The Blessings of Human Connection

Thanksgiving for Homeless

During our Thanksgiving Outreach meal, one of our long-time volunteers shared the blessing of human connection with one of our guests in need.

As we prepare for another holiday season and the busyness that comes with it, I’d like you to take a moment and think about the importance of human connection or in some cases re-connection.

As humans, our need for social connection is as strong as the need for food, water and warmth. And when we experience social pain, like feeling degraded, undeserving or unloved, the feeling is as real as physical pain.

In fact, this is one of the first things God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.”  We were created for connection. We were created in the image of God and The Bible says God is love. And to love, you have to have somebody to love.

I come from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was in 8th grade. However, even divorced, we still got together and celebrated as family – with grandparents. I was fortunate that my family valued connection and an ability to look past differences and come together to celebrate the holidays.

This is why I’m so grateful for San Diego Rescue Mission. Our holiday meals provide an opportunity for those experiencing homelessness to feel taken care of. To feel loved. It’s a place where the lost and lonely can find connection and feel part of a family.

I saw this need for connection in the eyes of a women who joined us during this year’s Thanksgiving Outreach Meal. As she headed out the door after she’d finished eating, I saw her crying so I leaned down and asked what’s wrong? “I’m just so happy”, she said.

This feeling of human connection can extend far beyond a holiday meal. It is often the first step needed to begin the healing process.

In fact, one of our recent graduates, Nathaniel, first came to us during last year’s holiday meal. He was struggling with health issues and under great financial stress, which lead him to homelessness. When he showed up at our holiday meal, he explained:

“I’m crutching around the dining room tables, looking for a place to sit and I can’t fit down the aisles because there’s so many people. So, I find a seat at the end of the table and a man named Phil comes over to me – he was very kind – he takes my crutches and moves them for me, and then serves me like I’m at a restaurant. And when he brings my food, he asks how I’m recovering and what my story is. He was genuinely concerned so I told him my whole story.”

Christmas Dinner for Homeless

James Pope, Vice President of Evangelism & Discipleship at San Diego Rescue Mission takes time to connect + listen to a guest’s story during last year’s Christmas meal.

The connection they made that day inspired Nathaniel to join Phil’s church. Phil and other members of his church began to mentor Nathaniel and have continued to walk with him as he’s worked on his program.

Nathaniel has not only had an amazing recovery and is walking again, but this October, he graduated from our year long recovery program. Thanks to the encounter he had at our Thanksgiving Meal he’s developed an incredible support network of friends and mentors at his local church that will continue to walk with him in life.

We were created for connection. A loving, supportive relationship can literally be a matter of life and death.

By the time San Diego’s homeless men and women walk through our doors, they have exhausted all relationships and resources. They need to regain a sense of connection as much as they need a meal and safe shelter. And that sense of connection starts with Jesus.

So this holiday, and into the new year, I invite you to focus on connection. Strengthening connections to those around you, those who need you, and to Jesus.

Thank you for your continued support in helping us lovingly address the needs of those experiencing homelessness in San Diego. We wish you a grateful and joyful Holiday Season!

God Bless,

 

Donnie Dee

Let’s Work Together to Teach the Next Generation about Community Issues

Sleepless San DiegoAlthough San Diego Rescue Mission has been hosting Sleepless San Diego for years, this will be my first experience. I am excited to see this year’s turn-out, as the concept of an event like this really resonates with me. It’s a reminder to teach our youth about community issues and show how they can make an impact in a cause they care about.

During this year’s Sleepless, we’re not only teaching about our cause, but encouraging action through service. In fact, in addition to setting up personal fundraising pages,  hundreds of kids have already signed up for one of our nine service sites around San Diego to clean, paint and fix up our community.

At the end of the service day, participants are invited to sleep out at Liberty Station for an evening of inspirational performances including our headlining speaker Tonier “Neen” Cain. Tonier spent 20 years living on the streets, homeless. Her life was filled with brutality, incarceration, hunger and substance abuse until she learned how to turn her life around. I first met Tonier at our national AGRM conference and I look forward to seeing her again as she shares her inspiring journey of hope with everyone attending this year’s Sleepless San Diego.

