be treated.

The relationships Linda builds last.  She noted that “They get better, and still stop by and report good things.  They tell me ‘You encouraged me when I wanted to give up.’”  She has watched children grow up over the years. 

Linda’s loves to share how God provides.  Once when the power went out, the only thing to be served was sandwiches, and the Father’s Table ran out of bread.  There was a knock on the door, and someone “happened” to be delivering bread. Linda wasn’t surprised—she expects God to show up, and is happy to share his goodness with a smile and a warm heart as she continues to serve in the Father’s Table year after year.

From Prison to Purpose

My name is Ronald Johnson. I was recently released from incarceration on June 1st, 2020. I served a lengthy prison term for various crimes ranging from robbery to assaultive behaviors. My criminal liability spans 2/3 of my life. This made acclimating into mainstream society very difficult to achieve. I consistently felt like the “elephant in the room” around my family. I was spiritually and emotionally bankrupt when I was released back into society. On top of that, my perception of myself was very strewed, leading to morbid and toxic depression. But what ultimately became my life-line, my source of hope, was Open Door Ministries and the staff there. 

Not only was I provided the necessities to gain a solid footing, but I was provided the greatest asset going forward—daily selfless direction by the staff at Open Door. I was given the chance to grow into my new life with their support and encouragement, which helped me see myself differently. This caused me to stop beating myself up for who I had allowed myself to become, someone that was not truly me. I am a friend, a father, and a valuable man in society. 

Today I am not who I was–one placed in a life of crime and self-induced self-destruction. I had not had the opportunity to feel that my growth was possible. Now I know that all I had to do was allow others the chance to help me. And help me they did! They provided me with medical assistance, counseling, and put me in contact with service agencies I needed to get even more help, so that I could rebuild my life.

I come from a childhood background that I feel no one on the planet would volunteer for. It literally was a house of horrors.  Loneliness and feeling unworthy of love were all I experienced.  Today I have a strong support base, full-time employment, and a renewed sense of self. I was given time to heal and to forgive myself for my past deeds and subsequent prison sentences. I feel I am a man of high character and integrity, who has learned to give himself a break. The encouragement from the Executive Director to the volunteers has been a blessing.

When you come from a 20+ year prison sentence like I did, you feel that the staff at institutions will be jaded by the ones who don’t make it. Open Door gave me the tools I needed to succeed. Along with their support, it has been an epic experience!

With my goal of working towards a functional life, I can keep myself balanced, and it encourages the selfless things that have been incorporated in my life by Open Door. I am grateful for this, as it makes me humble and encourages me to match all their support. I now take their suggestions they have offered and pay it forward to the next person.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned while here is that there’s a different choice from who I believed I was. Looking back, I see someone who was trapped in his own self-seeking behaviors, never giving real change a chance to happen. Looking forward, Open Door has restored my faith in people, and myself. My growth as an individual can be directly attributed to the staff here who encouraged me to realize that the face of a miracle looks just like me! And for that, and the little things along the way, I am grateful.