Atlanta Mission thankful that it can help the homeless year-round

Robert Vaughn (center), 47, said the Shepherd’s Inn gave him back a life worth living, and its programs have helped him reconnect with family and loved ones. The Shepherd’s Inn is one of the Atlanta Mission’s campuses. CONTRIBUTED BY ATLANTA MISSION

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Robert Vaughn (center), 47, said the Shepherd’s Inn gave him back a life worth living, and its programs have helped him reconnect with family and loved ones. The Shepherd’s Inn is one of the Atlanta Mission’s campuses. CONTRIBUTED BY ATLANTA MISSION

During Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season, many people's thoughts turn to helping the homeless and others who are less fortunate in our communities. Atlanta is no exception, and there are various sock drives and fundraisers to help those in need.

However, for the Atlanta Mission, a Christian nonprofit that provides emergency shelter, vocational training, transitional housing and recovery services, this season isn't any different than any other. It's just another month on the job.

"Thanksgiving is the time of year that we get the opportunity to be thankful that we can do these services all year," said Jim Reese , CEO of the Atlanta Mission. "Because if you show up on March 3, the service and the news you have that day is as critical as it is on Thanksgiving morning."

'Biggest hotel in Atlanta'

Founded in 1938, the then-Atlanta Union Mission was established on Crew Street as a soup kitchen to feed homeless men during the Great Depression. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit has grown to include five campuses (four in Atlanta and one in Jefferson) and five thrift stores in Marietta, Commerce, Gainesville, Athens and Winder. Three of the campuses are for men, and two are for women and children.

“All of our funding comes from individuals, foundations and corporations in Atlanta, which allows us to do this work that has such a broad impact and changes lives,” Reese said, “so I’m thankful for a city that really cares about (those with) the least in our city.”

With its five campuses, the Atlanta Mission houses approximately 1,000 people every night and has served more than 668,498 meals so far in 2016. This led Atlanta Mission Public Relations and Communications Manager Rachel Reynolds to call the mission "the biggest hotel in Atlanta."

In 2008 during the economic recession, Reese joined the Atlanta Mission. Reese was the former CEO of Randstad North America; COO for the Honeybaked Ham Co. and CCCi; and division vice president of Frito-Lay. This business background and acumen allowed him to guide the nonprofit through the tough economic times.

“I’ve always had a heart for people, and when you look at successful businesses, it always starts with great people working well together to deliver great results,” Reese said.

Not painting homelessness with one brush

Reese said that when he came on board, he and the staff did a lot of self-evaluating and research into ways they could improve the operation and serve more people.

Reese said the way work was previously done was retooled, and now they attempt to accomplish three things.

The first is to get people to choose help.

“They all have a story, and so it’s not that you paint homelessness with one brush and everybody is the same,” Reese said.

Next, the programs are designed to strengthen and make progress in five key areas: physical, emotional, spiritual, social and vocational. This culminates in them hopefully being able to retain employment somewhere.

The last goal is for them to find secure housing. The Mission’s campuses feature cheap housing for those in the final steps of their program. These transitional dorms are only an option once someone has a full-time job and is able to pay a small amount for rent, typically around $50 a month. They also still have full access to meals and other services provided by the Mission.

“What we hope to be able to do is that we can restore in them hope and they can begin to see the purpose for their lives,” Reese said. “This could include an impact on their family, impact on their kids, impact on their brothers and sisters and parents.”

A life worth living

One of the people currently getting help is Robert Vaughn, 47.

“I was dead. I was using drugs — meth since I was 20,” Vaughn said. “Life was not fun, and I wanted to die. Actually, I was already dead, but I wanted someone to put me out of my misery.”

Previously, he was in the Potter’s House program, a location that holds up to 180 chemically addicted men in residential recovery and transitional housing in Jefferson. It is one of the Atlanta Mission’s campuses.

Vaughn was two weeks from graduating from the program, but he was caught smoking cigarettes. He then quit the program, got drunk that night and went back out on the streets.

However, after picking up a Bible, he had a change of heart. He decided to take one last shot of dope, and he took MARTA straight to the Shepherd's Inn, a men's homeless shelter located in downtown Atlanta, which holds 450 men. It is another one of the Atlanta Mission's campuses.

“Everyone is like, ‘I want my life back,’” Vaughn said. “But my life sucked.”

However, he said the Shepherd’s Inn’s programs got to him, and he’s seen positive results in his life, especially regarding his family and loved ones.

“My girlfriend broke up with me, my mom wanted nothing to do with me, my kids and grandkids avoided me and the dog was trying to bite me,” Vaughn said regarding his relationships before the Shepherd’s Inn. “But now, I’m going to see my girlfriend (today), my mom visits me and I’ve got pictures of my kids and dog on my phone. Now they all have contact with me.”

For more information on the Atlanta Mission, its services or the steps to getting help, visit www.atlantamission.org/get-help.