Light of Life Rescue Mission

Long before I ever lived in Pittsburgh or worked with folks who had experienced homelessness, I remember riding into the city with my Dad to go to a Pirates game.  As we approached the stadium I saw men who looked as though they had experienced some of the hardest things that life can offer hanging out along Western Avenue.  I didn’t really have a point of reference to know what was going on at that time. What had happened?  Why were they here?  How could we help?

Fast forward 30-plus years, and I’m now a Northside resident. The answer to “what happened” is very large and very complex. But the answer to “why are they here” and “how can we help” could be found right there on Western Avenue. The Light of Life Rescue Mission has been working to serve the homeless and the hungry here in Pittsburgh for over 60 years now.  While best methods for serving people and the Mission’s capacity to serve have changed and grown over the years, they continue to provide a home for the homeless, food for the hungry, and build disciples for the Kingdom of God.

That Christian commitment is indubitably foundational at Light of Life Rescue Mission.  There is a chapel, studies, and prayer.  But a different faith, or a lack of faith, in no way precludes someone from receiving the help that he or she needs. Fellowship is available to people who use the services here, but it is not forced on them.

Speaking of services, Light of Life has expanded to provide a number of different services to members of the community.  The Meal Ministry is often a person’s first introduction to what the Rescue Mission can offer. Breakfast and dinner are served seven days a week to not only program participants, but to the community at large. Anyone who is hungry, is welcome. Last year they served over 200,000 meals with the help of dedicated volunteers, generous donors, and an amazing kitchen staff.

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There are also 22 beds dedicated to emergency shelter for men in the community who might need it. Beyond having a safe place to sleep, the men are provided with shower facilities, clean clothes and access to case managers.  Staying in the emergency shelter is often a first step towards one of the more structured programs offered through Light of Life to help men reestablish a life that isn’t marked by housing instability.

For men, the Light of Life Rescue Mission currently offers three different long-term programs tailored to the specific needs of the participants. The eight bed Housing and Employment program provides stable housing, case management and connection to a variety of employment, educational, housing, and medical services to help prepare the men to work and live on their own again.

The Year Long Recovery Program has 30 beds and is set up in 4 phases for men who have been struggling with addiction. Here community and a variety of therapies work hand-in-hand to support the men’s sobriety and prepare them to transition back into society. Additionally, there are 8 more beds dedicated to mental health. This program operates alongside the Recovery Program, but also provides dedicated mental healthcare and is available for a longer time frame to ensure the stability of the participants.

Knowing there are also needs among single mothers and their children, Light of Life also established a Women and Children’s program. They are able to provide comprehensive care and help fitted to the specific needs of the women and families. Services include: housing in a local apartment, transportation, childcare, intensive counseling, education, and training, as well as the opportunity to heal and become part of a community that will allow them to grow as mothers and help them return to independent living when the time is right.

How to Help

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I really want to emphasize just what an important part of our community Light of Life has been over the last sixty years. Thousand of Pittsburgh Residents have received help and love by entering these doors. If you’d like to join in with their work, I’d of course recommend all the usual ways.  Please give, volunteer, and pray.

Specifically, the most pressing needs right now are for Large, XL and XXL size men’s socks and underwear (no briefs) as well as razors and deodorant. For single or small groups of volunteers, the kitchen always needs help with preparing and serving meals.

Eye of the Needle

 

Something that significantly changed in the way that Light of Life served people over the last 10-15 years has been the way our region has experienced what is commonly called the “Opioid Epidemic”. At some point I’ll share my own personal story about this, but for now, I’d really encourage you to watch this video and familiarize yourself with the way heroin has damaged the lives of thousands around Pittsburgh and made caring for the homeless a much more desperate situation.

(Special thanks to Michael Ray for the use of the cover photo)

Urban Impact Foundation

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Christmas seems like an appropriate time to share a profile on Urban Impact. At its heart, Christmas is the story of God responding to humanity’s great need by sending His Son to be the light in the darkness.  That’s really what Urban Impact wants to be as well.  They want to be a light. They want to connect, and love, and help. Their mission of transforming a community flows from this desire: one person, one family, one block at a time.

Over 20 years ago, Ed and Tammy Glover, Urban Impact’s founders, were living and working on the Northside of Pittsburgh. The problems in much of their community seemed big, even overwhelming. As they prayed for direction, they felt like they were being led to see that communities change when families change, and families change when individuals change, and individuals change when their hearts change, and hearts change when they know that they are loved.

This is the approach that Urban Impact has maintained, even as they have grown into an organization that was able to serve nearly 2,000 children last year. Little hearts changed as relationships are built in a number of different contexts. Urban Impact has partnered with Northside schools, churches, and other nonprofit organizations to create a wide variety of programs that offer things neighborhood children and teens both want and need.

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The list of programs is impressive.  I’ll just scratch the surface here.  They have broken it down into four categories, each with a wide variety of options.

