Grant County Rescue Mission names new executive director

Debbie and Rick Berbereia (photo courtesy Grant County Rescue Mission)

MARION, Ind. (WTHR) - The New Year will bring a new executive director to the Grant County Rescue Mission.

Rick Berbereia tells 13 Investigates he will move to Indiana next week to lead Grant County's largest homeless shelter. The 52-year-old Californian has a decade of experience leading Rescue Missions on the west coast. The GCRM board of directors offered him the job after meeting with Berbereia and his wife, Debbie, earlier this month.

“Seems like the kind of match we need,” said board member Jerry Showalter. “We feel like the community is going to find these to be great people to welcome into our community.”

The announcement ends a long search that began back in May when former director Tom Ballard stepped down amidst controversy.

13 Investigates revealed Ballard and other rescue mission leaders had neglected maintenance at the homeless shelter for years -- to the point where the facility had become badly infested with rodents and bedbugs. Massive piles of food and household donations were contaminated with cat and rodent feces after they had been stockpiled and forgotten. Ballard also admitted he had taken some of the food donated to the charity for his own family and pets, instead of using it to feed the Rescue Mission’s homeless residents.

After Ballard’s sudden departure, the GCRM board appointed an interim director. Ray Raines and his wife Paula helped make major improvements at the charity this summer and fall, but the retired couple made it clear to the board that they would only stay for a few months – long enough to stabilize the organization, appoint new board members and help find a permanent director.

Now that Berbereia has been hired, Ray and Paula Raines have both officially stepped down.

“Ray was a bandage who came in and stopped the bleeding,” Berbereia said. “He was a godsend and brought a lot of light. He deserves a lot of credit.”

Berbereia says he is well aware of the charity’s previous mismanagement, current financial troubles, and “big hills to climb” in the coming year. But the new GCRM director told 13 Investigates he is eager to begin his new role.

“I have a passion for the gospel, for rescue work and for helping people change their lives,” he said. “When we came to Indiana to interview, we fell in love with the Mission, the staff, the board and the community. We’re excited to be a part of Grant County… My wife and I plan on going in there and really focusing on the positive things of the Grant County Rescue Mission and just building from that.”

While there are many positives to build upon, Berbereia and new board members will have to quickly address a significant shortfall in

funding facing the charity. Donations to the Rescue Mission dropped about $100,000 this year following lingering questions about the homeless shelter’s finances.

The GCRM received approximately $7 million over the past decade in public contributions, but the charity has not been able to account for all of that money. It has hired a private accounting firm to conduct a thorough financial audit – something that has not been done in at least 12 years. But WTHR has learned the audit has been more difficult than anticipated due to improper and lacking recordkeeping from prior leadership.

“The former group did not do the recordkeeping that needed to be done, so it’s been taking more time because we’re having to research and reconstruct records,” Showalter said.

Last month, Raines told 13 Investigates that new staff members had found donation checks to the charity dating back several years that had never been deposited into the Rescue Mission’s bank account.

The staff and board now includes several certified public accountants who are keeping a closer eye on finances and implementing proper financial policies.

Berbereia’s first day on the job will be January 9.