Durham County

Durham Rescue Mission opens new affordable housing facility for students

James Ball and wife Wendy Ball (center) are joined by Mayor Bill Bell (left) and Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden (right) during a ribbon-cutting at the new Ball Family Student Housing Center on Saturday.
James Ball and wife Wendy Ball (center) are joined by Mayor Bill Bell (left) and Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden (right) during a ribbon-cutting at the new Ball Family Student Housing Center on Saturday. The Herald-Sun

James Ball grew a little emotional when he began to talk about why he decided to support the Durham Rescue Mission’s new education building, which carries his family’s name.

Ball, from Chatham County, said he contributed to the Ball Family Student Housing center to honor his parents and his brother, Scott, who despite being mentally disabled, managed to graduate from high school.

Because of Scott’s disability, Ball said his parents set up a trust fund for his brother to help him as he matured.

Scott, however, died in an accident as a young man, leaving behind the trust fund, which Ball and his wife Wendy now manage.

“Wendy and I decided to use these funds to contribute to organizations that would provide hope and help to others,” Ball said, noting that his parents were not rich. “The Durham Rescue Mission is certainly among the best at giving hope and help to others.”

This newly constructed three-story brick building, which received a Certificate of Occupancy on Friday, contains 24 bedrooms.

It also has a TV/recreation room and a laundry room, and a NOVA/GED Assessment and Learning Center and testing room with an office.

Residents living there will be able to continue their education, which Rescue Mission leaders see as one of the keys to escaping poverty.

Clients will be “strongly” encouraged to earn GEDs and to attend classes at Durham Technical Community College or N.C. Central University.

“One of the things we try to stress at the Rescue Mission is that if you’re going to try to get out of homelessness, you’re going to have to get some education somehow, some way, in some fashion,” said Rob Tart, the Rescue Mission’s chief operating officer. “If you don’t, then you’re going to just continue the same cycle.”

Wendy Ball said it was important that she and husband Jim supported an organization that is faith-based.

“The Durham Rescue Mission met our criteria,” Wendy Ball said. “Their mission is to meet, through the power of Jesus Christ, the needs of the whole person — spiritual, educational, emotional, physical, social and vocational, so that those who are hurting can become functional members of society.”

Wendy Ball also noted that the Rescue Mission is rated a top homeless service provider by Charity Navigator.

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the new facility was attended by several local elected officials, including Durham Mayor Bill Bell and Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden, both of whom were invited to help cut the ribbon to open the new building.

Bell noted that the community in which the Rescue Mission is located is among those targeted by the city for revitalization.

“What the Rescue Mission is doing, we consider them to be partners,” Bell said.

But Bell said Rescue Mission founder Rev. Ernie Mills is a different kind of partner because he doesn’t ask the City of Durham for money.

“He does it all through the contributions that you guys make and the work that he’s able to do,” Bell said. “But he’s made a very important impression in this community.”

Mills spoke for several minutes, mostly about the problem of addiction and specifically opioid addiction, which has become a big problem in recent years.

“We’ve seen great growth in those coming to the Rescue Mission who have opioid addictions, which so often started with chronic pain,” Mills said.

He said the addiction problem has become a drag on the economy.

“We’re losing a lot of the productivity of a lot of folks who could be producing and putting back into the economy and back into this area,” Mills said.

Mike Leach, the director of the state Office of Public Engagement, came to speak on behalf of Gov. Roy Cooper.

“We believe that by creating housing opportunities, we help build stronger communities,” Leach said. “We help build opportunities for people to grow, to develop, to raise families and to have economic success.”

Gail Mills read a letter from U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., wishing the Rescue Mission well with its first affordable student housing facility.

Several former Rescue Mission clients gave testimonies about the work at the Rescue Mission which helped them turn their lives around.

“I would like to say that I loved it, but there were too many rules, it was too much like prison, but I graduated,” said Wanda Stewart, who shared that she will move into a Habitat for Humanity home in June.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645