By Carmen Costa
I help serve at the Boston Rescue Mission on Kingston Avenue. About three weeks ago when I volunteered on October 12th, I got a behind-the-scenes look at the ways in which the Mission truly saves people that are close to or have hit rock bottom. There was another volunteer there that day that had planned to ask Dave*, the head chef, about his life story. So, while the dining area and meal was being put together before dinner, the three of us sat down at one of the tables and he started telling us his story. I listening intently the whole time, intrigued and curious about how open this man was to basically two strangers.
Dave talked in-depth about his addiction to cocaine from a very early age as an at-risk teen living in Colombia. Soon after, he became dangerously involved with the purchasing and selling of drugs, leading to spending time in what he called a “harsh” Colombian prison system. After being released, Dave decided he would make a move to America in hopes of a fresh start and a positive future. To my surprise, Dave said his drug addiction got worse when he moved to Boston because it is a city environment with easy access to drugs and not a lot of support for migrants with little money.
Many of the residents at BRM suffer from a mental illness, and when the mission was established in 1988, this was definitely taken into account. Dave recently told me too that the number of people that the BRM provides shelter and food for will double in the coming weeks due to the cold weather conditions. When I asked him how they have enough room for such an increase, Dave said “We rescue people. That’s what we do.” His words hit me hard. At that moment in the conversation I realized the true importance of BRM as a refuge for Bostonians dealing with homelessness and substance abuse.
There is definitely a sense of community that Dave described as well, as he was saved through his relationship with God and the people who took him in at the Mission. He repeatedly expressed how grateful and proud he is to now have a home of his own and a means of earning money by running the kitchen (the same kitchen that once served him). From my knowledge of class discussions on social welfare and social services, many nonprofit organizations rely on funding and federal grants to conduct their services. However, a majority of the food and equipment used at BRM is donation-based as they have floods of materials and food coming in everyday to help out. One sad reality I am reminded of every week is that surplus food must be thrown out. The more time I spend at BRM, the more I realize that many of the people working in the kitchen and living upstairs are former substance abusers who are now using their skills to help other people who used to be in their difficult position.
In listening to Dave’s story on how he was spared from death, saved at the Mission, and then empowered by the job they gave him as head chef, I learned how influential a community-based organization could be in transforming lives on the micro level of intervention. For many of the residents at BRM, some days are better than others, but the daily opportunity they have to join in a meal with fellow Bostonians and see familiar faces is a critical part in their recovery. Dave, who experienced a complete life transformation, is a role model for the ways in which Boston Rescue Mission can save a life.
*Name has been changed.
Carmen is a student in Professor Lori Gardinier’s Human Services Professions course. She is serving with Boston Rescue Mission.