The Valley Rescue Mission celebrated its 50th anniversary at a banquet Thursday night in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center and announced some big changes.
Donna Pearce, the mission's director of development, said the nonprofit organization is launching a capital campaign aimed at raising between $6 million and $8 million.
The mission plans to build a new kitchen and dining room at its Second Avenue location and use the present facilities for storage and offices.
Other facilities in the works include a new emergency shelter to be built next to the Damascus Way shelter for women and children on 11th Avenue.
The plan calls to move all of the men in the addiction recovery program from the mission to its Crossroads addiction recovery facility in Hamilton, Ga.
Pearce said that will open more beds at the Howard Mott Center for transient men.
Executive director Rhonda Mobley summed up the plan: "We are not standing still."
"Valley Rescue Mission provides a vital contribution to the underprivileged people of this area and has done so for a long time," said Mobley, who has worked at the mission since 1997 and replaced Gary Hartman as executive director in 2004.
She said that just about anybody could end up needing one of the many services the mission provides.
"Anyone can fall on hard times," Mobley said. "I have seen people come for help who were once donors."
Asked what she believes has been the greatest achievement of the mission, she replied, "seeing people come here and have a personal relationship with Christ."
Mobley said the need for the mission's services are greater than ever and growing.
Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and a popular radio personality, was the featured speaker at Thursday's anniversary celebration at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, which drew about 360 people. Evans said that Valley Rescue Mission fills a need in the community that couldn't be provided by the government or a secular organization.
Michael LaFramboise, a former chairman of the Valley Rescue Mission Board of Directors and currently the chair of the board's building committee, is excited about the coming changes.
"The Valley Rescue Mission is a lifeline," he said. "We have people who have checked out of society and we help make them productive citizens. We have a 76 percent success rate in our addiction recovery programs and not many programs elsewhere can claim that."
The flowers on the stage Thursday were grown by men in the horticulture program at Crossroads.
The mission is still in the same location where it began. Besides the Howard Mott Center, Damascus Way and addiction recovery programs, the River Ministry delivers food, blankets and medical supplies to those who live on the streets, and the Family Service Ministry provides food, clothing and furniture to the needy in the community. Camp Joy offers a camping experience for children ages 7-11.
The mission serves free meals every afternoon through its Loaves & Fishes program, and it gives free toys to children at Christmas.
Mobley said the nonprofit organization's annual budget is approximately $2.9 million.
It operates on donations from individuals, churches, businesses and foundations as well as profits from its bargain stores. One store is in Columbus, another in Phenix City, and a third is being built on Veterans Parkway.
The mission is not a partner agency of the United Way of the Chattahoochee Valley.
"We feel we can be successful doing our own fundraising," Mobley said.
Frances Mott, 90, whose late husband Howard Mott founded the mission, said in a June interview, "We have never accepted government funds. Too many restrictions. We wanted to be able to have our people attend church. We wanted Bibles in the rooms.
"This has always been a Christian organization. We did not worry about whether we would make it because we knew God was in control."
Since its beginning, the mission has served approximately 3.7 million meals, provided 1.2 million nights of lodging and seen 12,000 children attend Camp Joy, said Pearce.
In 2012, the Valley Rescue Mission served 138,304 meals, provided 42,026 nights of lodging, distributed 6,383 food baskets to community members who were in need, gave 1,616 families clothing items, and presented toys at Christmas to 1,171 children.
In addition to that, the mission distributed 418 fans during the summer and 31 heaters during the winter.
Through August of this year, the mission has provided 82,710 meals and 25,887 nights of lodging.
It opened with just a small church chapel and three "shotgun houses."
"It is amazing what God has done. Every single year it has improved," Mott said. "I never dreamed it would become what it has."
Howard Mott was a traveling salesman for Southern Foods, a meat packing plant.
As he visited churches and missions in different cities such as Macon, Ga., and Montgomery. Ala., he would pick up hitchhikers on the way home and realize they had nowhere to stay here, and he would put them up in a motel.
One day he told his wife that a mission was needed in Columbus, and God wanted him to start one.
He presented his plan to the Christian Businessman's Committee, of which he was a member. They liked the idea and work began to make Mott's dream become a reality.
Another man, Bill Roberson, who had come to Columbus to start a mission, was the first director, but the mission wasn't a year old before he went back to school.
Mott, a father of four who had quit his job, took charge.
Mobley said she is sure that not only Mrs. Mott but many others are surprised at just how far the mission has come. "The credit goes to God," she said.