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Rescue Mission Celebrates Past as It Looks to the Future

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley needs a new building. After making the decision to build a new one, the organization started raising money. It doesn’t flood in and the fundraising process takes a couple of years.

But the staff keep their heads up, raising money all while maintaining the Rescue Mission’s services and spiritual purpose.

The story may sound familiar, even if it’s not a recent one.

While Rescue Mission CEO John Muckridge III and other staff were researching the organization’s history to prepare for its 125th anniversary, they found a book written in 1949 by former mission superintendent the Rev. Ray Hagstrom, who served from 1917 to 1950. In it, he detailed the challenges the mission faced during his tenure, including trying to build a new home.

“We were able to go on Amazon and we were able to find one copy in the country,” Muckridge said. “It’s exactly what’s happening now in 2018. The exact same thing. I’ve been blessed to watch the Lord do this.”

The book, “Open Thy Mouth Wide,” was on display at the mission Thursday during the Rescue Mission’s 125th Anniversary Open House, the kickoff event for the celebration of the charity’s quasquicentennial.

Today, the shelter is in the midst of the Move Our Mission campaign, which seeks to raise $4.25 million to construct a new site on the South Side. As of Thursday, the CEO said, the Rescue Mission has $1,329,415 in donations and $1,679,575 in pledges.

“I have another $450,000 that I’ve identified that I think we can get pretty quickly, which brings us to around $800,000 left to go,” he said. “We’re working with the builder to go over drawings and specifics. We are definitely looking at a shovel in the ground in the summer of this year.”

The new 30,000-square-foot building – 2,000 square feet larger than the current space, with room for more beds and storage – will be the next chapter in the mission’s 125-year history.

Founded in 1893 as Christ Mission Settlement, the organization initially provided services such as housing, education, public laundry and “opportunity stores,” similar to what Goodwill Industries offers today. The two organizations, in fact, were one in the same locally until 1960, said Lynn Wyant, Rescue Mission’s director of development.

“We were founded at the same time and they branched off and [the Rescue Mission] branched off. So we’re partnering with them to celebrate our 125th anniversaries,” she said.

Over the years, the form of the Rescue Mission has evolved. In 1922, the organization opened a camp for pre-tubercular children near Canfield and a year later started hosting monthly socials on Saturday nights. In 1932, the Christ Mission Settlement – as it was then known – launched a missionary program, sending volunteers overseas. Thirty years later, the mission’s mat-making program employed some 200 men from the area. In 1972, the mission moved to its current site in the former YMCA building on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard just west of downtown.

But whatever shape its services took, the purpose has remained unchanged.

“The punishment I deserve, Jesus took on himself. I’ve received forgiveness and our job is to point people to the Cross and that’s what’s in store for the next 125 years, too,” Muckridge said.

Since the exact date of the Rescue Mission’s isn’t known, Wyant continued, the anniversary celebration will be held throughout the year, beginning with Thursday’s open house. Next month will be the annual fundraising banquet, held Feb. 16 at Mr. Anthony’s, and the mission will partner with the Youngstown Phantoms March 31 for Hockey for Our Homeless.

“Then we’ll be doing a Tribe Dress Down for opening day [of the baseball season] with different companies. Beyond that, there are just little things here and there for the rest of the year,” Wyant said. “There are lots of people doing fundraisers. We’ve also put out a challenge for 125 hours of prayer online. We’re asking people to commit to praying 10 minutes for the mission some time in 2018.”

While the yearlong celebration will be fun, Wyant and Muckridge acknowledged the work that’s gone into the shelter over its 125 years. It hasn’t always been easy – Hagstrom could attest to that – but the staff has always found a way to offer their services whenever the disadvantaged need help.

“As I was poring over the news articles and newsletters and pictures, I was seeing all the faces who have helped and been helped here,” Wyant said. “We have hundreds of volunteers every year and multiplying that by 125 years is phenomenal.”

The longevity of the organization is also a testament to both God and the people of the Mahoning Valley, Muckridge added.

“It’s been the Lord through this mission for 125 years. None of us were here when this started and he’s used the people of the Valley for 125 years to serve the needy and homeless,” he said. “We don’t receive government funding. The funding is given by churches, businesses, individuals and foundations. It’s the faithful people of the Valley that have supported us all these years.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.