By Berit Ollestad
A lot has changed in the 125 years since the Market Street Mission opened its doors to men struggling to beat Demon Alcohol.
Take Market Street, for starters. Once known as “Rum Alley” for its concentration of saloons, it’s now more like “Cupcake Row,” since TV’s Cake Boss opened Carlo’s Bakery last month.
Yet one constant has remained: The purpose of the Mission. Technically, it’s a Gospel Rescue Mission, according to its website.
Gospel means “good news.” Rescue means “to deliver from actual or impending calamity.” And Mission means “one sent.”
The good news that this place has promised to countless individuals is a better life–if they say goodbye to alcohol and drugs.
Although aligned with Christian beliefs, the Mission–which celebrated its anniversary last month–will not turn away anyone seeking recovery.
Typically, it has about 60 individuals in the program at any given time. The average commitment runs from eight to 12 months.
You don’t have to be homeless to be considered for the program. The Mission often is simply the “end of the road” for men who have exhausted all other options.
Once individuals are accepted, the gloves come off. They are required to obey strict regulations to stay in the program. Each morning they must meet in the chapel for a prayer service. After breakfast, their day begins.
Most of the men go to work at the Market Street Mission thrift store on George Street, where they sort and price items. Others spend their day in a classroom learning new job skills to help them function in society when they graduate.
The Mission also offers nightly meals to community members going through hard times. Between 30 and 60 men, women and children sit down for supper each evening.
Additionally, individuals and families can request food boxes, clothing, furniture and houseware vouchers, with no questions asked.
Program participants must attend five AA or NA meetings a week. There also is a strict prohibition against owning cell phones and automobiles. And the cardinal rule: No new romantic relationships.
This excludes men already in a relationship or married when they entered the program.
“Four guys that were in my group didn’t graduate because they became involved in relationships, and unfortunately their priorities changed. We want them to be focused on themselves,” said recent graduate Kevin Vance.
“I’m grateful for the Mission and for what the program has done for me. I have members of my family that wouldn’t speak to me and now I am starting to re-build those relationships. When I entered the program I didn’t necessarily believe in a God. But I think I finally accepted God into my life because it wasn’t forced on me,” said Vance, who lives at the Mission and volunteers his time there, after walking away from a six-figure income.
Mission Development Coordinator Phil Parsels admits that modern Market Street, with its luxury condos and apartments, “isn’t a typical place to have a skid row mission.”
Neighbors have asked “what it would take to make us leave our current location?” Parsels said.
“I always tell people that if you could build us a facility closer down by our thrift store we would consider re-locating, but that is a pretty big proposition.”
With Carlo’s Bakery opening across the street, Mission clients will have new opportunities to practice being good neighbors. According to Parsels, “we counsel our guys on how to conduct themselves respectfully while they are working and living in the community.”
That respect was on display at last month’s anniversary celebration, which included tours and lunch at the Mission and a dinner at the Westin Governor Morris.
Attendees included past graduates of the program and dignitaries such as Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), Morris County Freeholder Kathryn DeFillippo, Morris Township Mayor Bruce Sisler, and Mission Executive Director G.David Scott.
The Mission welcomes questions, and donations, from the community. Tours can be arranged for those intrigued to learn more.