Sleepless San DiegoMany of our current clients will also be attending this year’s Sleepless serving as volunteers and helping to set up and break down the event. This is a great opportunity for our clients to see first-hand that there is a community who truly cares about them and is willing to help those who are ready to make positive life changes.

Our staff, volunteers, clients, performers and participants are all working hard to make sure this year’s Sleepless is a huge success. And I am equally grateful for our generous corporate sponsors for helping cover all of our operational costs associated with throwing an event of this size.

If you can’t attend this year’s Sleepless San Diego, I encourage you to support one of the individuals or youth groups who have created fundraising pages for the event at https://www.classy.org/event/sleepless-san-diego-2018/e181526

Together, we can encourage our community’s youth to have a passion, find a cause, take action and to make the world a better place.

 

God Bless,

Donnie Dee

Donnie Dee

 

One Year Later… 3 Things I Know for Sure

Donnie DeeSince I took on the role of President and CEO of the San Diego Rescue Mission there have been a lot of changes, including my own perception of what homelessness looks like.  I used to think a homeless person was defined as someone walking the streets alone, looking a little crazy with one shoe on and one shoe off…  I know now that they’re just like you and me, but a series of events happened in their lives that caused them to be without a place to live.  And a series of unfortunate events can happen to anyone.  It could happen to you.  It could happen to me.  The more I’ve gotten to know our clients in this first year, the more I know for sure that no one chooses this path.  It’s no one’s choice to become homeless.

Here are 3 more things I know for sure after my first year with San Diego Rescue Mission.

 1. The greatest obstacle to overcoming homelessness is not addiction, job loss or housing. It’s shame.

Every Thursday afternoon I meet with the men and women who came to us off the streets in hope of finding help here at the San Diego Rescue Mission.   At this stage of their journey they can’t even look me in the eye.  They show up crying, heads down, broken…  A few weeks ago, one of the men asked me, “Do you know what my first thought is every single morning when I wake up?”  I asked him to tell me.  He said, “Look at what you have done with your life!”

There’s a tremendous amount of guilt and shame among our population experiencing homelessness.   The shame feeds on loneliness.  When you feel ashamed and lonely, you think everyone’s judging you and you don’t want to ask for help.  I’ve discovered that helping our clients overcome the shame of bad decisions, and negative thoughts over what happened in the past, is the biggest obstacle we face when helping to put a life back together again.

2. People want to help those who help themselves.

Volunteers and donors are the primary drivers of San Diego Rescue Mission.  And I’ve learned over this past year that our community really does want to help the lost, homeless and hungry—as long as they’re willing to help themselves, too.

We’re reminded of this powerful principle with the crippled man and the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:5).  In the story, there’s a man who was sick for thirty-eight years.  For thirty-eight years he lay next to a pool hoping to be healed.  But before Jesus healed him, he asked the man, “Do you want to get well?”

So, I ask the men and women who first walk through our doors here at the Mission, “Do you really want to be made well?  Are you ready for the responsibility, questions, rules and structure that come with being well?  Because if you truly want to get better, there’s a whole community of people and resources available to help you.”

3. Rescue Missions should lead the way in reducing the number of people living on the streets.

After spending a year as President and CEO of the San Diego Rescue Mission, I know for sure that it’s our job as a rescue mission to lead the way in solving the homeless crisis here in San Diego. Here’s why: We don’t take government funding and we’re faith based.

I know there are a lot of other agencies and nonprofits providing critical services to San Diego’s homeless.  And I’m thankful for all of them.  We need them.  These other entities are doing a great job of helping to clothe, feed and shelter our homeless population.

But because we aren’t government funded, we can do things a bit differently.  We have more freedom to do what needs to be done.  And, most importantly, we can talk about Jesus—the One who can truly change a man’s life.

