On March 11, I spent a day with Anthony Alston, a resident at the Adams Rescue Mission in Gettysburg. I wrote this article documenting Anthony’s story and the work the mission does for the community. Unfortunately, there were a lot of details from my visit I couldn’t fit in that story. What follows is a more detailed look at Anthony’s life and his work at the mission.
About Anthony: The 48-year-old grew up on what he said is one of the worst streets in his hometown of Hampton, Va. He had served two prison sentences, sold and did drugs, smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. After a year at the Adams Rescue Mission, however, he feels like the “bad person” he used to be is dead. At different points throughout his stay, he has driven trucks, worked in the recycling warehouse and studied to take a forklift certification. He also works in the mission’s kitchen and does other jobs as-needed.
- Evening Sun Reporter Jenni Wentz
Anthony Alston prepares to cook a meal for the Mission’s residents on March 24, 2014 in the facility’s upstairs kitchen. Work is required as a condition for residency at the shelter, but it’s also part of Alston’s philosophy.’You get your blessings by helping, by sowing God’s love to other people.’ (Clare Becker – The Evening Sun)
Today, Anthony starts by cutting hair for Roy, a fellow resident.
As he sets up a chair in the mission’s day room, Anthony explains he taught himself to cut hair 12 to 15 years ago. When he came to the mission, cutting the other men’s hair seemed like a natural fit.
It’s just one way, he says, God has taught him to use his talents since he arrived last April.
As Anthony focuses on his work, the room falls quiet except for the buzz of the clippers and an occasional exclamation from Roy — like “Don’t take my nose off!” or “Give me a mustache like Clark Gable.”
Within a few minutes, Roy’s shaggy gray hair drops to the floor, revealing a darker, shorter head of hair, and Anthony is ready to move on to other tasks. The mission, he says, does a good job of keeping him busy.
After the haircut, Anthony is ready to get cooking.
As afternoon approaches, the smell of sausages lingers in the narrow staircase leading to the mission’s kitchen, where another resident is already preparing a lunch of sausages, french fries, cream corn and pears.
Anthony quickly makes his way to the stove, where he prompts his fellow cook to put water in the pan with the sausages so they don’t burn and throw a fry into the frying oil to test its temperature.
Later, he explains he never cooked much before coming to the mission. After a few months, though, he started helping Food Service Director Jill Herbert prepare breakfast. Before long, he was able to fill in for her when she wasn’t able to work.
Still, he doesn’t try anything too complicated without her guidance, he says with a laugh.
Men soon file into the kitchen, take plates and silverware from a from a shelf by the door and sit at long tables pushed together in the dining room. No one lingers long or speaks much as they finish their meals and return to their jobs.
After lunch, Anthony opens up about his past — his life on one of Hampton’s roughest streets, his time in prison, his substance abuse.
“I had a lot of anger built up,” he says. “I let myself down in a lot of areas.”
Everything changed a year ago, however, when his brother encouraged him to come to the mission.
Known by many residents as Ack, Clarence Acker is Anthony’s brother and director of men’s ministries at the mission. He insists that despite their relationship, Anthony receives the same treatment as everyone else — if anything, Ack says, he demands more from him.
Alston’s brother, Clarence Acker, is the Misson’s Director of Ministries. The brothers had been apart geographically but Acker said his brother had been in his thoughts. ‘Before he came here, God had him on my mind,’ he said. ‘I thought, ‘Hopefully, he’s doing fine.’ I kept him in prayer.’ (Clare Becker – The Evening Sun)
Anthony is one of many people Ack has helped in his 13 years at the mission. He said he loves nothing more than receiving phone calls from people who have left the mission and found jobs or started families.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “I take pride in helping people.”
One of these people is Arnold Jaquez, Anthony’s former roommate, who came back to the mission to paint the kitchen and dining area.
Like Anthony, Arnold says he turned his life around at the mission. Now, he works for a contracting company doing painting and plastering.
As Arnold transforms the trim in the mission’s kitchen with a fresh coat of white paint, he talks about the transformations he has seen in residents when they’re willing to change.
And for him, change means giving into God.
“It really comes down to service,” he says.
Before long, Anthony is back in the kitchen to prepare for dinner. Tonight’s menu: cheesesteaks and french fries.
Working on his own this time, Anthony says cooking, like cutting hair, has become a kind of meditative experience for him. On most days, he shuts the kitchen door about two hours before mealtime, cranks up his gospel music (at least until Ack comes upstairs to tell him it’s too loud) and loses himself in his work.
As thin strips of meat sizzle in the frying pan, Anthony reflects on the changes he has undergone thanks to the mission.
Having grown up in a religious family, he says he has always had a relationship with God. Now, he believes God led him to the mission as a way to realize his talents and finally put his life back on track.
Faith, in fact, is perhaps one of the most significant aspects of the mission’s program. Every resident must attend chapel services several times each week..
While some residents only go to the services because they have to, others, like Anthony, see them as an opportunity to make a change.
He says, through the mission, God has not only shown him how to put his own life back on track, but also how to make a positive impact on others.
“That’s all I’m doing,” he says with a smile as gospel music rings through the mission’s kitchen. “I’m shining my light.”
For more information about Anthony or the mission, check out this Evening Sun article.