Allentown Rescue Mission’s Clean Team

Allentown Rescue Mission’s Clean Team

The Allentown Rescue Mission, founded in 1900, is often perceived as a place for homeless men to get an occasional hot meal and a bed for the night.

But that’s only partially true. The Rescue Mission is a social services organization, which provides goods and services to homeless and impoverished men.

“Homelessness can strike anyone at any time,” said Michael Mauro, manager of the Mission’s Clean Team. “And although the Mission is Christian-based, men of any religion—or none —are equally welcome.”

At its most basic level, “Our emergency-shelter facility has 72 beds,” Mauro said. “We provide the men with breakfast and dinner; they spend the rest of the day as they wish.”

But the shelter is also a gateway to the Mission’s other services—particularly the Transformation program.

“It’s a structured program,” Mauro said, “and structure is what these men need in their lives as they prepare to return to the general community.”

The eight weeks of “Transformation” are modeled after a typical school routine. The men rise at 6:30 a.m., perform their daily chores (mopping floors, collecting trash and the like), followed by breakfast at 7:30. The “school day” begins at 8:30 and continues until 5:00 p.m.

They’re also taught 10 key workforce values:

BE PROMPT
BE READY TO WORK
BE SAFE
BE ATTENTIVE
BE COOPERATIVE
BE DILIGENT
BE PRODUCTIVE
BE TRUSTWORTHY
BE FLEXIBLE
BE GRATEFUL

The curriculum teaches money-management, computer usage, personal interaction techniques, health and fitness, job-searching, and more.

Graduates of the program are able to join the most visible aspect of the Rescue Mission’s work—the Clean Team.

You might have seen those “men in blue” collecting and disposing of litter and cast-off recyclable materials at various locations in the Lehigh Valley.

The team was formed in 2008 by then- executive director Gary Millspaugh, who modeled it after the Brooklyn-based “Ready Willing and Able” program.

“At first, the Rescue Mission paid the men to clean up litter on sidewalks and curb lines in Allentown,” Mauro said, “as an opportunity to apply those workplace values to real life.”

Eventually, the Clean Team pursued a contract with the city of Allentown—and won it. “We’ve received numerous contracts from the city since then,” Mauro added. “They actually make up about one-third of the Team’s business.” The balance comes from residential and corporate projects.

He’s quick to point out that these are not “handout” jobs. Bids are placed through a formal process, in competition with similar vendors in the area. In fact, the Clean Team is financed entirely by fees-for-service; no tax dollars or grant money is involved.

The Clean Team also offers light landscaping, junk removal, fall and spring clean-up projects, carpet removal, painting, floor waxing and other services.

Laborers carry full workers’ comp and liability insurances, earn more than minimum wage, and have transportation to and from the job sites.

The Mission provides a foreman on residential jobs; corporate clients – such as the Saucon Valley Country Club and E. Schneider & Sons, Inc. – generally provide their own supervision. And team members carry Mission-provided cell phones to facilitate spot-checks on projects.

“Our guys are paid every two weeks, and all applicable state, federal and local taxes are withheld,” Mauro said. Their wages are kept in custodial accounts, and they can withdraw $20 each week, no questions asked. Larger requests are reviewed and evaluated before approval.

As their time at the Mission draws down, they open their own bank accounts. “When they leave us, they receive their saved-up wages as a lump sum,” he added, “and that is sometimes between $3,000 and $5,000.”

Hundreds of men have passed successfully through the program since 2008, and about 90 new members join the team each year.

Clean Team foreman Francisco is just one example. The 49-year-old had worked as an electrician until his wife died of cancer in 2018. He relapsed into alcohol and heroin addiction, spent time in the Horsham Clinic, and finally turned to the Rescue Mission.

“They helped me get off heroin, and then I entered the Transformation program,” he said. “After much prayer, I began setting goals for myself—finish the program, find a job and get back on my feet.”

His turnaround really began when he started working in the Mission kitchen. After four months, he had saved enough money to find permanent lodgings at Tribeca apartments.  Needing more money (and medical benefits), he again prayed for heavenly guidance – and was unexpectedly asked by the Mission’s CEO to come on board full-time as a Clean Team foreman.

“Thanks to Godly intervention, I’ve finally found a purpose for my life,” Francisco said. “I still struggle with some things, but life gets better when you push for it. And I’m an example for the new guys coming up through the program—they see that it works!”

One of the best ways to support the program is to hire a crew for corporate or residential work. “But remember to call well in advance,” Mauro cautioned. “We are usually booked solid four weeks out from any date.”

You can also help by donating gift cards or cash to apply to the Mission’s expenses; in-kind donations, such as boots, work gloves and other gear—are also welcome.

For more information, contact Michael Mauro at 484-266-8829 or [email protected], or visit cleanteampa.com or allentownrescuemission.org.

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram