Ministry in need

After 23 years of helping the community’s down-and-out succeed in life, the Well Ministry of Rescue gets a new name, looks for help itself

Larry Mifflin (left) and David Kroessig both started at the Well Ministry of Rescue (now the Chico Rescue Mission) as program participants. Now they run the place.

Larry Mifflin (left) and David Kroessig both started at the Well Ministry of Rescue (now the Chico Rescue Mission) as program participants. Now they run the place.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Help the cause:
To donate to the nonprofit Chico Rescue Mission, send checks to 2612 Esplanade, Chico, CA, 95973.

There’s a whole lot of change going on over at what used to be the Well Ministry of Rescue. The most visible is the name—it’s now the Chico Rescue Mission—and it has a new board of directors and new bylaws, too. But, for fear of sounding a bit cheesy, the biggest change is still in the men who call the north Esplanade property home. They walk in destitute but willing to work past their demons and come out with purpose, job skills and resources, ready to take a new lease on life.

David Kroessig and Larry Mifflin know this first-hand. When they came to the ministry, 17 and 11 years ago, respectively, they needed help. After their year in the program, which includes being housed, clothed, fed, supplied with rehab and job skills and provided plenty of interaction with Jesus, they decided to stay on as staff. In fact, everyone who works at the Chico Rescue Mission was once a participant.

“We came out of the drug culture ourselves, so we’re aware of what it takes for addicts to get back,” said Kroessig, the mission’s CEO and administrator, during a recent interview.

But all is clearly not business as usual at the mission. Last September, its property was foreclosed on after three years of not paying the bills. Last month, after several attempts to sell the property to outside buyers for more, the bank offered to sell it to the Chico Rescue Mission for $800,000.

“That seemed to be the magic number,” Kroessig said. “It triggered new interest. People seemed to think, ‘That’s a number we can live with; that’s a number we can contribute to.’”

So, a group of local supporters, who have been working with the ministry for 3 1/2 years to try to help keep it afloat, put down $100,000 as a down payment. The goal now is to raise a good chunk of the rest of that money in the next few months.

“We certainly don’t need fewer ministries; we need more,” said Mifflin, the ministry’s executive director.

The trouble began back in 2006, Kroessig explained, when the ministry decided to purchase a plot of land near Pleasant Valley High School on which they planned to build five houses that, once sold, would help finance the programs they offer. “You know what happened right after that …”

The housing bubble burst, and with it their plans for that property. The problem was, they’d taken out a loan to purchase the land. Then, in 2010, the state pulled out of a contract with the ministry that contributed more than $22,000 a month for housing up to 15 ex-offenders. “What we didn’t know, but they did, was that AB 109 [the prison realignment bill] was coming,” Kroessig explained.

Those two incidents combined led to the downslide of the Well. By fall 2011, they were unable to make their loan payments. About six months later, after learning of the ministry’s difficulties, a group of concerned citizens got together to try to keep it afloat.

“I put a study group together, hired an accountant, went into their books,” said Homer Lundberg, a founder of Lundberg Family Farms. “We didn’t even meet with the board or the men that were managing it until we had gone through all the books. I said, ‘I want to make sure we see the same thing from the outside as they do from the inside.’ And we did.”

So, with no one to blame but Lady Luck for the financial problems facing the ministry, this group of supporters hung on till the price was right. Lundberg said he’s confident that they’ll be able to drum up enough community support to raise another $300,000 to $400,000.

“I am a promoter of the Jesus Center and the Salvation Army and the Torres Shelter. All of those different things fit a different need in the community; they fit a niche,” Lundberg said. “And the niche that the Chico Rescue Mission now fills is finding men who have decided they want to turn their lives around and are willing to make a real commitment to do it. That’s the first step. And it’s just amazing—they come in there, they stick with it and it works.”