  1. Performing Arts – There are choirs and instrument performance lessons with groups for a variety of ages. There are a number of different theater classes and performance groups. Students can learn to dance, or work in a number of different visual arts disciplines like painting, photography, and stage setup.
  2. Athletics – As a Northside resident myself, I had my first introduction to Urban Impact when my oldest son took part in their Spring soccer program. I was impressed to learn that in addition to soccer, they offers kids the opportunity to participate in basketball, baseball, and swimming programs for all different levels of skills and abilities.
  3. Education – Urban Impact is able to offer in-school and after-school support with both literacy and math for Northside students. The Sumer educational structure at the organization’s very popular Summer Camp can help ameliorate some of the unfortunate drop off that may occur when students are away from the classroom for three months of vacation.
  4. Options – Urban Impact’s most recently developed program category looks to help prepare middle and high school student for employment and life after graduation.  There is a job readiness program, a program that helps students consider various careers and educational avenues, a mentoring program, and an SAT prep course.

From what I’ve heard, the program are excellent and the leaders are caring. This is a good place for kids to come participate in activities they love, get the help that they need, and be a part of a community of caring adults who are invested in their success.

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In addition to these programs, Urban Impact also hosts and leads Bible studies for spiritual nourishment and provide meals or snacks for students when programs extend through meal times so that the kids are physically nourished as well.

There more, including a number of special events throughout the year, but I’ll leave you to explore these as you look at their website. Participation in the various programs isn’t limited to Northside children, although all of the programs are located on the Northside because it is Urban Impact’s home turf.

I met with Urban Missionary and Director of Athletics, Seth Reichart (please watch the interview below), and he said there are three great ways to partner with Urban Impact.  They invite you to:

  1. Pray
  2. Volunteer – There are a number of different volunteer opportunities with Urban Impact. Just reach out, and they will help you find the right fit.
  3. Give – especially now. There is currently a large matching grant that will match your gift dollar for dollar. If you are considering an end-of-the-year donation, your gift to the Urban Impact Foundation would be doubled.

CCO

In hindsight, I think it is pretty true to say that I entered college woefully unprepared for the new freedoms and responsibilities that I had living somewhere other than under my parents’ roof.  I had been an above-average student, and athlete, and a church-going young man for the bulk of my adolescence.  I assumed I had it all together, but man was I wrong.

I’ll spare you the gory details (for now), but let’s just say it took about eight years and four colleges for me to even begin to even begin to “get it together.”  There are a lot of people I should express my gratitude to for the growth that I finally began to experience.  Strangely enough, more than a few of them were affiliated with an organization headquartered here in Pittsburgh called the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO).  Since that time I have continued to rub shoulders with people affiliated with the CCO from time to time.  I can say, without reservation, that every one of them has been an excellent individual, friend, and leader.  I really couldn’t be more impressed with the people who go to work for the CCO.  I hope that after learning a little more about them, you will join me in holding them in high regard.

What it Looks Like

The CCO was founded in 1971 when a group of clergy recognized a void on most college campuses.  Students at both private and state schools were being exposed to a flood of challenging, exciting new ideas – but there were very few opportunities for them to either pursue or grow in faith.  The CCO saw a need for for people who were equipped to come alongside of college students and help them think through all these new ideas in light of a worldview that believes all things belong to God, and that faithfulness to Him is best pursued communally.

Today the CCO is on 116 college campuses throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Mid-West.  It’s representatives are often partnered with a local church, and end up filling any of a wide variety of role on or off campus.  Some teach, others counsel, work with campus life, with athletes, or even in a coffee shop.  The CCO tries hard to design each role to meet the needs of a particular campus.

Many, though certainly not all of the CCO’s staff are recent college graduates themselves.  They are able to mentor and share life with students through service learning opportunities (locally or traveling), discussion groups, Bible studies, and just hanging out and having fun.  Ultimately, the goal is to strengthen and equip.  So many young people feel compelled to “make a difference” as they are exposed to new ideas and needs in college.  But it’s hard to know where to begin, or what foundation this “difference making” should be grounded in.  The CCO exists to encourage these students to recognize that their entire lives can be seen as service to Christ.  They can serve in their studies, their communities, their families, and their jobs; both now and when they move on from college life.

In what is certainly the highlight of the year, the CCO hold a huge conference called Jubilee at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh each February.  Well over a thousand students come together for a weekend that includes not only worship, but also doens of challenging speakers and sessions that examine a wide variety of disciplines and that challenge students to walk humbly, love justice, and live faithfully.  Most attend as part of a campus group, but if you know of a student who’d be interested in coming on his/her own, he or she would be more than welcome.  Actually, if this appeals to you personally but you’ve moved past your collegiate years, there is an afternoon at the conference known as Jubilee Professional where people of all ages come together to discuss what it looks like to work faithfully in their particular vocations.

I really hope that my true affection for the people affiliated with the CCO comes through in this blog post.  The people I have known have challenged and encouraged me.  They have pushed me to grow in the way that I think about God and the way that I care more about other people.  I really can’t recommend the transformative work that they do more highly.  If you know of a college student on a campus where the CCO is present, encourage them to take a look.  And if you are in a position to help support this work financially, know that you would be giving to a group that seeks to be good stewards of all that they are given.  CCO staff fund-raise individually, much like a missionary would, for at least part of their salaries.  In doing this they not only keep costs down for the organization, but they also allow friends and supporters the opportunity to partner in the valuable work being done.