The Mission in Rolla was started 10 years ago as a ministry at the Vineyard Church in Rolla. A small laundromat that was open one day a week and going forward the non-profit would like to offer meals every day so no one has to go hungry in Phelps County.

The Mission, in its beginning, consisted of volunteers at the Rolla Vineyard Church who saw that the community members coming into the ministry to do their laundry were hungry, so the ministry started providing food for them.

The word spread about how the ministry was aiding those who weren’t fortunate enough to know when they would have their next meal or if they would make it through a cold winter without shelter.

The ministry grew from there, and in 2014, the ministry became a separate non-profit for community members who need the generosity that is offered from what was once a small ministry at Vineyard Church that has now flourished and expanded services for those who are homeless in Phelps County.

“Vineyard church caught a glimpse of the scope of homelessness in Rolla, and this problem was much bigger than one church can handle,” explained Ashley Brooks, Executive Director of The Mission, who spoke at the August 6, Rolla City Council meeting, updating the council on the work The Mission is carrying out, along with the non-profit’s hopes for the future.

Back in 2016 the Mission was able to stay open overnight for the first time thanks in large part to the city of Rolla and the City Council, explained Brooks.

“People were coming in to wash their clothes and eat and sleeping outside on the sidewalks. That wasn’t okay,” she said. “At first we were only able to stay open when it was 32 degrees outside or colder because we didn’t have enough funds.”

The Mission this past winter though was able to open its doors every night from February through March and had around 25 people staying in the warmth of the building on the coldest night in January 2018. Not only was the Mission able to open its doors every night, the non-profit hit a milestone and helped shelter more homeless individuals in the non-profits existence.

Brooks explained that every year there is a point in time where Missouri conducts a study with several agencies who work directly with people who are homeless to get an idea of how many individuals are homeless in Missouri.

The study divides homeless people into two classes—unsheltered and sheltered. “Unsheltered are people literally sleeping outside on a sidewalk or a park bench, and sheltered persons are homeless but couch surf, sleep in their cars or sleep at a shelter,” noted Brooks to the council.

Five years ago there were 44 sheltered homeless individuals and 14 unsheltered in Rolla, but last winter when the Mission was able to stay open every night there were 41 homeless individuals who were able to remain sheltered and no one was left unsheltered sleeping in the sometimes harmful, brisk conditions that come with the winter season.

“We currently serve an average of 322 meals a week, and I have about eight people take a shower daily, and last year over 14,000 loads of laundry was logged in our free laundry mat,” said Brooks.

The Mission additionally is able to now offer job workshops bi-weekly with a representative from the Missouri job center that includes one-on-one assistance for those looking for jobs, which lead Brooks to share an impassioned story of a young lady who stayed at The Mission this year. She had no hope for the future, and had been homeless for a little over two months and “was very broken.”

At first, she slept all day, and when she was a wake she was very quiet. After a while she struck up a friendship with someone else staying at The Mission, and Brooks started developing a deeper relationship with her as well.

“Her self-esteem was so low because she felt so bad about the mistakes she made in the past, and through those conversations with her I got a glimpse into what an incredible person this girl was,” said Brooks. “She is incredibly articulate, and she has a deeply poetic soul, so with her consent, I reached out to a Christian counselor that was also impressed by this girl.”

He had then reached out to several of his friends and helped gather enough money to pay for her to move into an apartment two weeks ago, and last week alone she applied for over 15 jobs and on Aug. 3, 2018, she was offered a full time position, when two months prior she didn’t know when her next meal was going to be or where she would sleep, explained Brooks. A representation of how The Mission works on the ground level to change people’s lives in Rolla.

After listening, Daniel Jones, city council member for Rolla Ward 1 said, “I just want to say that what I see at The Mission is not just the folks who are experiencing homelessness. I have come in there several times, and Ashley is working with people to help feed them, get their laundry done, and help them find jobs.

“I have also come in and seen her helping young families with babies and budgets, and I have brought people from my ward that needed help to The Mission, and she stopped everything she was doing to give her attention to those folks and help them.”

He explained with the opioid crisis rampant in Phelps County The Mission is a haven for giving people that have fallen a chance to get on their feet, and that her mission for The Mission is what the community needs. The Mission helps people take steps to get out of homelessness instead of staying in the same limbo.

The Mission is currently looking to offer year-round shelter with additional programs that will help the community members that believe they have nowhere to go, become successful, and Brooks explained to the council that she is going to have a focus group to discuss homelessness in Rolla and dig directly to the roots of the issue.

She invited the Rolla City Council and members of Phelps County who work directly with people who are homeless, to be a part of the discussion on Sept. 27 at 10 a.m. at Rolla City Hall.

On top of that, Jones thanked Brooks and her service through The Mission on behalf of the council.

“I would like you to know that those of us that are available on Aug. 18, 2018, will come in and serve a meal,” he said. “Ashley it takes a special person to do what you do.”

If you deal directly with those who are homeless in Rolla and want to help solve the issue that leaves people without a readily available means for a place to sleep or food, with many underlying facets involved, Brooks said to contact her to RSVP to the meeting on Sept. 27, 2018, at https://www.therollamission.org/.