Feeling unsettled and like he didn’t belong was a constant state of mind for Joe Niles while growing up.
From the age of six, Joe moved from foster home to foster home after his mother lost custody due to physical abuse. “I was a rambunctious kid,” Joe said, “and my mother was mentally challenged. Dealing with me was too much for her.”
Joe felt the loss of his mother even more acutely because his father was estranged from the family. “I remember the social worker coming to school,” he said, “telling me ‘you can’t see your mommy anymore” and how it made me cry. It was one of the most painful days of my life.”
That day began a difficult journey through seven different foster homes, time in a residential treatment facility for youth with behavioral issues and eventually, the Rescue Mission at age 29.
Years of physical abuse, disruption and disappointment fueled an anger that Joe couldn’t control. Often lashing out, Joe’s rage prevented him from forming lasting relationships and trusting anyone—including God.
When he was 11, Joe lived with a foster family that had a strong faith in God. It made an impression. “I remember thinking,” he said, “if God is so great, why is all this happening to me? I knew I could keep running or accept the fact that there is a God who loves me. So, I decided to give it a try.”
And try he did. But the anger and bitterness got the upper hand and Joe was asked to leave again. Needing the stability of a more permanent home, Joe went to live with another family. “To this day I thank God for for that family,” he said, “because they were willing to take a chance on me and I ended up with them for 14 years.”
During those years Joe made extraordinary gains. He graduated from high school, earned an associates’ degree at Onondaga Community College and then a bachelor’s degree in broadcast and mass communications from SUNY Oswego.
After graduation from Oswego, Joe was accepted into the Disney College Internship Program in Orlando and was later hired as a full-time staff member. All was going well until Joe’s anger erupted on the job and he was terminated. “I refer to 2010 as my year of downfalls,” he said. “Everything I worked for came crashing down. I was depressed. At times I hardly knew my own name and was crying all the time.”
Returning to Syracuse, Joe stayed with his sister and friends for awhile. One day he ran into an old friend who was working at a local psychiatric center. Recognizing Joe’s level of distress, the friend suggested a mental health evaluation which led to a counseling referral and a prescription for medication. The issue of where to live, however, was still unresolved.
Without any income, Joe reluctantly came to the Rescue Mission emergency shelter last August. On that first night Joe had a hard time sleeping. But at breakfast the next morning, Joe made some new friends who assured him, “You’ll get used to the routine, just stick with us.”
Those new friends and a supportive relationship with his Rescue Mission case manager helped Joe begin the long climb back to the life he once knew. Able to trust again, Joe also reconnected with God.
In just six months’ time, Joe has stabilized emotionally and is working part-time in retail. With the goal of working full-time, Joe looks forward to moving into his own apartment.
Most of all, he is grateful for the opportunity to rebuild his life at the Rescue Mission. While meeting Joe’s practical needs for food, clothing and shelter, the Rescue Mission helped him meet a deeper need, as well. “I feel like I’ve been transformed the past few months,” he said, “God is in my life and I’m not going to let the past hold me back.”