Because of these factors, we have the opportunity to create a treatment model that gets people off the streets long term.  This is the difference between meeting the symptomatic needs of the homeless and addressing the causes of their homelessness.  We’ll continue to meet the needs by providing clothing, food and shelter.  But we take it a step further by helping those who want to get well, through drug and alcohol recovery, spiritual training, job training and client advocacy.  This combination puts the San Diego Rescue Mission in a unique position to lead the way in the rehabilitation of our homeless population.

We’ve already accomplished so much together in this first year and I look forward to continuing our important work.  Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and for your continued support of the San Diego Rescue Mission and our critical programs helping San Diego’s homeless.  Together, we can help those who want to be made well, rebuild their lives and become contributing members of our great community.

 

God Bless,

Donnie Dee

 

 

Donnie Dee

This is the Biggest Thing We Do…

San Diego Rescue Mission Gradution

Our next graduation ceremony is scheduled for Friday, April 13, 2018 and then our Fall Graduation is Friday, October 19, 2018. We hope you will join us for this very special celebration!

Graduation! It’s one of our most beloved and important events. It’s what we’ve been working for all year long. To move people from living on the streets to being able to live a life on their own.

In my nine months as President and CEO of San Diego Rescue Mission, I have come to realize the difference between meeting the needs of the homeless and addressing the needs of the homeless. When people experiencing homelessness come through our doors, we are going to house, feed and clothe them. But we also need to do the complicated work of figuring out what’s going on in their hearts and what led them to become homeless in the first place.  Our hope is for all of our clients to leave the Mission with the desire and a plan to live a self-sustaining life.

This is the reason graduations are now only bi-annual. We needed more time to accomplish that work. Having graduations four times per year was too rushed. Too fast a process.   We realized that we needed to take a step back and set new graduation objectives to make sure our clients succeed long term.

Here’s a quick look at our five key objectives for each graduate of our 12 Month Residential Recovery Program.

  1. Encounter God.
    We have developed a spiritual training program with morning devotions and evening Chapels. In addition, this program currently has 60 clients participating in one-on-one discipleship training with volunteers.
  2. Be Sober.
    After 12 months in our recovery classes, I am confident our graduates will accomplish this.
  3. Have a job.
    We’ve put in place the tools and resources to help our clients get the training they need to secure jobs.
  4. Have a place to live.
    Through our case management, we work with our clients to make sure they find housing and can live independently.
  5. Establish a support group.
    All of our graduates need to be reconnected with their family or connected to a church.
Donnie Dee at San Diego Rescue Mission Graduation

It was such an honor to introduce the Graduates during our last ceremony. I love the celebration! I was inspired by the men and women who walked across stage and delighted to see so many staff, volunteers + donors attend—because after all, they are part of the journey.

It’s a lot of work to make sure every one of our graduates meets all these objectives. That’s why we needed more time between our graduation ceremonies.

Our graduates on April 13, 2018 will be the first of our bi-annual ceremony and I expect it to be the biggest celebration yet! We’ve sent out over 400 invites—as well as opened the ceremony to the public. We have a special “congratulations” video prepared with some of San Diego’s biggest leaders and supporters including Mayor Faulconer, Jerry Sanders, Dan Shea, and Pete Seidler.  After all, this is our Super Bowl. It’s what we have worked toward all year long.

During the April Graduation Ceremony, you can also expect to see Rev. Dr. Jack Baca of The Village Church speak, and all of our front-line workers on stage to support the graduates as well. This includes the RAs, case managers, therapists, program directors and everyone else who works directly with clients. Just like a university graduation where the professors and key faculty are on stage, we are highlighting those staff members who made the biggest impact in supporting and helping our clients reach this point.

But I also know that none of this could happen without the help of our donors, volunteers and community. On behalf of everyone here at San Diego Rescue Mission, I thank you for your continued support of the important work we do. And I encourage you to attend our upcoming graduation. Details can be found at www.sdrescue.org/graduation/. And if you can’t attend in person, I invite you to follow our Facebook Page and watch live videos from the event.

God Bless!

Donnie Dee

Donnie Dee

Renewed and Refocused…for the Future of San Diego

San Diego Rescue Mission

Each week, as part of the in-take process, I talk to the men who want to join our program. One of the things I keep hearing is “We need jobs”.

