By John Stran
Pastor Ron Starcher, the director of church relations at the Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley in Youngstown, said he bases his efforts at the mission off of one quote:
“We don’t look to put people in new clothes, we look to put new people in clothes,” he said.
But as the mission’s building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard deteriorates, so do their attempts to better the lives of those in need.
Once a segregated YMCA for African Americans, the building still holds remnants of its previous hardwood floors where beds are spread and tiled walls that resemble a swimming pool area are now lining the halls of a dining area.
Even if it does visually appear to be a step up from sleeping out in the cold, the mission does have some pitfalls; the biggest one being its size. For example, women who come to the mission alone have to stay in a separate area from men.
Sixty-four women share an area with a single bathroom and two showers.
The mission has been granted 17.5 acres of land to build a new building on Belleview Avenue, an area that once held a park and pool for Youngstown’s south side.
Though they have the land, the mission does not yet have enough money to start building.
Lynn Wyant, the Rescue Mission’s director of development, said that so far the mission has raised $500,000 in pledges and expect to raise another $3 million from those who verbally committed to pledging, but have yet to donate. The project total is expected to be $9.5 million.
The average overnight stay in 2008 was around 60 people. 2016’s average overnight stay came in at about 120 people. The reason for the increase is unknown to Starcher, especially considering how the mission is run.
“We base how we run the mission off a book called Toxic Charity,” Starcher said. “It’s this idea that people may be homeless due to reasons outside of their control, but the reason they stay homeless is because of [forces outside of their control].”
If one is staying at the mission, it is mandatory to attend bible classes and a learning academy, which holds a separate series of classes that help those at the mission when going out into the workforce.
Madison Goske, a 2015 YSU graduate, began as an intern for the mission in May 2015. Although Goeske said she originally didn’t want to continue working at the mission, she found her purpose there after partaking in some of the bible classes.
“After interning here for nine months, I didn’t think that I really wanted to work here,” Goske said. “But after turning my life to God, I knew that this is where I wanted to be.”
Pastor Starcher’s 12 years at the mission have also been fueled by something outside of his own control.
“My own daughter struggles with heroin addiction. She herself has spent time here at the Rescue Mission,” Starcher said. “It got to the point that I had to take her children off of her and raise them.”
The mission serves around 181 meals per day, giving an idea as to how many people come and go. Even though faces change substantially, Starcher remembered one man in particular.
“He told me that every time he used to drive past the mission, he would speed up because he hated looking at it so much,” Starcher said.
He was speaking about Joe Spera, a former psychology professor at Youngstown State University.
Spera eventually found himself staying at the mission after struggling with an alcohol addiction and losing his family.
He became committed to getting clean and eventually finished the program created by the mission. Though he never went back to teaching, Spera did do some work as a ghost writer.
The alcohol addiction took its toll on Spera even after he had quit, and on Dec. 11, 2016, Spera passed away at the age of 69.
“You just never know; someone from Poland or Canfield could be a check away,” said Jim Echement, the executive director of the Rescue Mission.
The mission hopes to continue trying to reshape people’s lives, but only in a new building. The goal is to break ground sometime in the Spring.