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Former Newspaperman Feels “Blessed By Job” at the Rescue Mission

Lee Clark

by Melvin E. Matthews, Jr.

Before he began what would eventually become a full-time association with the Roanoke Rescue Mission, CPA Lee Clark served as a major account sales executive at the Roanoke Times, where he also worked for a time as a manager for the paper’s classified department.  Clark initially became acquainted with the Rescue Mission when Judy Rumford, who had retired from the Times and was now volunteering at the Mission, invited him to tour the facility.

Through this opportunity, Clark met Mission CEO Joy Sylvester-Johnson, whose parents had founded the facility in 1948.  Sylvester-Johnson invited Clark to join the Mission’s foundation board—and eventually followed that offer with another:  the job of planned giving officer, a position Clark felt he was qualified to fill since he had been involved with advertising and marketing.  One primary focus of his new job at the Mission would be persuading donors to include the Mission as they are preparing their wills or estates.

From that beginning, Clark rose to his current position as director of development and finance at the Mission. Comparing his job at the Mission with his former profession, Clark explains that the latter “was very similar in some ways in that my job was to understand the needs of my customers and to provide excellent customer service and to provide a resource to them — to be able to get the message out about what they were doing.  At the Rescue Mission …we have an excellent reputation, a wonderful resource here with the services that we provide [which includes] everything from emergency shelter to medical care through our free credit for the homeless to our recovery programs to clothing for people.”

Clark is never at a loss for words when describing what the Rescue Mission offers: “we provide three meals a day [and other resources] to people who are in crisis—families who have lost their homes, people who have been in housing and, for whatever reason, find themselves on the street. The Rescue Mission [offers] medical care, case management, and recovery programs. There are all sorts of needs that are here, and our volunteers and our donors are what enable us to keep the doors open every day.”

Among the programs offered is a residential drug and alcohol recovery program that takes approximately 16 months to complete—during which time enrollees, in addition to taking classes aimed at teaching them how to live a chemically-dependent free life, have a work assignment at the Mission, which is the only shelter in Virginia to have a free clinic on-site.  The Mission also provides mental health, psychiatric, and dental care.

“We’d love to be able to offer more dental care,” says Clark, “and we’re actively working to build on our dental care that we’re offering here in the clinic. Dental care and medical care are two of the areas where we have [more] opportunities to continue to build on what we’re doing.”

The Rescue Mission receives all of its funding from private sources.  Despite the current economic hard times, funding levels have remained steady.  “Thanks to those individuals who are writing those monthly gifts and making their support for the Mission,” Clark says. “I think a lot of folks see the Rescue Mission as their favorite charity.  They are invested here through their time—coming to volunteer.  They’re invested here through the gifts that they make.  And fortunately, thanks to those folks, who make that possible, we’re able to keep our doors open.”

Calling his experience with the Mission “a blessing,” Clark adds, “I have felt so grateful to be able to be here, to be able to grow and to connect people who want to help with those who are in need. That’s really a lot of what my job is all about—being able to connect people who have a heart–they want to help; they just don’t know how to do it.  And the Rescue Mission is a very tangible place where people can get involved and make a real difference in somebody’s life.  I think we have a wonderfully compassionate community, and the Rescue Mission provides that access point for people who want to help, to be able to get involved in a way that’s safe and efficient, to be able to help people and help them get back on their feet.”

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