Forty-six years ago, Trinity Rescue Mission served “soup, soap and salvation” to downtown Jacksonville’s homeless. Wanderers, who took a bus south to Florida and arrived penniless, were welcomed, fed and sent on their way. Today, things have changed.
“Now we’re in the business of relationships,” Executive Director Rick Denny says, as we walk the grounds of Freedom Farm, a working farm located in St. Johns County that helps men come face-to-face with the root cause of their addiction. I expect regiment and strict oversight. Instead of rigidness, I encounter the freedom touted in the center’s name.
Freedom is embodied in many ways at Freedom Farm. One resident, four months into the year-and-a-half-long program, waves as he skirts us during his afternoon run through the farm’s 53 acres. Some men study together, and others are off-site, working.
Rick Denny, executive director of Trinity Rescue Mission
“A big part of any recovery program is giving back to the community and that aligns with the gospel,” Denny says as we walk toward the livestock pens. At faith-based Freedom Farm, the first two months focus on enterprise. Men learn how to work while sober.
“They’re treated like men out here,” Denny says. “Men that are leaders here go to the mission for the weekend and encourage those still struggling. It’s beneficial when they can go back and talk to the guys who haven’t ‘got it’ yet.”
Just ten minutes after arriving, it’s clear to me that the Trinity Rescue Mission of the ‘60s has grown up and branched out to meet the needs of my generation. “We now serve everyone, from the transient to those with deep-seated addiction issues to single mothers,” Denny says.
While the downtown Jacksonville soup kitchen continues to offer hot meals and emergency services to those in immediate need, Freedom Farm and the Women and Children’s Center fill a gap on the First Coast by providing a stable, nurturing environment for the months or years necessary to overcome addiction, gain financial freedom and become self-sufficient.
“A huge part of early recovery is staying busy,” Denny says, and there is plenty to do at Freedom Farm. Men are converting the shade houses that once sheltered a struggling organic garden to house a landscape nursery. “Work out here is not intended to be a task master, but the guys would rather be productive than sit around,” Denny shares.
Chickens will soon join the six horses, dozen goats and flock of ducks to round out the farm. “The animals provide therapy,” Denny says, “whether recreational horseback riding or nurturing them, they’re giving a lot to the guys serving them.”
Goats are some of the animals at Trinity’s Freedom Farm.
Matt Andrus is the resident supervisor of Freedom Farm, a graduate and a proud new dad. “The success is real,” he says passionately. “Several friends and I who have been through the program can testify — we remain clean and sober.”
Working through conflict sober is a new experience for many residents. Andrus helps residents “learn from the storms they are in.” It is the teachings of the Bible that help instill the solace and strength of community. “The Bible is very specific in teaching peace, living in community, loving your enemies and your neighbor as yourself,” he says. “That’s the type of conflict resolution the First Coast community desires, regardless of your faith. They’re all tools in a successful recovery program.”
Denny recognizes that the struggles that cause homelessness have changed over the decades since the opening of Trinity Rescue Mission. “It was mostly alcohol sending people to the streets. Now, sure, it’s heroin and crack cocaine, but also prescription drugs. We’ve watched the age of men coming here get younger and younger,” he says. Today they teach life skills, conflict resolution and personal responsibility.
Denny says that the once-addicted men leaving Freedom Farm are now a light to the community. “We partner with Labor Ready/People Ready. Our guys are sober, on time and respectful … that’s what they want for their customers. It allows our men to be an influence in the community.”
Freedom Farm exemplifies Trinity Rescue Mission’s agility and commitment to reach men and women and restore them. Denny looks back with respect and forward with hope. “We’re gonna love anyone that comes to us for help,” he says.
The farm provides food for the mission’s homeless shelter and gives former homeless men a chance to work and get their lives together.
WANT TO VOLUNTEER?
Here are a few ways to lend a hand.
- Help with animals
- Help Derek in the kitchen
- Serve meals downtown
- Food donations
- Donate vests, or work boots
- Pack sack lunch supplies for men working off site (Ziploc bags, sports drinks, bottled waters)
When you support the Trinity Rescue Mission, you support the Freedom Farm and the Women & Children’s Center.
Visit TrinityRescue.org for information