Christianity is founded on a number of different aspects, but it is centered around the term belief.
Nowhere does that term ring more true than at the Whosoever Gospel Mission, a Christian non-profit organization, located on 101 E. Chelten Ave., that provides shelter, food, clothing, education, counseling and rehabilitation to those in need in Philadelphia.
“The thing that I like the most about working here is that instead of just addressing one little segment of someone’s struggles or problems, we address everything holistically,” executive assistant Heather Rice said.
Much like the residents who are in the program, the Whosoever Gospel Mission has undergoing a rebuilding process of its own in the last few years. In 2006. a three-alarm blaze destroyed the warehouse and dormitory of the facility. The old dormitory, which housed 180 people, had a much higher capacity than the current dormitory of 54 people. That is a significant drop in the amount of people the mission can provide services for.
What makes the fire even more devastating is that it was started by someone that the mission was trying to help. Paul Wilkins, a resident in the program, was later diagnosed as a serial arsonist and sentenced to 60 months in jail. The Rev. Bob Emberger, executive director of Whosoever Gospel Mission, described what the fire did to the organization. “The fire destroyed a single four-story warehouse and heavily damaged our residential dormitory forcing us to close down for nearly three years,” Emberger said.
Instead of folding under the devastating arson fire, the Whosoever Gospel Mission used this tragedy as a way to become better. The buildings were renovated and rebuilt to include up to date code laws and amenities like air conditioning. “The total cost of the renovations came to around $3.2 million,“ Emberger said. “They are now great, great facilities.”
The Whosoever Gospel Mission was founded in 1892 and has since provided its services to over half a million people in the area. The mission provides a program called New Life , which is a residential program for homeless men. The New Life program gives residents a place to stay, eat and socialize with a dormitory on the premises. Each resident is given a separated unit on the same floor that can fit a bed and dresser along with some other personal belongings.
Certain amenities are provided to the residents in the program. There is a television room, a communal bathroom, a recreation area for activities like table tennis and a cafeteria that provides breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. “We provide around 180 meals a day to residents, staff and guests,” chef Ken Aekins said.
Aekins is currently going through the program at the mission. “I support the mission by giving my time and working in the kitchen,” Aekins said.
Mike Sellers is another chef in the kitchen. who speaks about the opportunities the mission has given him. “This is a great program here,” Sellers said. “We learn the job skills and disciplines that most of us here don‘t have for whatever reasons brought us here. It’s a refresher course to that aspect of life.”
Each resident is given the same opportunity that Aekins and Sellers have in doing work for the mission. There is a work schedule with daily jobs such as kitchen prep work, cleaning, going out and receiving donations and working in one of the two thrift stores the mission owns. In addition to their main thrift store on 101 E. Chelten Ave. in Germantown, there is another thrift shop called the Lighthouse Thrift Shop, which is located in the Lawndale neighborhood at 6515 Rising Sun Ave.
Job readiness is one of the key focal points of the mission, and graduates have gone on to work in many places outside of the mission. The program offers tutoring and educational services for members to have a better chance of gaining employment. Megan O’Neil is a teacher in the education and computer lab for the residents in program, which helps with everything from teaching basic adult education classes to helping residents obtain their GED.
“We have around 25 guys who come in and out of the lab on a daily basis and around five to six tutors who come in every day to teach different subjects,” O’Neil said. In addition to using the lab for education, people can also use the lab for leisure, browsing the Internet, playing video games and searching for jobs.
Plans for the future include a facility for homeless women and their children. “The capacity for that building would be around 40 people, servicing 12 mothers and an average of 2.5 kids per mother,” Emberger said. The planned facility will be called “Hannah’s Place,” and will cost around $3.3 million.
The Whosoever Gospel Mission is known for the neon sign that adorns the roof of the facility on Chelten Avenue facing down toward Germantown Avenue. The sign, which reads “Jesus Never Fails,” is a symbol not only for the residents inside, but for the Christian mission as a whole as it continues to expand and improve its services in the years after the arson fire to those who need it the most.
For more information on the Whosoever Gospel Mission, visit https://www.whosoevergospel.org