Lobby trimmings carry .... A message of hope

The public is welcome to visit and enjoy the Christmas display at the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley. Tours are available year-round by calling 330-744-5485.

By Sean Barron

Special to The Vindicator


Anyone entering the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley this holiday season likely will be first drawn to the Christmas tree and decorations that cover the lobby and main hallway.

It’s what’s not visible, though, that Carol Perkins wants visitors and clients to walk away with.

“Some people think of the Rescue Mission as a dirty place, but I want people to feel hope,” the Austintown woman said recently while taking a brief break from decorating the facility at 962 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. “This lobby represents hope. What greater time than at Christmas, when hope was born?”

For seven or eight years, Perkins, whose volunteer efforts at the mission also have included serving meals, answering the phone and working at the Glenwood Avenue warehouse, has added festivity to the facility. Assisting her recently were her son Jonathan, a student at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and friends Jeff and Mary Lou Thacker of Boardman.

The group put up a 10-foot-tall tree in a corner, erected a trellis with artificial pine cones, added lights along the steps and assembled a train set near the fireplace. They also sprinkled kneeling Santa Claus figurines, two Bibles, harps, candles, snowflakes, a rocking horse, Nativity sets and other holiday-related items throughout.

It may seem like a clich for some to say that the holidays are about giving, but upheaval in Perkins’ life has resulted in her taking that sentiment to heart.

Perkins recalled turmoil she suffered as a teenager and how converting to Christianity not only helped her get through difficult times, but allowed her to rearrange her priorities. The life-changing experience also “made me view things differently and want to live differently,” explained Perkins, a member of Old North Church in Canfield.

Also cementing such values were 11 missions trips to Africa and nine to Brazil, many of which her church sponsored, said Perkins, who runs Africa Health and Hope, a ministry dedicated to raising money to build churches deep in Africa. Some funds went toward building a church in Kenya, she noted.

On another church-sponsored trip, money was used to drill two wells for clean water that some Africans walked up to 15 miles to obtain, Perkins recalled. That project provided uncontaminated water for cooking and feeding animals, she continued.

The trips also brought into sharper perspective the definition of poverty, Perkins explained. Even the poorest Americans “are better off than 99 percent of all Africans,” she added.

Nevertheless, tough economic times, loneliness, depression and other factors probably will make the holidays difficult for some Valley residents, so how should they cope?

“Do something for someone; give of yourself [such as contacting schools to find families in need and reaching out to a person who’s incarcerated] to take your mind off yourself and on someone else,” advised Perkins, who for the last two years has decorated Wilson Middle School on Youngstown’s South Side in a similar fashion.

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