We've just completed fiscal year 2013/2014 at Union Rescue Mission and when I say “we”, I mean you and all of our partners, providing the resources, lifting us up in prayer, joining our volunteer team, and spreading the word of the excellent life changing work happening here on the streets of Skid Row as well as out at our Hope Gardens Family Center in the Valley.
These are some of the accomplishments your gifts made possible this past year:
• Grew and strengthened our Jobs program for graduates & guests at URM
• Established a Thrift Store (opening soon) as the first of several social enterprises we will use to train grads, hire grads, and provide a sustainable income for URM
• Installed Air Conditioning for URM guests for 1st time in 20 years in new building
• Doubled Return on Investment for URM fundraising events
• Completed renovation and opened up Concord building at Hope Gardens Family Center which significantly increased our capacity to help families in need
• Substantially increased URM Cash Reserves
• Hired two instructors for our Learning Center and obtained a grant from The LA Dodgers to upgrade computers and “Dodgerize” this important area of our program
These accomplishments, along with our everyday work of housing nearly 800 precious souls and serving over 2000 meals per day, would not be possible without your active involvement, participation, and sacrificial financial gifts. Thank you!
This is what makes me excited about the future, knowing you and Our Lord stand with us as we take on what seems to be an impossible task. The task of caring for and reaching many whom the world has cast off. One of our chaplains, John Russell, preached in chapel recently that the kingdom of God is like a shade tree, a big shade tree that invites people forgotten by the rest of the world into the shade. I realized as he shared that this is URM, a big shade tree that invites the least and the lost of this world back into the shade, into a loving environment, into a life changing environment. Thanks for making this work possible!
After 123 years of faithful service, we are not finished providing that shade, in fact, we are just beginning! Our overarching goal for the next 3 to 5 years is to: Decentralize Skid Row by expanding our services in outlying communities while measuring and sharing the outcomes of our life transforming work.
Specific plans for the coming year include:
• Strengthen our team by providing appropriate staff pay increases for the 1st time since the Great Recession.
• In an effort to decentralize services we hope to reach a capacity of 80% downtown, while reaching a capacity of 95% at Hope Gardens Family Center.
• In an effort to look after children until they graduate from high school and move to college, we are investigating long-term restorative housing for families who after graduating Hope Gardens do not have the means to move on their own.
• We will partner with Biola Professors to better measure and improve life transformation among our program participants.
• In an effort to further strengthen recovery we are investigating an offsite men’s and women’s recovery program. I believe we will soon have the means to make this a reality, possibly in fiscal year 2015/2016.
• We will continue to build our network by adding at least 1 key partner, like the incredible partnership with Pacific Coast Church of San Clemente, which mentors our men in recovery and holds Iron Man Conferences here at URM. We may enter into a local partnership with PCC helping them and another church establish a shelter in Dana Point in the future.
• We will establish partnerships with churches/agencies to engage neighborhoods which are producing most of our guests and the people on Skid Row. We want to strengthen young people and families, help them develop resilience to homelessness, to stem the flow into Skid Row.
• We will open our 1st URM Thrift Store in Covina in 6 weeks to train and hire graduates and provide a sustaining income for URM. We are hoping to find adjacent housing for our URM and Hope Gardens graduates who will be employed at The Thrift Store
• We will launch a race/walk to raise awareness and funds to alleviate homelessness.
• We will build reserves to 3 months of operating, and begin Phase 1 of a Capital Campaign to make improvements, i.e. new elevators downtown, and pay off mortgage of Hope Gardens. Though we plan to just begin this in fiscal year 2014/1015, my hope and belief is that this may be accomplished by fiscal year end 2015, and no later than fiscal year end 2016.
These are some planned bold steps, as we maintain our vital work on the streets of Skid Row while branching out into uncharted territory, but we know our God is faithful, and we know you will continue to stand with us as a vital partner.
We know none of our work could be accomplished without our Lord’s blessing and your generous gifts of love. Could you give your stamp of approval and your willingness to be part of the team that makes this happen by providing a generous financial gift today?
Culinary school taught me how to create good food,” says Darren, the 49-year-old lead cook at Union Rescue Mission. “But the one thing they couldn't teach me was how to make soul food. I don’t mean African-American cuisine — I mean food cooked with love. My mom taught me how to do that.”
Over the past year, Darren has helped serve more than 1,300 meals a day to hungry guests on Skid Row, and every meal is served with passion, love, and compassion.
