Officials break ground for Rescue Mission

April 10, 2019

When dignitaries gathered at Lafayette Street and East Washington Boulevard in September 2017, it was to watch a wrecking ball smash a huge hole in the side of a massive brick building.

On Tuesday, that building was gone. And, instead of a towering crane, a big yellow bulldozer took the spotlight as Fort Wayne Rescue Mission officials formally broke ground on a $23.1 million building designed to take the nonprofit agency into the future.

The mission promises 317 beds for the city’s homeless plus space for medical, vocational, mental health and other services.

“As our community grows, we cannot assume the need for services for the homeless and near-homeless will disappear,” said Mayor Tom Henry, adding the project shows “human development ... is an important value in this city.”   

Tuesday’s event featured six separate ceremonial turnings of earth, as groups of up to 15 people involved in the yearslong effort lifted silvery shovels.

Participants included not only the mayor but also the project’s leaders, the mission’s executive staff, donors, board members and mission residents.

“I think it’s exciting,” said Blake Hall, 25, a former resident of Bluffton who has been at the mission six weeks and took part in shoveling dirt.

“It will help everybody who wants the help get the help.”

Fellow resident Ray Holley, 61, said the new mission will assist homeless people in new ways.

“It’s going to have more of an outreach and more availability for the homeless to stay and (get) all the resources : like they said, a one-stop shop,” he said.

At the end of the ceremony, the mission’s CEO and senior pastor, the Rev. Donovan A. Coley, climbed into the bulldozer’s cab and, after a quick lesson, moved it about 6 feet and through a small pile of dirt.

“At first it was nerve-wracking, until I received some instruction,” Coley said of driving the heavy equipment.

“I had a good teacher,” he added, referring to sharing the cockpit with Ryan Ramseyer, heavy equipment operator for Bunn Inc., which lent the bulldozer.

The groundbreaking also marked the beginning of the $3 million public phase of the mission’s fundraising campaign, Coley told the crowd of more than 200 people, many gathered under a white party tent.

He announced that Fort Wayne’s Community Foundation recently contributed $100,000 toward the campaign’s new phase. Officials will continue seeking seven to 10 additional major donors, Coley said.

“Now, we’re at $2.9 million,” he said. “I’m so thankful we have that first seed.”