Program Report: The Reverend Ernie Mills and the Durham Rescue Mission

ErnieMillsWebThe story of the Durham Rescue Mission is one of incredible vision, dedicated work, and whose bedrock is the redeeming power of Christian faith.  Founded in 1974 by Dr. Ernie Mills and his wife Gail, the Mission has grown from a shelter for 12 homeless out-of-work men trapped by their addictions to an operation that houses 372 men, women and children.  The men’s facility is located at the main campus which, in addition to administrative services, houses an impressive array of support facilities: GED room for high school diploma tutoring, computer room with reference materials for job hunting, counseling center, TV room for socializing.  If our lunch was any indication, the residents eat healthy and hearty meals.  The dormitories were impeccable—beds made up to the most exacting standards, no clothes or other personal items strewn on the floor.  Each resident has assigned duties that rotate regularly.   The handsome church at the front of the main campus stands as a welcome beacon of hope for the needy.  Club member Ernie Mills, Jr’s introductory remarks gave us insight into the background of the Mills’ conviction that their ministry should be among the homeless and the addicted.

Opened in 1993, a program for women with small children is located at the Good Samaritan Inn off I-85.  For the most part, these women have battled addictions; many have suffered abuse, or find themselves with no marketable income producing skills.  An attractive playground provides wholesome activity for the children, and childcare provides the women with the freedom to engage in vocational education, and receive spiritual guidance to help overcome their addictions.

The Rescue Mission has grown into the largest program of its kind in the Triangle and houses more than 50% of Durham’s homeless population.   “We always keep one bed open for that one person desperately seeking help,” they said.

Perhaps the most dynamic activity of the Rescue Mission is its Victory Program.  This is a twelve month three-stage program, grounded in Bible study, that not only continues to provide safe shelter and to assist men and women to break free of their addictions, but also to gain the knowledge and skills to enter or re-enter the workforce.  It appeared that a resident currently in the program or is a recent graduate was seated at most of our luncheon tables.  My table was fortunate to have Charles, an affable, bright and very forthcoming product of the Victory Program.  Trained in culinary arts, Charles had worked in several restaurants before his addictions gained the upper hand.  He is currently looking for a job and exudes confidence that he will soon be employed and contribute to society.  Another inspiring story involved Rebekah and Mike who had a nice home , an electrical business, a stable income until their lives unraveled because of drugs.  First, Rebekah came to the Mission seeking help.  Inspired by her success, Mike joined her at the Mission, turned himself around and they are now back together as a couple.

The Mission is proud of the fact that it has not relied on taxpayer dollars to finance its operations.  Funding initially came from individual and corporate contributions, but the recent economic downturn severely stressed its finances.  A result was the opening of Thrift Stores to generate income and, equally important, to create jobs for the unemployed and to provide opportunities for community volunteers to become involved in the Rescue Mission’s ministry.  The 70 Mission employees in the three stores not only earn some income but they build a resumé to present to prospective employers.  The Thrift Store on Chapel Hill Boulevard is the largest such store in the Triangle.  “If your clothing is no longer becoming to you, let it come to us.”  In fact, the Mission reckons that it has saved taxpayers something on the order of nearly $12 million—every homeless person on the street costs the community $10,000.GailMillsWeb

There are numerous ways Triangle citizens can support the Durham Rescue Mission.  Contributions, of course, help, but the Mission relies on volunteers to serve meals and tutor residents, work in Thrift Stores, donate clothes and other items to the Thrift Stores, participate in one of the community events (festive dinners at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and Back to School), serve as a liaison between the Mission and your church, donate (or better yet, buy) a car.  For a more detailed look at the programs and activities of the Durham Rescue Mission and opportunities to volunteer, visit its web-page (

The success of the Durham Rescue Mission has not gone unnoticed.  Our club bestowed a Paul Harris fellow on Ernie and, recently, Governor Pat McCrory appointed Mills to the Interagency Coordinating Council for Homeless.


Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

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