Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the Rapid City Journal and is being republished here with permission.
When you drive past the Cornerstone Rescue Mission on Main Street in Rapid City, South Dakota, do you wonder what it is like to live there? And how people end up there? I spent six months at the Mission.
Here is my story.
December 2016 was frigid. I remember thinking “Was Norway this cold when I lived there as a child?” I had just walked out of the Pennington County Jail wearing the same shorts, tee shirt and flip flops I had on when I entered in June. Maybe that made the cold seem worse.
I was alone. My addictions had driven away family and friends.
The drugs and alcohol started in high school. I married at 18, got a GED and then enlisted in the Navy. After I got out, I went to work for my stepfather’s engineering/surveying company. I had a good job, three children and a nice home.
Then my addictions took over. First, I lost my house, then my job, and finally custody of my children. Then came the downward spiral of homelessness and run-ins with the law.
I walked to the Cornerstone Mission, and what I found there changed my life.
The staff immediately made me feel welcome and gave me clean, warm clothes. Then they took me through the intake process and the rules for residents.
What was six months like there? Is the Mission full of deadbeats and drunks? No. Guest sobriety is a must, and work is required. If you are employed, the Mission helps you save money for your new life. If not, every day the Mission has jobs for you to do while job hunting.
Guests eat in the Mission’s downstairs dining room, and most meals are provided by wonderful volunteer groups. Guests help with the dishes, leftovers and cleaning. Chores help everyone re-acclimate to the responsibilities of having a home.
The dining room floor is where up to 50 women and children sleep at night. Until room opens up at the Cornerstone Women and Children’s home, this is a safe, secure place for them at night.
Up to 100 men can sleep in bunkbeds on the Mission’s top floor. It took a few weeks, but I got used to all of the snoring. Anything beats a jail cot.
Mission guests are caring and compassionate guests, too. Each evening I’d see other men help a gentleman in wheelchair get ready for bed. The next morning they’d do the same. What a blessing.
Cornerstone never tells anyone it is “full.” However, it was sad when some other organizations would leave guests at the Mission, sometimes mentally challenged ones they’d given up trying to help.
Sobriety is fundamental for the Mission’s safe, orderly operation. If someone shows up intoxicated in winter, law enforcement will take them to detox. Cornerstone never wants anyone to freeze to death.
Once I settled in, Mission caseworkers identified programs, benefits and sobriety resources available to me. They helped me with a resume and took me to job interviews. I was always up front about where I lived and my new sober life. If I didn’t get the job, Mission staff encouraged me to keep trying.
Now that I had a job, a Mission veteran’s program helped me get a house. My first month’s rent was paid, and the Mission helped with utility deposits and furniture and supplies.
Next came reassembling my family. First, I got my three children back, and we reunited with my wife. Today we are a family with all the commotion two teenagers and an 8-year-old can bring.
The next time you drive past Cornerstone, please remember the Mission is helping restore hope and rebuild lives for its guests. I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Francis Kaufman is a Navy veteran and is employed by