Bethesda News

“State of the Mission” 2018

by Scott Dunwoody, Executive Director

The President’s State of the Union address is meant to inspire hope for the citizens of America. Yet while so intended, political posturing, re-election ambitions and long term differences among both parties across the aisle make it so difficult to discern what is truth, and what is best for this country.

At Bethesda Mission, what we share with our guests and donors, quite a contrast with the political rancor, is best captured in these verses:

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  Colossians 4:6

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”  1 Peter 3:15


Every day at Bethesda, we present Jesus Christ to hurting men, women and children, who was and is full of grace and truth. “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14

Looking ahead to 2018, here is your opportunity to better understand and discern the wonderful joys that God reveals to us each day, along with the daunting challenges that make us ever so dependent on his grace and provision. You, our donors, are a wonderful blessing, enabling Bethesda to offer opportunities that truly inspire real hope, and for this we say thank you for all you have done!

State of our Guests

   ► Men’s Mission

100 guests ascend the 14 steps into the Men’s Shelter every month

  • 50 of those 100 guests were never before seen at Bethesda; many of them have relied on family or friends for accommodations. Some of them have been homeless for a few weeks or months, most of them with addictions and mental health issues. We connect them to social services resources and offer them medical and dental services at our Clinics. Our life coaches lead them through long-term recovery, but many decide within a few days or weeks to leave, unwilling to make a change. Statistically, about 20 of these men stay and make a decision to seek long-term recovery.
  • The remaining 50 guests have been at our Shelter in previous years and are now back again seeking help. About 30 of them are now more willing to surrender their wills and enter long-term recovery. We’ll provide more consistent coaching for them, many months of medical and dental services. Our partnerships with other agencies will assist us in ensuring that the men receive consistent drug and alcohol and mental health counseling. Most will go on and graduate, find employment, connect with a local church and reconcile with their family wherever possible. The other 20 men will shift toward the chronic homeless stage – moving from place to place, sometimes living on the street or in a car. They face debilitating mental illnesses, which leave them distrustful, demoralized and isolated with a loss of self-respect and identity. A few may eventually enter long-term recovery while others will cycle in and out of our Shelter.

Other Facts:

  • We recognize “chronic homeless” as those who have been on the streets for one year and longer, many with debilitating mental health conditions.
  • DDB (Downtown Daily Bread), SHSH (Susquehanna Harbor Safe Haven), YWCA and Bethesda have been teaming up to address winter 2017/18 needs. We are discussing a long-term solution for a more permanent emergency shelter to serve both men and women (70-100 people) on the streets in Harrisburg each year.
  • Our Men’s Shelter is beginning to realize an increase in graduations from long-term recovery, as we reduce the number of emergency shelter guests, providing a more trauma sensitive environment. This is aiding healing and recovery and God is working mightily in those who are willing to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.
  • Critical Capital Need – our infamous “Kingdom Kafe” is extremely inadequate. Our goal is to expand the kitchen/cafeteria 3 times its current size. It now seats only 48 and the men have to eat every meal in 2-3 different shifts. This makes serving over 400 meals a day very difficult. The projected cost of this project is $1M. We will also need to add two more stories of dorms in next 2-3 years at a cost of $2M.

   ► Women’s Mission

Every month about 30-50 women in crisis indicate an interest in our program. Half of them are ready for long-term recovery, the other half are looking for emergency shelter

  • Our Women’s Shelter is consistently full with a 25-bed capacity and a waiting list of 10-20. Harrisburg’s emergency shelters for women are also always full with waiting lists. We coordinate with Shalom, Lourdes, Interfaith and Evergreen.
  • Our “After Care” building was closed in summer 2017 due to safety deficiencies. The women who are graduating from long-term recovery are being accommodated in our main building until the new Shelter is completed.
  • Of those women interested in recovery, only about 5-10% will agree to the boundaries and conditions we must set.

■   For those women who enter the recovery program, which lasts one year and sometimes longer, the completion rate is 70-80%. This is an amazing testimony to what God is doing to change their perspectives, priorities, and devotion.

■  We are seeing many more women in the 18-25 age range, which has lowered the average age at our Shelter to 25. We call this group “Safe Haven” since these women need a refuge from human trafficking, long-term abuse and addictions.

■  Just as with the men, partnerships are vital in referring guests for mental health counseling and drug and alcohol treatment.

■  Individual volunteers and groups from churches and other organizations are invaluable in providing wonderful events to richly encourage our guests and staff.

  • Critical Capital Projectrenewal of our existing site. In 2018, we plan to demolish the After Care building, build a new Women’s Shelter (18,000 sf) and then demolish the main Shelter. This will allow us to have no disruption in our services or programs. When the project is completed in 2019/20, we will have increased our capacity from 25 to 50+ women and children. We will fund this with an existing $870,000 estate gift and $1.5M FHLB grant. At that time, we’ll need $1M more to complete the project.

   ► Community Center

  • Our formerly named “Youth Center” – now “Community Center” has been located in the northern section of Allison Hill since 1990. The current stability of the neighborhood is partly due to the presence of the ministry. This is in contrast with the southern section of Allison Hill/Hall Manor where City and local organizations have been trying to develop stability.
  • We offer an after school program and an 8-week summer program.
  • Graduation rates within the Harrisburg School District are currently at 50%. For teens who have been involved in our program for two years, the graduation rate is 86% for past 5 years.
  • Scholarships are always needed for retreats and tuition for post-secondary education. We are always looking for those who can help provide entry level jobs or counseling to kids/families in crisis.
  • Partnerships with local organizations allow us to reach more children and teens. We work closely with Messiah, Elizabethtown and other colleges. We also partner with Daystar, Center for Champions and others.
  • Our Teen Takeover Retreats are into their 3rd year and are producing wonderful results! Our staff takes 20 teenage boys or girls away for a weekend in a camp setting. They build lasting relationships with the teens and help them to face important life issues.
  • Our individual volunteers and those from churches and businesses, have been invaluable and will become even more essential as the Community Center project becomes a reality in 2018/19.
  • Capital Campaign – The Community Center renovation project will begin in spring 2018. The project will involve: creating a real gym, more classrooms and adding an outdoor play area. We’ve already raised $1.6M, but we need another $800,000 to finish renovation of the existing Youth Center and connector building in 2019. We are now serving 75 children, teens and families and this will increase to 200+ when the overall project is completed.

State of Our Donors

■  A statistical analysis recently completed by a consulting firm working with Rescue Missions nationwide documented that a Bethesda donor’s average gift size is nearly the highest of all Rescue Missions surveyed. The conclusion: once donors become regularly involved in understanding what we do and the impact, their giving is faithfully significant.

■  We’re holding steady around 10,000 donors after 5 years of decline. Younger donors are replacing those who have passed. Various “on-ramps” are being provided to attract potential donors: special events; social media; speaking at local churches and businesses and sharing our stories with the help of local media.

■  Generous giving allowed us to meet our operating budget targets for 2017

■  Because we receive no government funding, the state budget spending impasse which depended on gambling proceeds did not affect Bethesda Mission.

■  Crucial long term strategy to sustain our services is increasing the involvement of volunteers helping in a variety of tasks geared to their interests.

Click here to donate online today.


Our guests, whom God has guided to our doorsteps,

are treasures waiting to be discovered. Inside each man, woman and child is the potential for new life, one in which a loving God is embraced through a personal relationship with His son, Jesus Christ. This newfound relationship along with the long-term commitment we offer, are the foundations which make Bethesda exceptional.


“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”      Psalm 34:18

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