Pajaro Rescue Mission celebrates 50th anniversary with expansion

By Donna Jones
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 07/23/2012

PAJARO — George Muro hit bottom three years ago.

His marriage had fallen apart. He had lost the custodial job he had held for 12 years at a school district in Tracy. He was drinking and using drugs.

That’s when his daughter told him only one thing could save him: God.

Muro, 47, heeded that advice and reclaimed his life at the Pajaro Rescue Mission, which provides food and shelter to the homeless and, for those who want to seize it, the chance to change their lives. Sitting in the mission’s dining room Monday, Muro clutched a Bible and quoted scripture from memory. During his nearly three years at the mission, he’s found sobriety, reconnected with his family and rediscovered his faith.

He’s also close to obtaining the equivalent of a high school diploma, a huge accomplishment for a man who arrived at the mission with the math skills of a second-grader and in such an addled condition that he could barely string a sentence together, let alone read a book.

“If it wasn’t for this place, there’s no telling where I’d be,” said Muro.

The mission, which serves men and is managed by the faith-based nonprofit, Teen Challenge Monterey Bay, will mark its 50th anniversary at a community celebration Aug. 25. But as leaders prepare for the party, they’re also working to expand the shelter’s capacity by almost 50 percent to fill an anticipated gap in homeless services when the Salvation Army closes its Watsonville shelters Aug. 15.

The Salvation Army announced in June it could no longer afford to operate two shelters for men and one for women and children near its Union Street headquarters. The shelters serve about 60 people, including about 40 men.

Chuck Allen, the former board president for the Pajaro Valley Salvation Army, said he hopes to go to the organization’s regional board with a proposal to hand over management of the men’s shelters to the mission by the end of the month. He also helps to raise $100,000 in the community to support the effort.

But Mike Borden, Teen Challenge’s executive director, said Pajaro Rescue Mission will find a way to provide for the men regardless. It’s an opportunity to impact 40 more lives, he said.

“We will take that up,” Borden said. “We don’t turn anyone away.”

On a tour of the mission Monday, Teen Challenge leaders laid out a plan to increase the number of cots set up nightly in the mission chapel. They’ll put more cots in the dining room, if necessary, Borden said.

They also are seeking donation of two vans so they can transport men to the mission from the Salvation Army, which will continue to serve meals.

They’ll also open the Teen Challenge recovery program to men seeking sobriety. The program, which provides beds in dorms upstairs in the two-story mission, requires clients without a high school diploma to go back to school, and it provides training for jobs in construction, culinary arts and landscaping.

“We’re able to offer something more than a bed,” Borden said. “We’re offering a chance to open the door and change their lives.”