He walked his daughter down the aisle; What’s the big deal, you ask?

Real Help for Real Living

by Rev. Tony Marciano

The Charlotte Rescue Mission pulls out all the stops on Thanksgiving to make that day extra special for our community guests.

We begin with a hot breakfast at 6 a.m. Homeless men will order off a menu rather than be limited to eating scrambled eggs, thanks to the generosity and partnership of the Dilworth Grill. After breakfast, they’ll move to our chapel or classroom and have a choice of movies. Around 8:30 a.m. we’ll make cell phones available for them to call home. At the same time, we roll out our coffee bar for a morning break.

We’ll begin serving our famous Thanksgiving meal around 11:30 a.m. As our guests come to the dining room, a celebrity maitre d’ greets them. Over the years, we have been blessed to have Al Gardner, Sonja Gantt, Colleen Odegaard and Larry Sprinkle. Each of the maitre d’s greets the guests as if they’re entering Charlotte’s finest dining restaurant. Our guests are asked, “How many are in your party?” Then the maitre d’ refers them to a host or hostess who seats them.

As they enter the dining room, the tables are set in tablecloths, china, silverware and long-stem goblets with a cloth napkin folded in a fan shape coming from it. After being seated, a volunteer dressed in a white shirt and black pants offers to get their beverage. While they’re relaxing, having small talk with their table friends, the volunteer stands in line for the food. After the guest is finished eating, the volunteer clears the table and brings the dessert. After dining, the guest returns to watch more movies through the afternoon.

I know what you’re saying. “Hey, Tony. I thought this was about a wedding?”

Hold on, I’m getting to that.

The mission does this every Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. So what happens the other 362 days of the year at the Charlotte Rescue Mission, you ask.

The passion of Charlotte Rescue Mission is changing lives. We serve men and women who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, who have an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Our life-changing programs last three to four months. By using counselors trained in dealing with substance abuse, we achieve a completion rate of 45 percent for the men and 74 percent for the women compared to a national average of 18 percent. A year later, 75 percent of our clients are still sober, compared to the 25 percent national average.

OK, so back to the wedding. Just after Labor Day, we held our annual Rebound men’s program alumni gathering. We heard one story of a man whose family wanted nothing to do with him, including his sisters and children. To them, he was a lost cause.

Four years ago he entered our Rebound men’s program. Two years after completing our program, his daughter asked him to walk her down the wedding aisle. Today, he has a grandson his daughter trusts him to be with.

At our women’s division, Dove’s Nest, I have watched women struggling with substance abuse arrive disowned by their families. One woman completed our four-month program and graduated from the mission to transitional housing. One year after entering our Dove’s Nest program, her family saw the changes in her and welcomed her home. She was able to return in time to help her son plan his wedding.

I love Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter because it provides the mission with a chance to meet people where they are. We get to make the love of God so real to them they can touch it. It’s my prayer the time spent at the mission on the holiday will provide the chance for us to talk to them about entering the Charlotte Rescue Mission’s life-changing programs. One of our goals is for them to become contributing members of society.

For one man, he did. He walked his daughter down the wedding aisle.

I’ll be back in two weeks. Until then, live well my friends.

Rev. Tony Marciano is executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission. The mission provides a free, long-term Christian recovery program for men and women addicted to drugs and alcohol.

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