Not hopeless and not helpless, just experiencing homelessness. That’s the message we have for our clients as we move into 2018. To make this happen, we are taking steps to narrow our focus and pursue more measurable, longer term results to get people off the streets.  We are focused on five critical objectives for our clients before they officially graduate from our 12-month residential rehabilitation program.

These objectives include: sobriety, experiencing God, getting a job, finding a place to live, and getting connected to a local church. We know these are big objectives and that’s the primary reason we’ve changed our graduation celebrations to twice a year. We need more time to provide or clients with the treatment, training and tools to succeed long term.

As we set a new direction for 2018 we are excited about our Spiritual Training and Job Training Programs.

Through the Spiritual Training Program, led by James Pope our VP of Evangelism and Discipleship, we are providing an experience closer to real life – in other words, a routine closer to what our clients can expect after they graduate. For example, in the past bible study occurred every morning and chapel every night. Now we offer Chapel service on Wednesday and Sunday nights and each morning, we have a 30-minute devotion. During these staff-led morning devotions, we combine the men and women together for the first time in the history of the Mission – again, so the experience is closer to real life.

It’s only been a few weeks since we started the morning devotions and I am already seeing the tremendous impact. Not only for the clients, but for our staff. It’s a powerful sense of spiritual direction to lead one of these devotions.  In addition to helping our staff get to know the clients better, they are realizing that it’s part of their responsibly to communicate spirituality to our clients.

Our new Job Training Program is something I’m also really excited about.

job trainingEach week, as part of the in-take process, I talk to the homeless men who want to join our program. One of the things I keep hearing is “We need jobs” or “I lost my job because of my addiction problem”.

At San Diego Rescue Mission, we’ve always offered a recovery program as well as life skill classes.  It was clear that preparing our clients for employment opportunities needed to be more strategic.

That’s why we developed a new 12 month Job Training Program.

This starts with the “Discipline of Work” where our clients work on-site here in San Diego Rescue Mission’s kitchen, warehouse, or in our Thrift Stores. They need to show us that they have the commitment, drive and want to work.

Once they have shown their desire to work they can move onto Stage 2 “Development of Skill”. Thanks to our new partnership with San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE) we launched a pilot program offering certifications in several job skills: Plumbing, Welding, Auto Tech, Office Manager, and HVAC.

Job Training at SDRMBut the preparation doesn’t stop with the classroom. Once they acquire the trade skills, they move into Stage 3 “Demonstration of Ability”. This is when they get internships with local businesses and build first-hand experience using their new skills.

And the Final stage? “Deployment to Employment”. This is the time they prepare for graduation and begin the transition to a self-sustaining life. During this stage, we help them with resume building, the job search and securing housing.

We spent a lot of time lining up the partnerships and resources to build this new Job Training Program and now, I am proud to say, it’s officially in motion! In fact, 24 men have already started their trade skill training on site at SDCE this month!

I am so thankful for the selfless dedication and support of my team, partners, and donors who helped kick off this renewed and refocused future for San Diego. Together, we are helping more of San Diego’s homeless men and women truly rebuild their lives and develop the life skills they need to no longer feel hopeless, or helpless.

 

God Bless

Donnie Dee

 

 

 

Donnie Dee

 

We See You

Same Kind of Different As Me

When you give a homeless man a plate of food, you are telling him, “I see you”.

We are seeing it more and more. Outside our local stores, in our neighborhoods, along the streets of downtown – more and more of our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness.

We recently invited our Home Team Monthly Giving Partners to a pre-screening of the film “The Same Kind of Different as Me” – a powerful movie about the relationship between a homeless man and the volunteers at a Rescue Mission. It was so inspiring to watch how the process of giving, I mean really giving, impacted the lives of the volunteers – sometimes even more so than the homeless people they helped.

In one of the scenes, a homeless man named Denver (played by Djimon Housou) asks Ron, a wealthy volunteer played by Greg Kinnear, “What do you think a homeless person thinks when you give them a plate of food?” Ron, not sure how to answer the question says, “I’m helping?” No, Denver says, “You are saying ‘You See Me’”.

