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Eugene Mission Undertakes New Direction For 2020 And Beyond

Brian Bull

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent grant, the Eugene Mission has re-invented its work with the unhoused. 

The mission’s new approach is through a program called R3, which means Rescue, Revitalize, and Restore. Funded for three years with a $176,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the program was to start in 2021…but the pandemic accelerated the timeline.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Formerly Food Services Director for the Eugene Mission, Marshall Eck is now director of the new R3 program.

R3 Director Marshall Eck explained to KLCC how its 150 participants are faring.

“We are seeing the most exponential change I’ve seen in about six years," Eck said.  "The brotherhoods and sisterhoods, and culture and community, is thriving.

"They are laughing together, they are dining together, and they are digging deep to see what has prevented them from taking the next steps of bettering their lives.”

Participants are mentored and coached for roughly six months to become self-sufficient and ready to integrate into the community at large. Courses include financial management, world culture, and wellness training.

Michael Ballach has been looking for work since the pandemic hit, and hopes to someday get a business finance degree. He appreciates being part of R3.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Michael Ballach (left) hopes to get back on his feet and eventually get a degree in business finance; Michele Keith (right) wants to get a degree in accounting. Both are among the first participants in the Eugene Mission's R3 program.

“You tend to get down on your luck and down on yourself, but the staff has been really helpful and they’ve kinda given us our pride back, and let us feel like humans again.”

Michele Keith was among the first participants. She says “personal enrichment” is her favorite course so far.

“We talked about self-care, self-love…self-esteem, we talked about anger management…different aspects of day-to-day emotions.”

Eck says this will be the new standard, even after the pandemic ends.

If participants struggle to gain self-sufficiency and rejoin their community, Eck adds that more coursework is an option. 

The new model for Eugene Mission also makes social distancing and other pandemic protocols easier to manage.  During classes, students were socially distanced and everyone - including the instructor - wore face masks.

During a recent tour of the mission, its director of philanthropy, Beth Sheehan, pointed out several delivery trucks that made stops over at places like Trader Joes and Whole Foods, and were bringing back donated food to the facility. Part of the day's operations includes preparing the food for the mission and area partners, like Community Supported Shelters. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Beth Sheehan of the Eugene Mission explains the "gleaning" duties, where donated food is unloaded, sorted, and distributed with community partners with the help of R3 participants.

"Right now we have a lot of fresh produce, but we have giving away lots of retail chicken.  A lot of bread. Whatever we don't use, we work to keep it out of the dumpsters by sharing with our partners," explained Sheehan.

"Our Cubers (the nickname of R3 participants)  help us unload it and sort it."

"We are grateful to play a small role in helping build the capacity of Eugene Mission so that they can help build the capacity of countless individuals," said Steve Moore, executive director of the Murdock Trust in a release.

"We had this plan for relational programming for residential guests in 2021," adds Sheryl Bathrop, the mission's executive director.  "And then COVID expedited it and showed us it works.  Rather than serving our guests through transactional handouts, we aim to work with our guests."

"It's not a place to just come and sit, and end up here forever anymore," said Eck.  "But if you have a desire to achieve your own level of housing or job or income, and you just need a little work, we're ready.  I encourage people to come here and be challenged, but loved.  And for all of us to work together."

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.