Union Rescue Mission 5k Hits Fundraising Goal with Help of ‘Average Joe’

Originally published on Together LA.

Perhaps the success of the Union Rescue Mission’s first 5k Walk fundraiser held on Saturday (June 2, 2018) can not be fully gauged by the half million dollars raised (so far) by hundreds of participants, but by the increased level of community involvement.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
The walk helped the Christian organization that tackles homelessness to move from tapping solely into the rich and famous for funds to inviting the “Average Joe” to be part of the process. A process that includes a leader and partners with epic dreams.

Union Rescue Mission 5k Hits Fundraising Goal with Help of ‘Average Joe’Union Rescue Mission 5kUnion Rescue Mission CEO, Rev. Andrew Bales told Together LA earlier in the week, before the 5k, that the course had to circle LA Live three times rather than having to force businesses on another planned route to shut down for a few hours.

Sponsors at the event’s start and finish line manning booths in between the Staples Center and Microsoft Theater included financial giants like Wells Fargo, Costco, and Herbalife, but there was also a prayer tent hosted by a small Downtown LA church.

A Christian musical group dubbed “The URM Band” led those awaiting the start of the walk in worship and the atmosphere was filled with joy amongst a backdrop of iconic symbols of financial power. The irony was not lost in the small sea of Average Joes.

TLA’s interview with Bales below reveals some of the dynamics of homelessness in the city and the Mission’s plans for the future.

Together LA: Let’s start with the 5K. How did the 5K idea come about?

Rev. Andrew Bales: So the vision I had was while walking from wherever to Skid Row and back. Richard Newcomb, our board member has helped other groups do successful 5Ks. In fact, he does a 5K every year in New Orleans that he does in honor of his dad.

And so years ago, I wanted to do a mud run or something like that and the idea didn’t go over well with our team at that time. But, when Richard came on our board a few years ago and then we had a partner in this idea, we finally had the courage to try to pull it off. So, it really came from Richard and I and his vision for Union Rescue Mission to have a event where the “Average Joe” like us can participate rather than showing up and spending a lot on a ticket to a gala.

TLA: So, prior to this 5K what was your major fundraiser for URM?

Bales: It’s been our Hearts for Hope fundraiser for Hope Gardens, our site for families out in Sylmar. And we did it for many years at the Four Seasons Hotel. [The fundraiser] started as a fashion show and then became like an entertainment night. The last one we had was at the Beverly Hilton and we actually had Angela Bassett as our emcee (or host) for the night.

Our most successful event ever was this Sports LA event at the Hilton three or four years ago where we raised 4.3 million. It wasn’t an URM-hosted event, but we were the beneficiaries. Then, we did our 125th anniversary fall gala at the Beverly Hilton. So, most of our big events have been, you know, kind of expensive.

TLA: If you were to have a dream list fulfilled in regards to your ministry what would that be or what would you like to see happen?

Bales: Well, we’re busy trying to pull off some of our dreams right now. We’re putting up a sprung structure in our back parking lot.

TLA: I’m sorry, what’s a sprung structure?

Bales: A sprung structure is heated and air conditioned and it’s more like a permanent tent. It’s not really tent, but it’s like one of those things that people put up to set up a driving range or you know, or hotel puts out for a reception area.

It’s a inexpensive, quick way to respond to the need and it’s going to be for 136 single ladies, it’s going to be in our back parking lot (in the city) because of what we’re doing. The city was encouraged by the Urban Land Institute to model something like we’re doing and to put four sprung structures in every district, 15 districts of the city. But they’ve chosen only to do one at this point. We hope that by us doing our sprung structure that we inspire others to get to that point where we have four in each district by the end of the year, that we put a roof over 13,000 people. I know we need to do more than that, but, but at least that’s a start.

And then we also are putting up a satellite [facility] in south LA County that’ll be like a mini Union Rescue Mission, about 80,000 square feet for 80 families. It will be for 320 total people, so that people in South LA don’t have to come to Skid Row for help. They can go to South LA. We already have Hope Gardens out in Sylmar for over 60 families, moms and kids, and also 24 senior ladies in permanent supportive housing. And what we want to do is have regionalized services in each area of LA County, decentralize Skid Row so that people in every part of LA County can, you know, if they lose their home, they can go right in their own neighborhood and get help and neighborhoods will help their own neighbors so everybody doesn’t have to come to the mean streets of Skid Row.

Then, I would like to create affordable smaller homes. There is a way to do 3D printing, concrete homes that have a bathroom, kitchen, 660 square feet for $10,000 each. And so I, I’d really like to create some neighborhoods of affordable housing that any income could afford to own. So, those are some of the dreams that we have.

TLA: Where would the land be for the homes?

Bales: We have some land. We have 77 acres out in Sylmar and then we have a donor who has 80 other parcels that I’ve been trying to get a hold of. And then, perhaps we have to go as far as Palmdale and Lancaster. The city owns many parcels of land and the Metro Rail owns lots of land.

