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Fresno Rescue Mission Academy

"Fresno Rescue Mission Academy" Continued...

Issue: "The audacity of real change," Aug. 23, 2008

A portly, soft-spoken ex-Green Beret, Arcy engineered "Fresno Works," an internship program with the city of Fresno that puts disciples on downtown streets as public servants, handing out water, giving directions, and assisting citizens and visitors with any immediate need. Many disciples participate in Fresno Works during their time in "aftercare," a transitional period of accountability between their initial treatment and graduation from the program.

"It gives them a sense of pride," Arcy explained. "They're often seen as a public official, someone people look to for help." The academy also points out how its existence saves taxpayers an estimated $35,000 a year on every man who trades jail for a spot in its program.

The mission's grasp of how surroundings make and break an addict intrigued me, and my questions began to sound like those of a curious social worker who believes environments rule behavior. Arcy gently demurred: "I want to be more than a nonprofit charity. I know a lot of people say, for example, 'You can't preach to someone without feeding them first.' But Jesus preached to the people, and then saw they were hungry and proceeded to feed them. My major premise here is that everything we do first glorifies God." This conversational twist occurred several times-a staff member or disciple would halt in the midst of an enthusiastic exegesis of the academy's methodology to remind everyone, just one more time, that none of it would work without the power of Christ.

Fourth-quarter disciples learn professional interaction skills by filming and critiquing suit-and-tie mock interviews. The academy's computer lab, a converted trailer with wood-paneled walls, houses rows of cubicles and reams of job-search literature. Encircled by red, dry-erase arrows, a letter on the corner of the whiteboard exhorted: "THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF HOW A GOOD INTERVIEW CAN GO!" In the letter, the manager of a local New Balance store lavishly praised the professionalism of an academy graduate now employed there. Many recent graduates live in one of the academy's three transitional "aftercare" homes, supervised by live-in staffers.

Barely a month into the program, Robert Stein is already a busy man. "The other guys get days off," he said, "but I have too many classes. I have a lot of time to make up." In addition to his managing duties at the academy, he attends and sometimes leads the mission's couple's Bible study-with his high-school sweetheart, who is now his fiancée.

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