“I love to serve,” he says. “It comes from my upbringing. Our house was always the go-to house for the less-fortunate kids in our neighborhood. Mom taught me that food is a ministry.”
Last year, when Darren found himself out of a job, he found an opening at Union Rescue Mission that combined his two greatest passions — serving food and ministry to hurting people.
“When I first saw what’s happening on Skid Row, I was stoked,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, you mean to tell me I can get paid to cook AND serve these people? You’ve got to be kidding! I love every minute of this.”
Each morning when Darren arrives in the kitchen, he starts with a five-minute cry for the people he’ll serve that day, followed by the theme song from Rocky for inspiration and prayer with his staff.
“I love people on Skid Row,” he says. “I want to serve them the best meal I possibly can. And that’s soul food. Food made with love. And I tell you, every day I see miracles in this place.”
But Darren says the greatest miracle he’s witnessed was serving almost 4,000 meals at URM’s Thanksgiving celebration last year.
“I think I worked 85 hours the week before Thanksgiving, just to get everything ready. We had no idea where we were going to get all the food,” he recalls. “But just like Jesus when He miraculously fed 4,000 people, we found it. I worked 15 hours straight on Thanksgiving, but it only felt like three.”
Darren says his greatest reward is seeing people blessed by the food he serves. “Nothing’s more important to me than the people we serve who've come here to put their lives back together,” he says. “Working here is one of the highlights of my life, to get paid to work on Skid Row and serve soul food to these special people — and serve it with everything I got.”
Aaron Valencia's story started a lot like a lot of stories we hear at the Mission. His dad slipped out when he was a kid, and at an early age he was a victim of child abuse, and exposed to meth and heroin.
By age 15 he got kicked out of his house - strung out on drugs. The vicious cycle continued till he was about 19, where he decided he was sleeping at a park one last time. He awoke facing a liquor store he had just robbed and was nearby the local police station. If he could make it out of this situation he swore he would to go to rehab.
Once a junkie always a junkie - or that's what he thought. He never met anyone that had actually gone through rehab. But one day, sitting on a bus stop, he made contact with a man who had gotten help from a rehab center in Norwalk. He wrote down the name and headed over - changing how the rest of his life would play out.
Initially, Aaron planned to get clean so he could get back to a healthy weight, but something clicked for him while he was there. He would leave the world of drugs, and eventually homelessness behind.
Through hard work and perseverance, Aaron has now become a custom car builder/humanitarian and founded the “Lost Angels Children’s Project” which focuses on children and youth experiencing homelessness. Earlier this year, he decided he wanted to create a car project to give back to the children struggling on Skid Row. He started researching online and found that Union Rescue Mission's goals and his were one and the same.
"The kids [of alcoholics and drug users] tend to have it the worst... my program is to try and make the time that they are in [URM's] care the best possible."
Aaron is building a 1931 Ford Roadster that will be given away on August 30, 2014 at the 2014 Ventura County Fair/Ventura Nationals Hot Rods & Motorcycle Show. (Please see the attached flyer and photos) He is selling tickets for only $20 each with a goal of raising $50,000 and donating 50% to URM and the other 50% to the Grace Resource Center.
Tickets are being sold at several locations (please see below), and URM's Christine Calderon (CCalderon@urm.org) is selling some as well.
It’s preferred that the winner or representative be present during the give away. If winner is not present Aaron will continue to contact the winner by phone, email and social media for the next 3 days to claim the prize!
-BURBANK - 8 BALL GALLERY, 3424 W. MAGNOLIA BLVD
-ORANGE - SO CAL MERCEDES PARTS 1436 MANZANITA ST
-SANTA ANA - TRES NOIR 3617 W MACARTHUR BLVD #505
-LONG BEACH - SYNDICATE BARBER SHOP 2749 E BROADWAY
-TORRANCE - STARLITE ROD & KUSTOM 1407 CARSON ST
-DOWN TOWN LA - ANGELOS BARBER SHOP 515 S OLIVE ST, # A
-STUDIO CITY - DOLOROSA TATTOO 11930 VENTURA BLVD
-SANTA CLARITA - ETERNAL ART TATTOO 18436 SIERRA HWY
-VENTURA - DEXTERS CAMERA 5N PACIFIC AVE
-VENTURA - NOBLE FAB 37 MCFARLANE ST
-VENTURA - VENTURA PICTURE FRAMING 3954 E MAIN ST
-EL CAJON - SOCAL SUSPENSION 275 N MARSHALL AVE