Keeping harm at bay

"Keeping harm at bay" Continued...

Issue: "Effective compassion," Sept. 2, 2006

But as Turbin, 50, slowly cleared a 10-year fog from his head, he remembered life's myriad treats, including the satisfaction of a hard day's labor, the simple pleasure of a Saturday spent on baseball. A tall man in the physical condition of someone half his age, the former college slugger now coaches the mission's Little League team.

On a recent Monday afternoon, Turbin sat in BARM's youth outreach center, reviewing his team's upcoming schedule. An arc of gaming tables-pool, ping-pong, air hockey, foosball-surrounded him. About 250 kids circulate through the so-called King's Club every week, many using the computer lab or reading areas for homework, others simply finding after-school alternatives to juvenile mischief. Turbin hopes that such positive diversions will spare others his bumpy road, with Richmond youth visiting the mission by choice and not returning by necessity as adults.

Prevention is greater than recovery: Every happy ending of rehabilitation includes a story of lost years, broken relationships, and the excruciating trials and relapses of shucking an old identity.

Frank Austin bears such scars. Now a middle-aged member of the mission's maintenance crew, he deeply regrets an adulthood of methamphetamine addiction-the waste of his talents, the pain it brought his mother. Things are better now: "She's very happy that I'm clean, and we can have a decent talk."

Austin takes pride in his duties as a handyman, and mission director Anderson calls him exceptionally meticulous and capable. Job-skills training is a critical part of the recovery program: All men register for courses at the local community college and participate in such tasks as maintenance, office work, or labor in BARM's massive food distribution warehouse.

Since the mission's annual intake of close to $4 million worth of material donations on top of cash gifts exceeds its on-site needs, some contributions of food and clothing are shipped out to alleviate shortages in other parts of the world. Men drive forklifts and load trucks in that effort, contributing to rescue work even as they receive from it.

Women and children, housed in a separate 150-bed facility at the mission, are not required to perform such labor, but attending school and saving money are mandatory. Like many women here, TeiJae Taylor Fofana is no drug addict: The mother of three children, she came to the mission after a divorce left her without rent money. "We had no other place to go," she explains. "It's been a great help, because the kids have a bit of stability here, whereas before they weren't sure where they were going to lay their heads."

Fofana, 45, especially appreciates the Christian atmosphere: The mission partners with 35 area churches to hold nightly chapel services. Agape Bible Fellowship filled the pulpit on a recent evening, leading a packed house of about 150 people in praise choruses before teaching from the book of 1 Chronicles. The preacher spoke of David roaming the countryside on the run from King Saul-homeless and at times despairing. He admonished the congregation to follow David's example when faced with life's difficulties: Seek God's direction, and take courage by His Spirit.

The crowd hollered its approval. But most of Richmond's homeless missed the service and sermon.


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