By Sean Barron
For Paulo Morris, 2013 began with bouts of depression, alcoholism and drug addiction while he roamed the streets in Tuscawaras County.
Early this year, however, he has a diploma, completed an intense life-skills and academic program and, perhaps most importantly, he has hope for a brighter future.
“My daughter prayed for me. I came to Youngstown after a friend talked to the pastor, who said, ‘Bring him here,’” Morris recalled, referring to his admission to the Discipleship Academy program at the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, 962 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Morris was one of three men honored during Friday’s ceremony for having graduated from the one-year program. The other two who received diplomas are Randy Bryant and Shane White.
Roughly 100 friends, family members and others attended the two-hour program and worship service at the mission, which also included plenty of fellowship and testimonials praising the men for their accomplishments.
Morris explained that he suffered severe depression after seeing the contrast between his daughter’s having studied to be a minister in Fort Wayne, Ind., and his situation.
Morris’ daughter, Kamiyah Morris, prayed for her father, which encouraged him to change his life, he continued, adding that his goals include being part of the Rescue Mission’s staff and helping others better their lives.
“I’m proud of him. We love him so much,” said his sister, Harriet Lemapupatton of Dover, Ohio.
Twenty-two men are in the academy, which features courses on conflict-resolution, financial-management skills and U.S. history, noted Doug Gough, supervisor of men’s services.
A final project requires the clients to write personal testimonies, take part in mock job interviews, draft resumes, attend Bible classes and, if needed, obtain their general-education diplomas.
“I nearly destroyed my life, brother,” said White, whose plans include attending San Diego Christian College to learn ways to reach out to others via ministry. “I needed an overall life makeover.”
The academy’s biblical and educational aspects proved the most beneficial toward helping him turn his life around, White explained, adding that he never thought college would be an option.
Years of drug addiction “got me to the breaking point,” said Bryant, of Austintown, who thanked his sister and her church for their prayers on his behalf.
“It has helped me be a better dad, son, brother and uncle,” he said about the academic program, adding that other benefits included learning more effective ways to deal with anger and develop empathy.
Bryant said he intends to give back to the community by working in the mission’s men’s department. His duties likely will be assisting with food, clothing and shelter needs, he noted.
Overcoming addictions and other challenges needs to be supplemented with positive choices, said the Rev. Dr. William Finnigan,the mission’s Bible-study instructor and the ceremony’s keynote speaker.
The Rev. Mr. Finnigan, affectionately known as “Doc,” cited 2 Timothy 3:16, which talks about how everything in the Scriptures is God’s word and is useful for teaching, helping and showing people how to live more-productive lives.
“Success is finding what God wants you to do and doing it,” he said, adding that many people have material riches yet are spiritually unfulfilled.
John Muckridge, director of education, used the analogy of remodeling a home as a metaphor for the men’s ability to work on changing their hearts.
Additional remarks came from Jim Echement, executive director; Terry Weyand, academy coordinator; and Gary Montagna, worship leader.
Weyand noted that Friday’s ceremony marked the first time three men have graduated simultaneously from the academy.