2011 Holiday Assist: City Rescue Mission Dinner

2011 Holiday Assist: City Rescue Mission Dinner
Photo by J.P. Wilson
Hope is a funny thing.

Sometimes it comes in the smallest doses, but still manages to make the biggest impact.

The clients of downtown Oklahoma City's City Rescue Mission can attest to the funny ways in which hope can work.

On Friday, Thunder staff – including Head Coach Scott Brooks, Assistant Coach Maz Trakh, other basketball staff and broadcasters Kelly Crull and Matt Pinto – visited the City Rescue Mission simply to serve the residents and other clients dinner and help the kids have a little fun in the gym.

But these small acts have a shelf life that extends far beyond the time spent doing them.

For the third straight year, the Thunder brought its signature combination of service and fun to the City Rescue Mission, giving the residents and others an early Thanksgiving treat. The event is part of the team's Holiday Assist initiative, presented by Cox Communications.

"Every year around Thanksgiving, the Thunder comes down and just has an amazing interaction with the clients that live here at the mission, especially the children," Rev. Tom Jones, president and CEO of the City Rescue Mission.

"Thanksgiving is a special time here at the City Rescue, … but just between me and you, this event has trumped the Thanksgiving meal," he laughed.

In the main cafeteria, Thunder Girls and coaches got behind the serving line to dish up a hot meal for each person. Staff from the Thunder business office delivered the trays to the tables, many serving up the food with a spring in their step as they danced to the Thunder music mix.

Every table was decked out with blue tablecloths, foam fingers, Thunder bracelets, basketball shoes, pom poms, balloons – the works. The simple process of dinner took on more of a party feel, as families laughed and children danced.

"You could tell they really appreciate it," said Brooks. "They're really thanking us and smiling, and their faces really tell the story."

Across the hall, the Thunder had a carnival of sorts set up in the gymnasium, with craft tables, face painting, caricature drawing, basketball and a photo booth open to kids of all ages.

But before the kids dove in to their fun, they turned the tables and put on a performance for the Thunder.

All the Thunder volunteers sat while about a dozen children who live at the mission, led by a few adults and a guitar, sang Katy Perry's "Firework." Dry eyes were hard to come by.

"That was the best part of the whole night," Brooks stated. "It was special … we wanted more, we wanted another song out of them."

Once the kids had finished, and while families were still finding their ways to some of the activities, Rumble tore into the gym – and any shyness or reservations that remained flew out the window, as kids sprinted to embrace the big bison.

"Anytime that Rumble is at one of our events, it makes the event," noted Brooks. He mentioned that Rumble might have a new job, as well, since the mascot saw a broken net in the gym and replaced it with a new one he had on hand.

"If we ever have a problem in the Chesapeake Arena, we know who to run to and have him fix our nets."

Jayce and Jessica Mills live at the City Rescue Mission with their three children, ages 1, 2 and 3. They took their kids around to every station to enjoy everything the Thunder had set up.

"It means a lot to me for them to take the time and plan all this, to come out here and see us, that they're thinking about us," said Jessica.

Like many people who find themselves without a home, Jessica's path to living at the City Rescue Mission was not easy, but to her, it comes down to some simple facts.

"I was just around the wrong people, doing the wrong things," she stated. "I wanted to become a better mom for my kids and do something with myself, and so I came here."

After five years together, Jayce and Jessica were married in October, and both are working toward building a better life for their family.

Jones noted that, though the residents and clients at the City Rescue Mission took different paths to homelessness, one thing ties them all together – they're all people, and they all appreciate even the simplest interactions and acts of kindness.

"Most homeless people have come to a point in their life when they've kind of quit; they've stopped believing in themselves," said Jones. "And they'll tell you that one of the most difficult things for them is they feel invisible. Literally, they exist, but they're not noticed by anybody.

"This event, I believe, is one of the most important events that kind of charges their battery, that causes them to realize that the Thunder could be anyplace and anywhere they wanted to be – but they chose to come spend the time with them."

Hope is a funny thing, and on a day that held tragedy for the Oklahoma basketball family, simple acts took on new life.

Normally sporting Thunder blue, all Thunder staff at the event wore OSU shirts as a show of support in wake of the tragic plane crash late Thursday that killed Oklahoma State University women's coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, as well as Olin and Paula Branstetter.

In the face of such sudden loss, bringing even a few hours of joy to about 450 Oklahomans filled hearts even more quickly on Friday and made each adult's smile, each child's laugh, more meaningful.

"I'm just having the best time," said Community Relations Coordinator Debbie Williams. "The joy that it brings me is far greater than what we're doing for them."

Hope may not always spring eternal, but for the clients of the City Rescue Mission, if the spring can last until next year, the Thunder will be back to renew it – and to renew ourselves.