In January 2010, Fay Ternan began volunteering to help local homeless people at the invitation of Lee Day, one of the Lewis County Gospel Mission’s founders.
On Thursday, Ternan will retire from her job as executive director of the 25-year-old nonprofit that aims to “glorify God by meeting spiritual and physical needs of the homeless and needy,” according to its mission statement.
Former volunteer Tricia Ziese will take over Jan. 1. Ziese picked up food donations and organized the pantry on weekends before serving as Food Box Coordinator for Hub City Mission. Since November she’s been training with Ternan, whom she described as “wonderful.”
“I felt a prompting from the Lord to apply for Fay’s position, unaware that she was retiring very soon,” Ziese said. She interviewed shortly thereafter. “I left my career as a paralegal and can tell it was the best decision I ever made. I love LCGM and the guests so much.”
Ternan described Ziese as an answer to prayer.
“Her heart for the mission and its guests shines through everything she does,” said Ternan, 72. “I am at peace as I pass the baton of leadership for the mission into her most capable hands. I truly believe she is God’s person for the job and will lead LCGM well.”
A group of Christian men involved in jail ministry established the Lewis County Gospel Mission in 1996. Ternan started volunteering after returning from a mission trip to Mexico with her husband, Mike, and realizing many people locally need help.
“Mind you, what I knew about the homeless folks was next to nothing,” she said.
That’s changed during the past decade as she helped feed, clothe, and serve an often forgotten or ignored population of transients without a place to call home. She described the clientele as “friends who have no place to rest legally, make poor choices due to addiction, mental or physical issues” and “are slow to trust and quick to assume we think the worst of them.”
“It requires a consistent investment of time to encourage and aid someone out of that lifestyle,” Ternan said. “There is so much misunderstanding on why people are homeless or why they can’t just pull themselves up by the bootstraps or quit being bums.”
Homelessness is just a symptom of greater dysfunction in life, said Ternan, who sees a critical need for an inspired community network of support services designed to address physical, mental and emotional dysfunction. Although expensive, such a place that focused on helping people rebuild life skills and positive relationships would be cheaper than keeping people in jails or hospitals, she said.
“Second-chance employers could partner by providing entry level jobs,” she said.
People who graduated from such a place would have gained confidence as they rebuilt their health and ability to provide for themselves. “Emotionally healthy adults are better able to have healthy marriages and families,” she said.
When Ternan first started volunteering, a hot dog machine — a treasure at the mission — provided food for people who stopped by, no matter the time of day.
“My personal preference for breakfast is definitely NOT hot dogs,” she said. “I decided that, on the one day a week I was there, I would bring in my electric griddle and make pancakes. They were a hit. Other volunteers began offering to make something at the mission for lunch and our food program began.”
She also helped the director, Adna’s Bob Chittenden, with meeting minutes, bookkeeping, and other paperwork. Eventually, with help from Olympia Union Gospel Mission, they acquired a computer, monitor, Excel and Word programs and eventually Quickbooks.
She listened and learned as Chittenden, Day, and other board members shared the salvation message in the gospels with anyone who stopped.
“I began to see our homeless or under-housed guests as individuals rather than the stereotypes our culture promoted,” she said.
When Chittenden died unexpectedly in July 2012, she and Day split the duties of running the mission. After a year, she volunteered to serve as director and the board agreed. She became a paid employee in January 2017.
During her tenure, the mission leased an often-flooded building at 72 SW Chehalis Avenue and a half city block to the south with the intent to purchase it within eight years. Through donations and volunteer labor, they renovated the north half of the building into a commercial kitchen, two bathrooms, and a single stall shower. Her best day occurred when the property was gifted to the mission.
“Without a mortgage, we were able to invest more into developing the building,” she said.
The mission opened at that location April 1, 2014. Renovations continued and services expanded, including Bible studies for anyone who wishes to attend. The mission bought the small lot to the east of the building, which volunteers cleaned up to use for staff parking.
Earlier this year, before the coronavirus pandemic closed communal dining, the mission was serving 3,000 meals a month to 150 different guests.
It’s the little things that often touched her heart — a thank-you letter from someone who moved on but remembered the care received at the mission, seeing someone they’ve prayed for enter treatment to overcome drug or alcohol addiction, helping people connect with resources and find homes or jobs, watching people realize the love of God through witnessing the actions of those who serve.
“So many little things that ultimately made the challenges, the stress and frustration worth it all,” Ternan said.
In retirement, she looks forward to developing five acres she and her husband recently purchased and responding to God’s lead in ministry and relationships
Going forward, the mission’s board hopes to create faith-based transitional housing, starting with men. Ternan said several Lewis County and regional ministry leaders are sharing their experiences and expertise.
Ziese described the need to focus on mental health, the driving force behind homelessness.
“Our goal is to become a hand-up to our homeless friends, not just a hand-out,” she said. “We know it’s a long journey ahead of us, but it’s the only way to really impact our community.”
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.