And this is what we do every day at San Diego Rescue Mission. Our volunteers, case workers, staff – we SEE the people who are struggling on our streets. They are San Diegans with stories. Stories that have led them to lose their way, and many times their voice.

Just last week we honored the 116 men and women who died alone on the streets of San Diego. During this important event, we carry the shoes of the deceased, and we tell their stories  – because they can no longer tell it.

Donnie Dee at Candlelight Vigil

Here I am at our annual Candlelight Vigil helping to tell the stories of the 116 homeless individuals who died alone on the streets in San Diego this year. We will remember you.

Their stories are not always related to drug addiction, crime or alcohol abuse. In fact, many San Diegans are just a job loss, injury or eviction away from ending up on the streets.  Homeless individuals are not all the same. They do not all have the same story. But they all need help turning their story around.

Every 3 months, we celebrate those clients who are changing their story through our special Graduation Ceremonies. Each graduation at the Mission represents the effort and important role every single person on this team plays to help a homeless individual turn their story around. Volunteers, Case Mangers, Donors, Board members, Staff everyone plays a role.  My hope is get more people on this team, so we can help more San Diegans get off the streets and turn their story around. Let’s turn these graduation ceremonies into BIG events in San Diego!

Homeless Lives MatterBefore I close, I’d like to share one more powerful line from the movie I mentioned earlier. It happens in one of the last scenes of the movie when Denver says, “We are all homeless. We are all just trying to get home.”

And this is so true. Whether you live in Ranch Santa Fe or on the streets of downtown, we are all trying to find our way to God. We are all trying to find our way home. We can all benefit from more love, compassion and connection.

“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them”. – Hebrew 6:10

So let’s do this together. Let’s find our way home together.

Lets work together to let San Diego’s lost, least and lonely know that “We See You”. We want to be a part of your story. And let’s commit to making our next Graduation Ceremony an even bigger success.

God Bless

Donnie Dee

 

 

 

Donnie Dee

 

 

This is a Team I Can Win With

Donnie DeeBy Donnie Dee

As a former NFL Football player, I know I’m only as strong as the team. And in my first 45 days here as CEO and President, I’ve become in awe of the team here at San Diego Rescue Mission. This staff, the volunteers, the Board… they are all here for the right reasons.  And I’m confident that God positioned us together strategically to be a solution for our homeless neighbors.

During these first weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know the staff through “All Staff” meetings, one-on-ones and a survey – which by the way, revealed that 74% of our staff said they feel a sense of “calling” to the Rescue Mission. Through these interactions, I’ve learned just how committed the team is. Here are just a few examples:

We have staff members who drive 1.5 hours every day from Temecula/Murrieta, and another who drives 2 hours from El Centro.

We have a program director who worked a 16 hour day (more than once!) because a Residential Advisor (RA) was ill.

Our Children’s Center director has taken our clients’ clothes home with her and washed them in her own washer and dryer.

We had an RA perform chest compressions on a client who was unresponsive until paramedics could get there and give her a diabetes shot.

Childrens Center

Our Children’s Center director has taken our clients’ clothes home with her and washed them in her own washer and dryer.

We had 10 of our Board Members attend the first board meeting with me as president – and  7  attended our clients’ graduation in July.

Just recently, I had a program director show up in my office in tears. She was distraught over a client who had to be discharged from the program due to a code of conduct violation. The director knew that if this individual went back to the streets, it would be the worst case scenario. We sat down, and worked together to see how we could get her back on track – back into the program.

Those are just a handful of examples showing the commitment of this staff.  They aren’t doing it for the hours, the pay, or a stress free work environment. They do it for the homeless, hungry and hurting people we serve every day. I’m inspired by the work they do.  It makes me want to strive to serve them even better.

Part of my mission in my first weeks here, was to assist in the decision and hiring process for two key positions.

As many of you know, our VP of Programs stepped down a month before I got here. As we conducted interviews to find the perfect replacement, we realized that our strongest candidates were those who already worked here.

