Pops is a 70-year-old former heroin addict, bank robber, and drug dealer. He was once considered so dangerous and mean, the gangs along the U.S. border with Mexico nicknamed him “El Diablo” — The Devil. For 30 years, he also dealt drugs and death on the streets of Los Angeles. But he came to Union Rescue Mission in 2009, a decision that transformed his life. We originally published his story in February 2012. But that was just the beginning of his remarkable new life . . .
It’s a beautiful day in MacArthur Park and Pops is enjoying a stroll through the area. After kicking a 50-year heroin addiction at Union Rescue Mission in 2009, he’s determined to enjoy every moment of his new life.
Suddenly he overhears two youths talking about drugs. “You boys addicts, huh?” Pops says. “What of it?” they reply. Pops shows them his heavily scarred arms . . . Continue reading
“Wait till you see my feet… you won’t be smiling no more!” the man chuckled with his lips curling into a smile.
The wrinkles on his face betrayed his young age. The volunteer laughed warmly as she started to remove his discolored, worn-down sneakers — if you could call them shoes. Beyond broken in, the darkly crusted laces puffed out a cloud of dust as she began to untie them.
She pulls off his grey socks — once white — and she carefully places his feet into the washing bin. He flinches, unused to the touch of clean water swell around his toes, but finally begins to relax — restfully placing his interlocked fingers onto his belly.
Armed with gloves, soap, and a lot of love, she gently washes away weeks — maybe even months — of grime and grit. There isn’t any hesitation in her motions as she calmly continues to pour pitchers of water over the crooks and crannies of his feet. Focused, her eyes gleam with grace the stranger in front of her is probably not used to. Grace on Skid Row is always at a premium.
They continue to engage in conversation as she dries his feet off with a fresh towel. This was her first time volunteering at the Mission and he has been around Skid Row for one too many nights. If you had removed the wash bin, you would have thought they’d been friends for ages — the authentic tone in their voices erased the reality of the circumstances.
“Can I pray for you?” she asks.
He shyly mumbles some words I couldn’t overhear, and it was probably for the best — sacred moment are better left untainted. She lifts up some words of prayer and stands to retrieve one of the UCLA podiatrists on call. Equally as friendly as the volunteer, the physician and the supporting medical students begin to ask questions to ascertain the overall health of the man’s feet.
While running through a battery of different tests, the medical students offer the man useful tips on how he can maintain better foot health. With each piece of advice, his furrowed brow lifts with more and more understanding. They offer fresh new socks — a luxury — and direct him to the section where he would be given new shoes.
Many of these unique stations were trickled around our parking lot, as our Thanksgiving Outreach tries to give those living on the dangerous streets of Skid Row a comprehensive list of items necessary to get through another day. To the left of the foot washing station, other volunteers were handing out toiletries — shampoo, toothpaste, and the like, much to the delight of those in line.
For those needing legal counsel, a group from Loyola Marymount University set up a booth to hear the struggles of the homeless with so little hope left in their pockets. The lawyers-turned-listeners each carried a packet of tissues, as tears would frequently roll down the faces of those airing out their troubles. The lawyers repay those tears with hope and many left those tables with a definite change in their countenance. Someone had heard their story, and they were equipped with the knowledge to do something about it.
A Persian group from Palos Verdes was eager to serve Skid Row’s denizens a filling meal of chicken, salad, and fruit. Like clockwork, this group would take the meal ticket provided to each person in line and produced a box filled to the brim with food, sending a few back inside to reload when needed.
Today was not the day people would go hungry.
As the event was coming to a close, I couldn’t help but notice the booth at the center of our parking lot. Sitting behind the table sat two men, twirling pencils in their hands. In front of them were stacks of blank papers accompanied with the sign — Cartoons.
They had spent the whole morning volunteering their time drawing caricatures of anyone who would want one. Young and old would line up, and each would seek me out to take their picture — to capture a screenshot of their joy. Sometimes it isn’t enough to just give people “necessities”, but giving them something as superfluous as a caricature goes a long way.
Something about offering your gifts, whether if it’s legal advice, medical work, cartooning, or even just giving up your Saturday morning, made me contemplate the true meaning of being thankful. And much of that was present — thankfulness was present in the servants and the served.
None of this work would be possible without the good work and donations that people like you cheerfully give to Union Rescue Mission. This day was just one of 365 days that helps make the Mission a light in the darkness.
“Hey, this guy is on Facebook!”
“That’s his job, Deshay”
And that’s how my first experience at the teen LifeSkills class began. I had tried to blend into the background, to be an invisible observer, but that just wasn’t an option. On Monday nights, everyone participates—everyone is part of the group.
These Life Skills Classes have been going on for almost three years—this particular one was class #126. Christopher Kai (an entrepreneur among many other things) is the lead volunteer, and has devoted every Monday night (sans holidays) to enrich the lives of the teens at the Mission. Each lesson encourages, inspires, and teaches the students how to work toward their dreams. He also has an awesome and diverse group of volunteer mentors: a former marine, an preschool teacher, a wealth manager, a model/photographer, and a ballerina.
