WILKES-BARRE -- Angel Velez says he doesn't know what his life would be like if he wasn't participating in Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission's Life Change Program.
It has taught me to accept my responsibilities, setting goals and consistently working toward them, said Velez. It has changed my addictive behavior into constructive behavior.
During the six months he has been in the residential program, Velez, 50, has been involved with various community-service projects, including assisting Hurricane Sandy victims rebuild their homes. He also enjoys serving meals to homeless members of the community each weekend.
The Wyoming Valley Rescue Mission has served needy residents since 2009. The building, located on Parkview Circle off Coal Street, serves as a home base area of the mission's ministry.
Despite its location at the foot of Sherman Hills Apartment Complex, Wilkes-Barre, an area known for crime and violence, the mission serves as a beacon of hope to those in need.
Part of the Keystone Rescue Mission Alliance, the Wyoming Valley mission and its sister facility, the Scranton Rescue Mission, assess community needs and attempts to better the quality of life of area residents.
Rick Rutter, director of ministries, said that more than just a hand out, the ministry serves as an effort to meet the spiritual and physical needs of individuals in Northeast Pennsylvania for the glory of Jesus Christ.
The Life Change Program, is a residential program located on site and serving up to 12 men with life-controlling problems such as addiction. The year-long program equips those men to be productive members of society, assisting them with employment and educational goals, as well as instilling a spirit of faith and family.
A smiling Velez credited Rutter and his staff for their leadership and concern.
The Message and a Meal Program held on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights, feeds 40 people and provides an opportunity for staff and volunteers to interact with attendees.
Starting with a biblical message and music, the meal often ends in laughter and conversation about life issues.
David Wasnalas, Wilkes-Barre, regularly comes to the mission for a meal, but his real reason for coming is a more simple one.
Its not the meal or the opportunity to stay warm that's the best things, said Wasnalas. It is an opportunity to get to spend time with wonderful people and to listen to the music.
Wasnalas, although homeless and often living in a tent, said that even if it's a down in the dump kind of day, time at the Mission can turn it around.
On a recent night, Rutter and wife Jean looked out on those finishing a meal and expressed gratitude for the churches and volunteers that make the whole thing work.
On one recent night City Light Church in Wilkes-Barre offered meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy to the crowd.
Often I see faces brighten as we sing and then share, said Anthony Rovinski, ministry assistant, who also plays guitar and leads in singing.
Rutter and Rovinski are aware that in spite of their own efforts and the efforts of other agencies, the need of the homeless is an endless one. Many have been affected by addiction or mental illness.
Both are confident that in spite of these challenges, the mission and other agencies can make a difference.
The mission seeks to meet the needs of the community as they arise. During the winter, for example, the ministry offers coats, hats and gloves to those in need of them in conjunction with Burlington Coat Factory's One Warm Coat project.
It offers daily showers, as well as periodic clothing and food giveaways.
The mission also partners with other agencies including Child Evangelism Fellowship, Crosswalk Ministries and Camp Orchard Hill to increase its presence in the Sherman Hills complex, providing various activities for residents, including a children's Bible study and parenting classes.
Rutter is also co-chairman of the Luzerne County Homeless Coalition.
This isn't a problem that's going away but we are working very hard to make a difference, he said.
The mission does not accept government funding but does accept financial donations. It needs:
• Clothing for its clothing distribution
• Non-perishable for its food distribution
• Perishable items for its Life Change program
• Underwear and socks, hygiene products, cleaning supplies
Those interested in donating may contact the mission at 570 270-6677.