(pictured above: Dan Parsons (left) greets Drs. Dorothy Bethea (center) and Chinyu Wu.)
After more than a decade at the helm of the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission, Director Dan Parsons is retiring, relinquishing the reins of the steadfast homeless shelter and substance abuse treatment program.
An open house event at the Mission’s Oak Street location last week served as an informal bon voyage celebration for Parsons, who was hired as the agency’s director in 2000.
“I’ve enjoyed working with Dan,” said Mayor Allen Joines, one of the dozens of guests who came out to thank Parsons for his service to the community during the reception. “We’ve fought a few battles together and I’ve just always been so impressed with his commitment to helping these individuals. His heart is so big and we’re going to miss that.”
Dan Horton, a longtime Rescue Mission Board member and pastor, said losing Parsons to retirement is bittersweet for many of those who have worked alongside him over the last 13 years.
“I feel a sense of loss,” confessed Horton, who has led the congregation at Calvary Community Church in Statesville for more than 40 years. “But I’m glad for him and hope he’ll just do well and everything, get along well.”
The Christian-based treatment program the Mission offers has been credited with transforming the lives of myriad men, who often come to the agency after years of substance abuse has brought them to their lowest.
Dr. Dorothy Bethea and Dr. Chinyu Wu stopped by the reception to thank Parsons for his support. For close to four years, the Occupational Therapy Department that Bethea heads at Winston-Salem State University has enjoyed a symbiotic partnership with the Rescue Mission. Wu is overseeing a class of 28 students who worked with Mission residents this semester in group sessions designed to promote autonomy once the men leave the Mission to live on their own. Among the topics the group has covered are setting up an email account and planting an herb garden. Wu said the experience has provided valuable hands-on learning for the students and useful information for the Mission residents.
“It’s a mutual benefit kind of opportunity for both the men here and our students,” she noted. “The programs, the group sessions that our students provided, turned out to be very well received by the residents here.”
Bethea said Parsons has been a willing ally from the beginning and has helped to enhance the program and the experiences of the students.
“He has such a pleasant personality, and he’s just able to get so much done in such a low key manner, so I will miss him,” she said. “…He’s just given so much to us so it’s important, I think, that we let him know how much we appreciate what he’s done for us. He’s helped us take our program to another level.”
During Parsons’ tenure, the Mission launched Transformers, a successful 12-month, Biblically-based recovery program, and celebrated the construction of the New Life Center – a spacious addition to the Mission’s downtown Oak Street campus, which also includes a thrift store where donated furniture and clothes are sold. The Mission also runs Alpha Acres, a long term treatment program based at a 110-acre farm in Yadkin County.
Arthur Saunders said he can’t imagine his life without the Rescue Mission. The New York native came to the agency in 2009 from Charlotte after being laid off.
“It was one of the greatest moves I’ve ever made,” he said. “I had no idea the magnitude of how this place would impact my life until I got here and got in the mix.”
Saunders spent four years at the Rescue Mission, taking advantage of seemingly every program the organization had to offer before setting out on his own this spring. His biggest accomplishment while at the Mission was getting his GED, a task that took nearly a year to complete, with Parsons inquiring relentlessly about his progress, Saunders said. When Saunders received word that he had passed the GED test, Parsons was the first person he told.
“I was so excited I ran up the three flights of stairs and ran into Dan’s office and hugged him so hard I think I almost broke his back,” Saunders related with a wide smile. “He’s never let me forget that.”
Today, Saunders is gainfully employed, living on his own and just months away from completing his associate degree at Forsyth Technical Community College. Saunders says none of it would’ve been possible without the support of Parsons and the Rescue Mission.
“I was really just coming here to have a roof over my head. I had no idea that I could accomplish so much,” he confessed. “Now, things couldn’t be better.”
Like many of those in attendance, Saunders saw the open house as an opportunity to thank Parsons for all he has done, and it was a chance that Saunders wasn’t going to pass up.
“I just wanted Dan to know how much he meant to me while I was a part of the mission and he’s still a major part of my life,” Saunders said. “He’s a great, great man. He does everything he can to see the Mission succeed.”
Parsons said it is stories like Saunders’ that make all his hard work worthwhile.
“That’s what keeps you going, when you see that, and you see a life change,” he said. “That’s why the Rescue Mission is here and that’s why we’re going to continue doing what we do, as long as the Lord allows us to do it.”
In his retirement, Parsons said he plans to devote more time to his church, Triad Baptist in Kernersville, where he is a deacon and oversees 10 outreach ministries. He plans to maintain close ties with the Mission as a consultant and volunteer. Parsons will be succeeded by Ken Heater, a veteran of the homeless/ substance abuse recovery field who relocated to the Triad recently to work alongside Parsons in preparation for the transition.
Parsons said the agency will be in good hands.
“It makes me feel good to know that Mr. Heater is taking my place,” he remarked. “I know that he is a godly man that’s going to carry on the ministry.”
Heater, a native of the Washington, D.C. area, said he is excited to be leading the 46-year-old Mission into a new chapter of its history.
“It’s a good operation, good ministry here – good outreach. Our goal is to work on that and continue making it stronger,” he said. “…I’m very encouraged. I believe that God has brought us here and He’s going to continue to lead us in the direction that we need to go.”
For more information about the Winston-Salem Rescue Mission, visit http://wsrescue.org or call 336-723-1848.