Union Rescue Mission 5k Hits Fundraising Goal with Help of ‘Average Joe’ 1TLA: How, how has your relationship been with the city? It must be pretty good.

Bales: Pretty good. However, they can’t fund us. They won’t fund us. City and County won’t fund us because of our faith. But we have helped model what needs to be done. If you were to call the county 211 number and say, “I’m a dad and mom with three kids,” they’d say the only place to go is Union Rescue Mission. So, they know what we do and respect us and count on us to come through. We never turn away a family with children who comes through our door. We never turn away a woman, a single woman who comes to our door. Rarely would we ever turn away a man. Every night the police call me and see how many bunks we have open and I will never tell them that we have no bunks. So, really we never turn away a man either and that makes us a very unique mission. We’re the only rescue mission that welcomes single men, single women, moms with kids, dads with kids and two parent families with kids.

TLA: In a video recently released to promote the 5k you mention how the situation is pretty grave. It’s gotten worse. What would you tell just the average person that looks at the homeless situation, sees that it looks pretty hopeless. How do we address the homeless situation?

Bales: If we all work together, we could be like New York City, that puts a roof over 95% of the people experiencing homelessness and is embarrassed about the 5% that are still on the streets. And it’s really an all out, all hands on deck, emergency approach. If we were like that, we would see a different city and we’d live up to be in the City of Angels.

In LA, we only put a roof over 25% of people experiencing homelessness and we leave 75% out on the streets, which is destroying and devouring those people. We come up with a lot of excuses. I mean, you know, like the weather is good so people come here. That is an absolute myth and an absolutely false excuse. The majority of people on the streets of LA are Angelenos, longtime Angelenos. You can die from the weather on the streets. We know people who’ve died on the streets of LA. So there’s really no excuse not to act now.

Even the excuse that many Christians use, you know, “The poor you’ll always have with you.” But the problem is they’re not finishing the verse, “The poor you’ll always have with you, so be kind to them every day.” Jesus in that verse is quoting Deuteronomy 15. It says, “The poor you’ll always have with you, so be kind to them everyday and lend them a hand and lift them out of poverty.” It’s an action verse, not an excuse verse, and we turn it into an excuse like the homeless you’ll always have with you. Well, that’s not what needs to be communicated.

We could live in the city where not one precious human being lives on the streets. And I would love to be part of making that happen in Los Angeles. That would really be the ultimate dream for me. That before I’m gone from this earth that we didn’t wait for heaven to address the situation of homelessness here on earth.

PHOTOS: URM

On the Web
https://urm.org/
Note: The deadline for the matching challenge gift to help men, women, children, and families on Skid Row overcome homelessness and begin new lives of hope has been extended to June 30. Go to URM’s website to donate.

The Mission – March 2014

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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 »

Washing The Feet Of Skid Row – Thanksgiving Outreach 2013

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Taking Steps Toward Your Dreams

 

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Christmas… in July!

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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!

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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.

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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!

Heroes for Hope Luncheon 2013

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The Union Rescue Mission is truly honored to serve alongside both Richard Rozman, the members of the Pacific Coast Church and many more.

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Faith Community Women’s Group Hosts Kids Party

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!

UCLA Bruins Visit URM 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!

200 Wells Fargo Volunteers Perform Acts of Kindness at URM

On Saturday, May 15, 2010 over 200 volunteers from Wells Fargo spent the day serving at our Hope Gardens Family Center in Sylmar and downtown at Union Rescue Mission.  The activities began at 9:00am with a brief program hosted by former Lakers star AC Green. 

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 After that, we kept the volunteers busy with all kinds of projects! At URM, volunteers helped prep and serve meals, clean and disinfect the whole facility, hosted a Kids Fun Zone in the gym, served ice cream, and did a water and sock walk for residents of Skid Row. The day ended with a BBQ and karaoke on the roof for volunteers and guests staying at URM.

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In Sylmar, team members assisted in various projects including:  planting trees, clearing brush, and overall spring cleaning of the buildings.

“Hope Gardens Family Center is a wonderful place that provides families and children with shelter, clothing, food and other needs,” said Shaffi Poswal, Wells Fargo California Cash Services.  “It gives me great pride to be part of Wells Fargo where volunteering and giving back to our communities are part of our culture.”

 In addition to volunteer efforts, Wells Fargo team members donated 5,000 pairs of new socks for the guests at both locations – 4,000 of which were raised by the Los Angeles Cash Vault team.

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Andy Bales said “Generous individuals from amazing corporations like Wells Fargo engaging on the streets with people who are experiencing homelessness will play a vital role in moving toward the day when not one person is left on the streets of Skid Row”.

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Big thanks to the Wells Fargo Volunteers for all the hard work!

Check out more photos on our Facebook or Flickr!

Students Spend Time Serving at URM

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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.

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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!

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