As state investigates, retired couple hopes to "rescue the rescue mission"

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MARION, Ind. (WTHR) - Following an undercover investigation by Eyewitness News, 13 Investigates has learned the Indiana Attorney General has now launched its own investigation into the Grant County Rescue Mission.

"The AG's office has statutory authority to intervene on behalf of the public interest in charitable organizations and nonprofits, if we receive a complaint regarding allegations of financial mismanagement and those allegations are substantiated," said Molly Gillaspie, a public relations officer for the Indiana Attorney General's office. She said the office is "currently investigating" the charity after receiving a consumer complaint prompted by WTHR's investigation.

The Eyewitness News investigation exposed extensive problems at the Grant County Rescue Mission, including:

  • Some donations meant for the homeless shelter were instead diverted by its former board president and executive director for their family and friends.
  • Donated items piled up inside the charity's headquarters for years until they were overrun by mice and cats.
  • The rescue mission was forced to dump or burn tons of those donations after health inspectors discovered they were badly contaminated.
  • Inspectors also found sleeping areas inside the homeless shelter were infested by large colonies of bedbugs and conditions inside the facility were "filthy."
  • Rescue mission leadership has been unwilling to discuss how it has spent more than $7 million in public support the charity has received during the past decade.

As the state conducts its investigation, some much-needed help has arrived at the rescue mission in an effort to change its policies, culture and public image.

Coming to the rescue

After running homeless shelters for 50 years, Ray and Paula Raines have been enjoying their retirement.

But instead of a summer full of travel and relaxation, the Muncie couple has now agreed to put their retirement and summer plans on hold – at least temporarily – to help the Grant County Rescue Mission recover from a crisis.

"I got a call from the [new board] president at the rescue mission. He said ‘I know you're retired, but we need help. Could you give us some help?'" Ray told WTHR. "What we saw happening here just broke our hearts, so we said we'd give it a try."

Ray has agreed to serve as interim director at the charity, and Paula is helping, too – just as she has done for half a century. They know their job won't be easy, because the rescue mission is facing intense scrutiny following years of mismanagement.

"Quite honestly, things are a mess," Ray told WTHR. "Things that should have been done years ago were never done, and they're just behind the times."

The retirees are not shying away from the challenge or the controversy.

"When we got the phone call, my first thought was "'Oh, no,'" Paula said laughing and shaking her head. "But then God just said to our hearts ‘You have that experience. Why not go in there and walk with them and help them through this?' We prayed about it and decided this is something we want to do."

Trying to move forward

The Grant County Rescue Mission knew it had to do something. In recent weeks, public and private donations have come to a near standstill.

"We need to find a way to move forward," explained Dale Dorothy, who recently became the rescue mission's new board president when former president Tom Mansbarger and two other board members resigned following WTHR's investigation. "Ray is somebody I knew and have known for years, so I asked if he'd be willing to help. I think he'll do a great job."

Ray's rescue mission experience includes working at facilities in Chicago, Pennsylvania and, most recently, the Muncie Mission in nearby Delaware County. He retired from the Muncie Mission in 2014 after serving as its director for 29 years. Paula has worked right alongside her husband, focusing on fundraising and setting policies for the charities.

The Raines learned of problems at the Grant County Rescue Mission from their living room, and they were moved by what they saw.

"We were saddened when we saw on TV our fellow mission going through this," said Paula.

"It was pretty disgusting. It touched our hearts," said Ray, who wiped tears from his eyes several times while talking with WTHR. "My heart hurts for guys here at the mission. [The neglected facility] sends a message to the fellas they aren't valuable … To me, these guys are valuable. They're precious. We just want to be here to offer guys who have been mistreated, lied to, and deceived and addicted by things, we're here to help them recover from that."

Lots to do

Among his top priorities at the Grant County Rescue Mission, Ray wants to address some serious (and costly) plumbing and electrical problems he's already discovered throughout the aging building. He also wants to provide shelter residents with better sleeping conditions, including new mattresses and lockers to store their personal belongings.

For Paula, the priority will be convincing the public that it is once again OK to donate to the charity.

"Right now, that's dried up. People don't know if they can trust us with their money or not," she told WTHR, adding that both donations of money and food have slowed. "Come and see what's being done. Get a firsthand look. Let us talk to you. Let us prove to you that things are being done decently and in order."

To re-establish that trust, the Raines are now looking for a company to audit the charity's finances -- something that hasn't happened in years.

"When you have people donating to you, you have an obligation to show to them what money you're getting in, where that money is going," Paula said.

The audit, once completed, will be made available to the public, according to Ray.

"I think that's the right thing to do," he said.

The interim director says he also wants to align the Grant County Rescue Mission with the United Way and with the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, a respected network of nationwide charities that provides training, resources and support.

The couple will help hire new employees to fill several key roles, including a full-time permanent director.

Former executive director Tom Ballard resigned last month after admitting he "just missed" the tons of contaminated donations that had piled up on the second floor of the rescue mission. Ballard also acknowledged he had taken home dozens of pizzas donated by a local pizza shop for the homeless; he fed the donated pizzas to his pets. Ballard's wife, Debra, who served as the rescue mission's development director also resigned last month. And their daughter Vanessa, one of the charity's administrative assistants, submitted her resignation last week.

"We need to get the right people in here – compassionate, loving, caring people," said Ray.

Board president Dorothy said chief operating officer Albert Craig, who runs the day-to-day operations of the men's shelter, is "still there for now," but said he was unsure if the board wants Craig to stay long-term.

The Rescue Mission must also find at least three new board members to replace those who've recently quit, and there are lingering questions about those who remain.

"They, above all, know that they dropped the ball," said Paula Raines. "A board has to set policy, has to oversee. They need to step up and do more."

Despite a long to-do list to reform the culture, conditions and daily operations of the charity, both Ray and Paula remain optimistic about the future of the Grant County Rescue Mission.

"We're going to bring it back to hopefully better than it was before," said Ray.

"It's gonna get better!" echoed Paula.

Short timetable

But the couple doesn't expect to be around to see the full recovery firsthand. They say their job is simply to set that recovery in motion.

Asked how long they'd serve in their new roles, Ray and Paula both laughed.

"I don't know. They asked us for six months," Paula said. "I know the way we both work it's probably going to be 60- and 70-hour weeks. So we'll do it one month, and then we'll reassess."

"They're not excited about doing this for too long," acknowledged Dorothy. "Hopefully, in the next 6-8 weeks, we'll find somebody [to serve as the rescue mission's permanent executive director]."

An active search for a new director is already well underway.

In the meantime, the semi-retired couple from Muncie is very busy, working to re-gain trust and to fix years of neglect at Grant County's largest homeless shelter. "We're really talking about rescuing the rescue mission," Ray said. "At least, that's how I see it."