Helping homeless

Winning means eliminating homelessness one life at a time.

We ended up promoting two long time staff members for the roles. I’m so pleased to announce that Jeremy Dawsey- Richardson, formerly Program Director of the Recuperative Care Unit is our new VP of Programs. And James Pope, formerly Men’s Center Director, will be filling the newly created position of VP of Evangelism and Discipleship.  This new position is designed to create a greater awareness around the spiritual development aspect of what we do. You’ll be hearing more about Jeremy and James, and their new roles, in the upcoming months.

As discussed in my last blog post “A New Calling Revealed,” I knew God had a plan for me.  And what I’ve experienced and seen here in my first 45 days has helped to confirm that I made the right choice. In my 27+ years of ministry, I don’t believe there is a more worthy cause that I’ve ever been associated with.

Not just because we feed and house homeless men, women and children, but more importantly, (and unlike other Government-funded nonprofits) we have the freedom and blessing to talk about faith and God. Together, we work to address issues of the heart and spirit.

Jesus changes lives and that’s the game changer!!

God Bless,

Donnie Dee

 

 

 

A New Calling Revealed

By Donnie Dee

Donnie DeeI never planned on becoming the next President and CEO of San Diego Rescue Mission. I was enjoying my work as The Director of the Tom Landry Associates for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).  It had been a fun season of watching my kids play college Basketball for USD and UCI, and volunteering my time on Christian Boards such as Worship for Kids. Of course, we were donors to the San Diego Rescue Mission, but becoming the next President and CEO? That was not my plan.

But God had a different plan for me.

It started when a friend forwarded me the job description of the new position and said “This is you!” Strategic Leadership, Visionary, Operations Management, Fundraising…  all things I have much experience with and was currently doing for FCA.  In the months that followed, my new calling was revealed through the interview process.  Amos 3:7

I was deeply impressed by the Board of Directors. I have a lot of experience dealing with different types of Boards, and this Board really stood out. I saw a genuine love for the Mission in each of them.

I was inspired by the staff. Their commitment was unwavering – from helping the clients to sharing their love of Christ. This was a team I wanted to help build, support and serve.

I was moved by Herb’s leadership. I toured the Mission and saw first-hand what he helped build the past 15+ years.  I caught his vision.

The Dee Family

Meet the Dee family. Known as a sports family involved in sports ministry, they are looking forward to this new journey. Johnny (USD) and Jenny (UCI) both played college basketball and Jackie ran cross country in college. Donnie was drafted by the NFL and went on to play for the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks. (Photo from San Diego Union Tribune)

One afternoon, while touring the Emergency Overnight Shelter, I congratulated Herb on the incredible accomplishment of being able to shelter, feed and care for 80+ women and children each night. His response moved me further. “It’s not the 80+ individuals who stay here that I am concerned about. It’s the 200+ that I am not able to get in here that I think about most often.”

I was moved, but still found myself fighting with God. Is this what you want me to do? Why me? Why now? And that’s when I was challenged by a verse I had read many times.  Proverbs 21:13

“The one who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will himself also call out and not be answered.”

That’s when concern and compassion started to become passion. God was allowing me to hear the cry in a fresh way. This was my new journey, my new assignment.

So here I am, the new CEO and President of San Diego Rescue Mission. I’ve made a commitment to serve and support those who work most directly with our clients and to make sure they have the resources, prayer support, and direction to make a greater impact.

I am looking forward to making this American’s Finest City –and it can’t be until we figure out the problem with people being homeless. In fact, San Diego has the 4th largest homeless population in the country.  We want to be part of the solution.

In addition to President and CEO, I am also the Chief Fundraiser. I believe that donors give to causes, but they invest in results. I plan to show results. I’m looking for men and women who want to invest – which is a much bigger commitment than giving. If we are going to make an impact in this community like we want, it’s going to take true ministry partners.

As I start this new calling as President and CEO, I look forward to getting to know each of you, our supporters, and continuing to build upon this great organization that has stayed so true to its original Mission for more than 60 years.

God Bless,
Donnie Dee
Donnie Dee