Macon Rescue Mission: Six Decades Helping the "Least, Last and Lost"Breauna Hagan | Centerview, August 2012
For more than 60 years, Macon Rescue Mission (MRM) has been dedicated to serving the “least, last, and lost,” providing assistance, rehabilitation, and a path to self-sufficiency for middle Georgia’s homeless population. In a recent interview with GCN, MRM Executive Director Jeffrey Nicklas discussed the secret to MRM’s longevity, its long-standing programs, and a few future goals.
Even before its official incorporation in 1956, Nicklas said, Macon Rescue Mission already had a strong faith-based identity—the “Jesus Cares” sign has been up on the side of their facility since its inception in 1952, when police sergeant A.E. McGee founded MRM upon the notion that there had to be “a better place for the homeless than jail.” In that year, McGee began the men’s residential program that still forms the heart of the organization; since then, MRM has opened the Dove Center, a residential program for female victims of domestic violence and their children, and added programs that distribute food, provide holiday dinners and monetary assistance, and assist schools in impoverished neighborhoods.
Programs and Initiatives
According to Nicklas, there are anywhere between 500 to 700 homeless individuals in the Middle Georgia area, and Macon Rescue Mission reaches some 400 of those individuals every year. Currently, Macon Rescue Mission houses 47 formerly-homeless men in their residential program, where they’ll live until they’ve proven themselves productive and independent. For the duration of their stay, residents focus on recovery and self-sufficiency through on-site addiction recovery services, life skills coaching, work experience, and nightly chapel service. “Because the men are not allowed to have jobs [outside the program], they work for me,” said Nicklas, who gives them positions policing the grounds and staffing the Bargain Center, MRM’s on-site thrift store.
During their 60-plus years, MRM has become “ingrained” in the fabric of Central Georgia through a number of social endeavors and partnerships.
Throughout the MRM’s long history, they haven’t ever received funds from the federal government; the secret to their longevity, Nicklas said, is the fact that the “community has bought into the Rescue Mission,” wholeheartedly dedicating their time, energy, money, and belief. During their 60-plus years, Niklas said, MRM has become “ingrained” in the fabric of Central Georgia through a number of social endeavors and partnerships contributing to the well-being of the region as a whole. In 1981, the same year they began the program that would become the Dove Center, MRM and previous Executive Director Wayne Bevill founded Middle Georgia Community Food Bank “in a closet at the Macon Rescue Mission”; that food bank is now a self-sufficient success, distributing some 6.5 million pounds of food annually. MRM was also instrumental in founding the Crescent House, a service of The Children’s Hospital at The Medical Center of Central Georgia, which specializes in evaluating children who may have been sexually abused.
The program that would become the Dove Center was created in 1981, when former Executive Director Bevill envisioned a haven for domestic violence victims. Through the Dove Center, women and their children enroll in a 6-12 month program designed to empower physically abused women while providing “a safe place where women can find healing and regain independence,” with services like parenting classes, finance seminars, self-defense training, and access to GED classes through Central Georgia Technical College. Counselors are also available three times a month, and MRM also assists with access to social services such as the Division of Family and Children’s Services, the Temporary Assistance for Families program, and Section 8 housing. The Dove Center just recently graduated five women into secure housing, and is already at its capacity of seven women and five children.
Thanks to recent fundraising efforts, MRM has also been able to reopen its largest outreach initiative, its food box program, which distributes groceries once a month to the elderly and disabled. Individual donations have covered an average of 250-350 food boxes (with about $40 in groceries in each) per month, but additional grant assistance has expanded the program by as many as 100 boxes a month. MRM has also been able to sponsor school supplies at four different schools serving impoverished areas; once they determine the top three needs of those schools, MRM dedicates their resources to pulling those specific items together for the students. Currently, they’re in the process of distributing $11,000 in supplies to those schools’ principals. “Instead of giving a little to a lot, we give a lot to a little,” said Nicklas.
“Instead of giving a little to a lot, we give a lot to a little.”
– ED Jeffrey Nicklas
Through their Bargain Center thrift store, MRM collects and sells everything from clothes to furniture to lawn equipment. As an opportunity for residents to work in a retail environment, and as a source for “clothing and essentials for the residents and apartment furnishings upon their graduation from our program” the Bargain Center is a double benefit to MRM residents, as well as a source of revenue for the operation.
When his priest called and told Nicklas about the job opening at Macon Rescue Mission, his first response was, “Yeah, right.” As a former software VP at Robins Air Force Base, Nicklas never though he’d be directing a nonprofit organization. He now describes taking the job as as “the best decision” he’s ever made. Having dedicated the last five years of his career to eradicating poverty in the Macon area, he said, “I have a whole different outlook.”
In the future, Nicklas hopes to expand the Dove Center from seven bedrooms to ten, and to add an on-site kitchen. Also, the residents and staff of MRM will soon begin harvesting from their very first community garden. Following the example of Macon Outreach, MRM residents finished putting together their very first community garden in June (with 52 raised plant beds) that will defray meal costs and supplement the food boxes they distribute. “We want to do all we can that is physically possible,” said Nicklas.
Breauna Hagan is Communications Coordinator at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.