No place like Rome

Rome Rescue Mission expresses gratitude to area churches

By Jennika Baines
SUN Assoc. Editor

Matt Miller just wants to say thanks.

He’s the executive director of the Rome Rescue Mission, and he said he has been overwhelmed by the amount of help his organization has received over the years from Catholic parishes in the area.

“If you take a step back and look at the totality of it, it’s a group of people that God sends to the mission, and lives are being changed and miracles are happening every day,” he said. “It’s an amazing thing to see.”

The Rescue Mission, which is an ecumenical organization, provides food and clothing for those in need, but Miller said many people may not know that it also provides both emergency and long-term shelter for men, women and children.

In fact, he said, there are 10 children in the shelter right now.

Emergency shelter facilities are available for 30 to 45 days; short-term transitional housing is available for up to a year, and long-term housing is available for two years.

The Rome Rescue Mission also facilitates employment training programs, computer skills courses, adult tutoring, cooking, parenting skills and budgeting classes.

Bible study courses are available but not required, children can get help with schoolwork and counseling services are provided as well. Hot meals are served each weekday and there is an off-site bag lunch available on Mondays and Tuesdays.

All of this is orchestrated by six employees, three of whom are part-time. “We’re so dependent on the local churches,” Miller said.

While Miller said he has seen people from area churches help with almost every one of these services, he has also seen volunteers provide one of the most important opportunities for those who have fallen on hard times — the opportunity for fellowship and some words of encouragement. “That goes a long way in helping someone because it shows them the love of God.”

He said he can understand what it takes for someone to walk into a situation where they are dealing with homeless people for the first time.

“It takes a little bit to do that. I know there’s a scare-factor involved,” he said. “Twenty-five years ago, I was squarely in that camp where I believed they deserve what they get because they haven’t done anything in their lives. Now I know how wrong that is.”

Time and again he said he has seen people come in from area parishes and spend time with people who need more than simply food and shelter.

“And it’s not just Thanksgiving-, Christmas- and Easter-focused, they really help us throughout the entire year,” Miller said.

In particular, he said he would like to thank Father Philip Hearn, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption and St. Peter’s Parishes in Rome.

“Father Hearn, he’s been an advocate of what we’re doing for over 15 years. If there‘s a need we have and there’s an emergency or we’re kind of caught off guard — whether it’s help with finances or a bus ticket — he’s always there to help,” Miller said. “It’s because of his love for the people that we serve. I think he was the catalyst for the Catholic Church for getting people involved.”

This year, the Rome Rescue Mission will provide over 8,000 nights of care for those in need. The mission will also provide almost 80,000 meals to the community. Miller said he likes to put that in perspective for people by telling them the population of Rome is about 35,000 people. “That’s enough to feed the entire city lunch and dinner,” he said.

But despite the many stories of despair that bring people to the Rescue Mission, there are also stories of triumph. One of Miller’s favorites is of a woman who showed up at the Mission with nothing but her child. In three and a half years, she was transitioned to housing where she was able to pay a little bit of rent. She took parenting classes, learned some living skills, earned her GED and went on to college. Now she has a steady job working for Oneida County.

“The real people that help are the people that are on the ground, the people that will talk to her. Very often those people are from the local Catholic church,” Miller said. “It just shows how a community can make a difference.”

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