Some of the people at the
Durham Rescue Mission's
recent annual fall banquet
had tales of woe, tales of
decades-long battles with
booze and drugs that cost them family, jobs and self-
Funny thing, though: only one person at the banquet made me feel sorry for him: Gov. Roy Cooper.
That's because Gov Cooper had the misfortune of addressing the hundreds gathered in the Sheraton Imperial banquet room immediately after Brandy Ammons and Alex Winn had spoken.
Cooper, just before presenting the rescue mission's founders, the Rev. Ernie Mills and his wife, Gail, with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, praised Mills' "passion and determination" to help people who've lost their way.
"Tonight," he said, "we honor a mission that is saving lives... a mission that understands that every single life has meaning and value."
Good stuff, Gov., and all true, but it paled in comparison to the cautionary tales of the speakers who preceded him.
Ammons spoke hauntingly of how her pastor and husband brought her from Kentucky to the Durham Rescue Mission seeking treatment for her drug addiction. When she protested that she would miss her daughter's graduation, her son's football games, "everything," her husband replied "You're missing it right now."
Winn, of Rockingham County, told how booze and drugs cost him a wrestling scholarship to Duke University.
"After I burned every bridge I ever had," the former high school class president and valedictorian said, he found himself sleeping in his car during a snowstorm. He phoned his grandmother, who recommended he call the Durham Rescue Mission.
He did and the Mission took him in, as it has thousands since its founding in 1974.
The mission, he said, "gave me a hand up instead of a handout."
Ammons returned to Kentucky and now operates a jail ministry.
Winn, 10 years after graduating high school, is currently enrolled at Duke.
The Durham Rescue Mission has for years been my favorite place to which to contribute time, money, clothes and furniture because I've seen how they renovate furniture and people. When North Carolina's forecast calls for an extended period of brutal weather, I've been among the volunteers who go out to round up people with no place to escape the hawk's wrath.
Not everyone accepts the Mission's offer of hots and cots, no matter how wrathful the weather: I've seen men living in tents in the woods flee when approached with an offer of shelter. But those who do accept it can be assured of a safe, warm place with no judgment.
Wanna make the world a better place? You could do a lot worse than volunteering at a rescue mission. Not only do you get a great feeling from helping someone else, but you might - as did the Rev. Mills - meet your spouse while volunteering.
Don't, however, go rushing down there on Thanksgiving Day just because you dread hearing Uncle Rico ranting again over dinner about how he could've been a big basketball star but the coach gave the last scholarship to his own son.
Oh, like I'm the only one who does that, huh?
A volunteer coordinator at the Durham Rescue Mission said they're so "slam full" of volunteers during Thanksgiving and Christmas that they have to turn volunteers away.
But guess what? There are other holidays when they need you.
My favorite major holiday is Sept. 30. That's Z.Z. Hill's birthday.
If you don't regard the day of Z.Z.'s birth with the same reverence as I, find your own holiday to celebrate. Just do it by helping an organization that helps so many.