Monday through Thursday every week I hop on the bus to come to Miami Rescue Mission, where I have my volunteer placement for the year. The Mission is a huge organization that provides services and residential programs for individuals in homeless situations in Miami, Hollywood, and Pompano Beach. Currently I am working in the Community Development Department where I mainly put my graphic design skills to use making brochures, newsletters, cards, certificates, event programs, and much more to promote Miami Rescue Mission and the work that is being done here.
As I have begun to speak with more and more people in this crazy city, I have found something interesting. When I first tell people that I work for Miami Rescue Mission, about half of people think I work for some kind of animal shelter. Although I can see why they might think that, the idea of the Rescue Mission name relating to rescuing animals had never really crossed my mind. After explaining that Miami Rescue Mission provided services to people who are homeless, one man said, “Oh, so you don’t rescue dogs, you rescue people.”
Do we really rescue people here at Miami Rescue Mission? Can people be rescued like dogs and cats? The more I think about it, the more the name of this organization seems strange. Much like rescuing animals, Miami Rescue Mission helps take people off the streets, gives them a place to live, feeds them, and gives them a new environment to thrive in. There is one crucial difference though. Rescuing people has to be a mutual agreement and requires mutual effort form both parties. It is about more than providing the basic needs for people, it is about allowing people to rediscover dignity, confidence, and joy in their lives. Those things, which are vital to someone really making a change in their lives, are all things that can not be served through a food line or given out at a street outreach. The things that will really make a difference in someone’s life have to come from within themselves.
This seems like a crucial thing to remember when working in a community of people in homeless situations. Yes, it is important to provide the basic needs, but true change does not take place when you stop there. People need to be invested in, listened to, empowered, and loved. It is not about the statistics of how many meals we serve, or how many nights we provide shelter. Working in this community should be measured by our ability to walk through the Centers and know everyone’s name and something about them. Until we can at the very least know someone’s name, there is no impact being made. No one is being rescued.
Thankfully Miami Rescue Mission seems to do a good job from what I have seen so far to create a culture of respect and empowerment in the community. The Mission offers several educational programs, assistance with jobs, help with drug and substance abuse, special programs for kids, and much more. It is still important though that we work intentionally here and really work to connect with people because just going through the motions is never worth it.