From the moment the door opened up you could feel the excitement emanating from the teens. As they entered the room, their faces would light up—one right after the next. You could definitely tell this class was one of the highlights of their week, a place of retreat from the monotony of Mission life. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Chris approach all of the first timers and make an effort to memorize all of their names. Impressive indeed.
Today’s meeting revolved around the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech”.
“We are each made exactly 99.6% the same,” Chris explained as he pointed to individuals in the group. He continued on how MLK fought for civil rights and how it’s significance in history affected not only those in America, but to all people worldwide.
We were then broken up into three groups in a little exercise to the roof.
Each group was given a mentor and instructions on how to tackle the flights of stairs before us. The first group would ascend to the top by skipping as many steps as possible, the second would skip every other step, and finally the third would take every step.
When all of us finally reached the rooftop we regrouped under the cityscape of downtown LA. The exercise was designed to show that whether we are skipping steps or taking our time with each individual stair, we are all on our individual journey. All we needed to focus on is our dreams and the goals we needed to set to get there.
If anyone is interested in volunteering, please visit: www.fb.com/mondaysatthemission or email Christopher Kai directly at Chris@christopherkai.com
Last Wednesday, Union Rescue Mission had over 20 tons of snow blanket our San Julian parking lot for our annual Christmas in July event. Children from URM and our Hope Gardens Family Center got to experience a winter wonderland set up by our friends at Subway. Many of our staff channelled their inner child to jump on in. Even our CEO, Andy Bales, got to join in on the fun, walking boot and all!
For many of the children, this would be the first time they would be able to see actual snow. The joy of being able to reach down and carefully palm the icy coldness into a ball and then watch it soar through the air is something you could never really explain in words or in pictures. It is meant to be experienced.
As is the feeling of getting one thrown right at you.
Rounding out the festivities were carnival games—basketball hoops, dunk tank, ball throw, and cotton candy and kettle corn booths operated by our awesome volunteers. Finally, we raffled off some great prizes with “Summer Santa” making an appearance!
We’d like to thank Subway for sponsoring this event and suppling all of the guests with a catered Subway Sandwich lunch!
Last Wednesday was amazing!
2013’s Heroes for Hope Fundraising Luncheon at the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels was a resounding success! We hold this event annually to celebrate those who sow into the Union Rescue Mission, whether it is their time, their talents, or their treasure. We especially want to highlight the contributions of Richard Rozman and the members of Pacific Coast Church, both who received our Heroes for Hope award for this year.
Richard Rozman has been a faithful donor, friend and volunteer of Union Rescue Mission for over 10 years. He literally walks the walk; as he has been serving in our kitchen, providing gifts to our guests during Christmas-time, sponsoring numerous events, and organizing volunteers for community service projects.
After hearing his personal story, it really is simple to pin-point why he is so passionate about those experiencing homelessness. His father was homeless during the Great Depression and when he later owned his own service station, he would employ local men who were down on their luck. Richard Rozman was raised with that same spirit of compassion and it now flows out of his lifestyle of giving.
The Pacific Coast Church congregation and URM have recently begun a relationship that we hope will continue many years down the line. At the Luncheon, Pastor Dan explained his first experience at URM was when he got the chance to preach at our chapels while still attending Bible college. He had always wanted to reconnect with the mission, and the union between his church and the Union Rescue Mission took life when the Iron Man Conference was launched last October.
The event made such an impact on both our guests and members of PCC, it was only natural that our partnership would continue to grow and flourish. To date, there are more than 30 men from Pacific Coast Church who have joined the mentor program and are working alongside our Chaplains to help facilitate the life transformation in the lives of the mission’s guests.
The Union Rescue Mission is truly honored to serve alongside both Richard Rozman, the members of the Pacific Coast Church and many more.
The Women’s Group of Faith Community in Covina hosted a wonderful Kids Party on Saturday for all the children, and their families, at URM!
The gym was transformed into a fun zone, with games, music, free-throw contests, photo booths, hoola hooping, face painting and more! The kids had a blast, and didn’t want it to end. The ladies of Faith Community generously supplied everyone with pizzas for lunch, which was a great ending to a great morning of fun.
Thanks to Faith Community and everyone who made this escape from life on Skid Row possible for our kids!
Last night, we were honored to have members of the UCLA Football team come to URM to spend some fun time with our kids!
Everyone enjoyed the time of hanging out, playing games, and getting to know the players. Thanks so much to UCLA and the team for sharing their time and brightening the day for many kids!
This week, we have had the pleasure of having the 8th grade class from Foothills Christian Church volunteer. The volunteering is part of a 7- year tradition the school has set up; each year, the 8th grade class completes a unit on Homelessness in America. At the end of the unit, they are able to come down to Union Rescue Mission to experience serving and see first hand many of the issues they have been learning about.
We are very grateful for all the students and their hard work this week – not only have they been a tremendous help with kitchen work and laundry, but they have brought smiles and laughter to many of the guests!