A mission’s dream realized

Jan. 31, 2013 @ 03:12 PM

For years, The Rev. Ernie Mills, his wife, Gail, and their colleagues at the Durham Rescue Mission agonized over not having enough room many nights for the homeless that came to their door seeking shelter.

They showed countless visitors the mission’s tiny kitchen – their “submarine kitchen,” as they sometimes termed it – and extolled the wizardry of the men who were able to cook there and feed scores of residents in the cramped dining area.

At the same time, their passion to have a true kitchen, a dining area that could feed all their residents at the same time, a bed to offer anyone who came in seeking respite from the elements and perhaps a desire to turn his or her life around.

That passion, deeply familiar to thousands to whom they have reached out for support over the years and a driving force behind the mission’s growth and success,  paid off significantly this week.

Wednesday evening, the Millses enthusiastically opened the mission’s new $4.5 million Center for Hope.  The building is next to the renovated church building that has been the mission’s longtime men’s shelter at East Main Street and Alston Avenue.

The new building has beds for 88 men, a large dining room with a big-screen television – and a commercial grade kitchen to replace the old galley.

The mission’s residents clearly were enthusiastic.

For Demetrius Porter, it might prove a turning point.

“When I saw the new building, I was, like, ‘I’ve got to be a part of this,’” Porter told The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch.  “It’s time for me to stick and stay.” Porter has been in and out of the Rescue Mission and on and off drugs for 10 years, he said.

Ernie Mills was grateful for the support that helped the center become a reality. “I am just overwhelmed at how nice the building is, and how the donors wanted to make it nice for the homeless,” he said.

For Mills, the mission’s mission is personal.

“My dad was an alcoholic and a sharecropper,” he said. “And we want to treat the homeless like I would want to treat my dad. That’s what we want to do.”

The mission is not without its critics. Its intense religious focus puts off some, and some of its East Durham neighbors and others are wary of the potential impact of its further expansion plans.

But there is no question that many hundreds of people have been embraced and helped by the mission, and the Millses’ service to the homeless has been tireless and profound. They richly deserved the celebration of their efforts Wednesday night.