Renovations at the Rescue Mission

The Rescue Mission has provided food, shelter, and basic services to Syracuse’s most vulnerable since 1887. Yet the organization’s infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with demand - or clients’ changing needs. With its first Capital Campaign in over 25 years, the organization aims to reach more people in Syracuse. David Allyn, Allyn Family Foundation board member, also shares his experiences working with the Rescue Mission as chairman of their Capital Campaign.

Syracuse’s Armory Square is a classically hip urbanscape. Charming brick sidewalks connect some of the city’s best restaurants, coffee shops, and museums; the concentrated affluence translates into a healthy average household income of around $50,000. A mere three blocks down the road from Armory Square, however, lies a vastly different economic landscape: an area with an average household income of $12,675, less than third of the adjacent Armory Square. There are chainlink fences instead of brick sidewalks, grey instead of greenery, and a smattering of scattered, dilapidated buildings. This area is home to the Rescue Mission’s campus.

Like many midsize metropolis’ across the country, Syracuse struggles with striking income inequality, concentrated poverty, rising rents and homelessness. The Rescue Mission, founded in Syracuse in 1887, is one of the city’s oldest relief centers. Historically, the Rescue Mission focused on the foundational level of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’: food, shelter, and safety, says Dr. Carolyn McCaulliffe, a healthcare provider and board member at the Rescue Mission. The organization remains the only nonprofit in the city that offers warm food and a bed seven days a week, 365 days a year. Over time, the Rescue Mission expanded its scope to address some of the upstream causes of homelessness: among those, mental illness, job loss, and unemployment.

“What originally attracted me to the Rescue Mission was feeding the homeless,” explains David Allyn, a dual board member of the Allyn Family Foundation and the Rescue Mission. “What I soon learned was that the Rescue Mission is so much more than that… Not only do they feed and house those in need, but they have case managers ready to put a plan together for each and every client in an effort to get them back on their feet. And they deliver these services with dignity and respect.”

The Rescue Mission’s breadth of services enables personalized approaches to each client. Case managers and staff are uniquely able to offer different services for different clients, depending on their current needs. For some clients, this means focusing on Maslow’s foundational needs; for others, staff assist with independent housing and employment searches. On-site transitional apartments enable clients to adjust to independent living, and in-house job training programs can be the first step towards a steady job. Regardless of a client’s needs or objectives, says McCauliffe, the Rescue Mission can “meet them where they’re at”.

The Rescue Mission’s ever-expanding services - and growing client base - have stretched the limits of its infrastructure. And despite its longstanding presence in the city of Syracuse, the organization has shied away from large-scale fundraising: its current two-phase Capital Campaign is the first in over 25 years. “It hasn’t been great for our organization or our donor engagement,” admits Carolyn Hendrickson, the Rescue Mission’s Chief Development Officer.

The first phase of the Rescue Mission’s capital campaign focused on the growing need for integrated services and case management. A large state housing grant and support from local foundations, including the Allyn Family Foundation, enabled the Rescue Mission to renovate the dated campus Recreation Center. The new Day Center and Emergency Shelter opened in summer 2015, and operates as the Rescue Mission’s primary service hub: the facility includes private offices for one-one-one meetings, a computer lab, and a healthcare suite. The renovation increased the number of beds, while also offering separate quarters for women for the first time in the Rescue Mission’s history. On a crisp day in October, the Day Center’s lounge was filled with people talking, resting, and watching CSI. “It’ll be standing room only in here during the winter months,” notes Heather, the operating director of the Syracuse Rescue Mission.

The second phase of the Rescue Mission’s Capital Campaign addresses the organization’s heavily frequented Food Service Center. The Food Service building was originally home to a print shop, and the mismatch between infrastructure and current services has hindered the Rescue Mission’s food program. Along with limited seating - the building seats 100 for meals, and the center feeds as many as 800 individuals over the course of an average day - the building lacks the necessary wiring to support a highly productive kitchen. The absence of a fire suppression system, for example, prohibits a large stovetop, and staff are forced to make do with four bunsen burners squashed together. Limited kitchen and storage space also curbs the number of perishable food donations that the organization can accept. “Overall, there are a lot of inefficiencies,” notes Hendrickson.

The planned Food Service Center expansion will increase the seating area and also provide a designated space for families to sit together. “We see a lot of families that are not Rescue Mission clients, but experience food insecurity towards the end of the month,” says Hendrickson, “especially as larger portions of paychecks go to rent”. The expansion will also enable the Rescue Mission to engage more volunteers - the food service center attracts consistent numbers of volunteers from the community, as well as local universities - and will allow the Center to store and secure greater numbers of food donations. In addition to more volunteers, the expansion will enable the Rescue Mission to double enrollment in its “Food Schools” - a program where students can obtain culinary arts certification while preparing meals for individuals and families.

While the Rescue Mission was able to procure state funding for the first phase of its Capital Campaign, the Food Service Center will be fully supported by private donors. In addition to his role on the Board, David also serves as the Committee Chairman for the Capital Campaign. He was instrumental in securing a $500,000 Challenge Match grant which, if successful, will enable the Capital Campaign to go public in early 2018. It will also place them within 10% of the overall Campaign goal.

Dave and Carolyn Hendrickson joined Heather and the rest of the Rescue Mission’s outreach team last Friday, as they checked in on various homeless individuals across the city. The outreach team routinely brings food, warm clothing and companionship to Syracuse’s homeless, along with a standing invitation to come into the shelter if they choose. It’s another example of the Rescue Mission’s comprehensive approach to homelessness, and one of Dave’s favorite parts of the organization. “It makes me appreciate their work even more,” says Dave with a smile.

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