George Muro has found a home and family at the Pajaro Rescue Mission.
Part homeless shelter and part faith-based recovery center, the Mission provides housing, food, showers, counseling, job training and faith to 70-80 men in Pajaro each day. Next month, it will celebrate 50 years of serving the Watsonville community.
Muro, 45, has been there longer than most. Affectionately called the "oldest student," Muro came to the Pajaro Rescue Mission on Oct. 20, 2009, his birthday. He was destitute, struggling with addiction and a criminal record, and had lost his family and his home.
"If it wasn't for this place, there's no telling where I'd be," said Muro, who's been clean and sober for 35 months. "... God cleans house here."
The faith-based recovery program at the Pajaro Rescue Mission is facilitated by Teen Challenge Monterey Bay, an international organization that offers cost-free substance abuse recovery programs and church services, and .
"His story is very typical of the people who come into the mission," said Mike Borden, executive director of Teen Challenge Monterey Bay.
The Hard Fall
Sitting in the cafe—that's what they call the cafeteria—at the Pajaro Rescue Mission, on a recent morning Muro tells his story with honesty and hope. In his hand is a well-worn Bible his youngest, Sarah, inscribed and gifted him.
Before all of this his life hadn't been perfect, but it was good, Muro says.
Muro raised three daughters and had been married for 20 years. He found Jesus after his dad died of a heroin overdose, and he and his wife went to church together. Although he never finished high school, he had a good job as a night janitor in the Tracy Unified School District and was two years from retirement.
Then his life came apart at the seams.
Muro had long been a social drinker and sometimes smoked marijuana. But it got worse when his wife started using methamphetamine. She cheated on him. They fought. The police got involved and it got worse. He lost his house and his beloved daughters stopped speaking to him.
By 2007, Muro was kneeling in a jail cell praying for help. He was charged with selling drugs and faced prison time. He threw himself on the mercy of the court and was sentenced under Proposition 36, a state program that offers treatment—not incarceration—to drug offenders.
Muro served six days jail time then plunged into sobriety. He came to the Pajaro Rescue Mission at the urging of one of his daughters, who was living in Santa Cruz at the time and knew of Teen Challenge's faith-based addiction treatment program.
"That book that George holds in his hand sets apart Teen Challenge from other programs," said Lynn Pielenz, chaplain at the Freedom Women's Shelter, another Teen Challenge program in the Pajaro Valley.
'One of God's students'
Muro rides his bike to summer school class at Watsonville Adult School, where his is finishing his GED. Earning a high school diploma or GED is one requirement of Teen Challenge, and it's been a challenge for Muro.
"When he came here, he couldn't string three sentences together," said Borden, the executive director of Teen Challenge. "... He could barely read."
Muro tested at a second grade level in math when he started taking adult education classes; in the spring he was named Student of the Year at Watsonville Adult School.
"I'm one of God's students," Muro said, attributing his successes to his faith. He shared several inspirational Bible verses. Proverbs 24:32, about learning lessons, speaks to him in particular.
When Watsonville High School and New School, an alternative education program in Watsonville, are in session, Muro is there sharing messages about gang prevention and not getting into drugs so they don't end up at the Pajaro Rescue Mission.
He recalled five friends from the Mission who died after leaving the confines of the two-story shelter to return the streets.
"This place is no joke," Muro said. "..."We're not promised tomorrow. It's really sad out there."
Beyond studying the Bible, ministering to youth and working on his sobriety, Muro has mended his familial relationship while at the Mission. He has two grandchildren and will have two more by Christmas, and has even mended his relationship with his now ex-wife.
"I honestly felt like God had a plan for me," Muro said.
Job training, another aspect of life at the Mission, has led Muro into the kitchen. He says God put him there, so cooks meals for his fellow shelter residents and hopes to continue his passion of feeding the homeless as he moves forward in life.
"This will be my family forever," Muro said. "I love these guys."
Editor's Note: This is one of several stories about homelessness in the Pajaro Valley. Patch is focusing on this issue during the summer because of the closure of Salvation Army shelters and the 50th anniversary of the Pajaro Rescue Mission. Read more here.