Akron's House Folder

       Haven of Rest Ministries in Akron provides not only a safe retreat, a meal and warm bed, but also provides education and spiritual encouragement to the destitute.

       We see addictions, mental illness. But some people are going along just fine and then, bam! Life hits them between the eyes," said Don Heskett, Haven of Rest communications coordinator.

       One woman left home under cover of night with five children to escape an abusive husband. A former pro-football player squandered his money. A successful chiropractor got in trouble with the law. Travelers have been stranded. All came to Haven of Rest.

       Lee McPherran, 31, had his own apartment, worked in retail management and was studying business at the University of Akron.

       He became addicted to pornography, and it stripped him of his dignity. Depression took away what little hope he had left. In July of 1997, McPherran gave away his possessions, quit his job and swallowed 164 sleeping pills, washing them down with a fifth of vodka. He woke up in the hospital, but had nowhere to go and ended up at Haven of Rest.

       Haven of Rest Ministries, 175 E. Market St., is the largest private social service agency in Akron. What began as a storefront rescue mission for homeless men in 1943 has grown to serve more than 240,000 free meals and provide 50,000 units of free lodging to homeless men, women and children on-site annually.

       The ministry is funded by gifts and operates with help from nearly 600 volunteers per year.

       Besides sleeping quarters for up to 100 men and dormitory-type rooms for women, clients are offered safe day rooms, where they are given a secure place to store possessions, shower and do laundry. They may receive mail and job-related telephone calls as well as free counseling services, clothing and other necessities.

       Haven offers a resident recovery program for men and women that includes goal-oriented activities and private dormitory rooms. They study the Bible, learn household functions, attend computer-assisted classes and work through emotional problems.

        "We also have an after care program and radio ministry to encourage them to stay on a budget and keep going to church," said Rose Rose, Haven's community relations coordinator. "Many are totally disaffiliated from family, so it's up to us to be God's hands and feet, to show these people someone does care and why we care is because Jesus cares."

       On Aug. 2, 1997, McPherran accepted Jesus' salvation.

        "At that very moment I became a new creature," he said.

       Eventually McPherran became the third-shift supervisor for the men's division. His goal is to enroll in Bible college and continue working with homeless people.

        "The Lord took the old desires away," McPherran said. "I realized what God has to offer is so much better than pornography or anything else."

       Jackie (who asked her last name not be used) came to Haven of Rest in 1992.

        "I think I'm just like a lot of people," she said. "All I ever dreamed of was to be a stay-at-home mom for my two boys."

       But Jackie found herself in an abusive marriage.

        "My husband insisted I take care of household finances," she said, "but he wouldn't tell me when he would spend money. Then it wouldn't be there when I went to pay the bills."

       When the electric bill was overdue, officials came to collect payment or turn off service.

        "I wrote a check on my account, knowing there was no money in there," Jackie said. "Then I got the crazy idea to take money from the bank where I worked part-time and put it in our account."

       The bank pressed charges, and Jackie's husband became very angry and kicked her out.

        "I knew what I did was wrong. I begged for forgiveness," she said. "But it didn't matter."

       With nowhere else to turn, Jackie came to Haven of Rest.

        "Here I found love and support," she said. "It didn't matter that I was a thief. They only saw someone who needed help."

       Jackie enrolled in the women's program at Harvest Home, the facility on Haven's campus built in 1979 which houses up to 48 women and children.

       Jackie received counseling and participated in Bible study and classes in personal growth and career development. She spent the next six months under house arrest working at Harvest Home and paid back every penny to the bank. She then moved out on her own.

       After grieving the loss of her father and battling breast cancer, Jackie remarried and now serves as the second-shift house manager at Harvest Home.

       Wynette Simmons, 44, tried marijuana at 13 and drank alcohol for 27 years.

        "I couldn't care for my three kids," Simmons said. "I was homeless for nine years. I would sleep in abandoned houses and go for days without eating.

        "I had come here for years, but I kept going out and getting drunk and high. That all changed on Sept. 22, 1995. I turned my life over to Christ and prayed for Him to take the taste of alcohol and drugs away."

       Simmons has been employed by Haven of Rest for more than four years, the longest she's ever held a job. She's now a night door supervisor at Harvest Home and tells her story to inner-city girls who attend the Haven of Rest basketball camp.

        "If you have faith," she said, "and the shield of protection of God, then you can continue sobriety."

       Eugene Gilmore, assistant manager of residential services for Haven of Rest, also found hope from the bonds of homelessness.

       Gilmore, 44, from New York City, decided to move to Ohio to be with family but became increasingly involved in alcohol and drugs. At one point he faced a murder charge after killing a man in a bar brawl. The jury decided it was self-defense, and Gilmore came to Haven of Rest in 1989 after being released from prison.

        "I had always lived a hard life," Gilmore said. "There was no one left to turn to but Jesus."

       Gilmore now works with Haven's male clientele and is active in his church and prison ministry. He and wife Eddie have four children and two grandchildren.

        "Never give up hope," Gilmore said. "Christ is a redeemer, and He can heal us no matter what we've done."