Tri-City Union Gospel Mission director passing torch to his son

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldDecember 24, 2013 

The Porters

Andrew Porter, right, his father Don, Tri-City Union Gospel Mission director, center, and Jerry Jones food service manager at the mission enjoy lunch at the mission in Pasco. The elder Porter is retiring and handing over the reigns to his son Andrew. Jones is the food service manager at the mission.

PAUL T. ERICKSON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Don Porter has been the steady hand leading the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission for 15 years.

A soldier-turned-minister, he shepherded the Pasco nonprofit dedicated to helping the "broken, bruised and needy" from a time of turmoil to an era of stability and growth.

And now he's taking a step back, entering a semi-retirement that still will see him at the mission he loves part-time.

Meanwhile, another Porter is stepping up to take the mission's reins -- Andrew, Don's eldest son.

It's a transition expected to be relatively seamless as Andrew has been Don's second-in-command for 41/2 years.

And it's one that's especially sweet because there was a time long ago, when Andrew -- now a 51-year-old married father of two who came to the mission after a 15-year career with Odwalla -- was living on the streets and struggling with addiction.

Mission leaders say Andrew will bring hard-won insight to the executive director position, along with a passion he shares with his dad.

"I was looking at a family picture they took the other day. He is so much a clone of his father," said Eileen Crawford, a former Pasco city councilwoman and part of a mission steering committee raising money for an expansion project.

She said Andrew has "just as big a heart for the Lord, just as big a heart for the homeless" as Don.

The Pasco mission dates to the 1950s. It has two emergency shelters on North Second Avenue, one for men and one for women and children.

It also provides a range of other aid, from food boxes, to clothing and hygiene items, to recovery help and transitional housing.

Every day, it offers hot meals to anyone in need in the community.

A special Christmas banquet is planned from 2 to 4 p.m. today.

Don Porter started in Pasco in spring 1998. Back then, the mission had a tiny staff, a budget around $261,000 and a reputation dented by issues including legal troubles of a former co-director.

Crawford said Don, who'd come from the Yakima Union Gospel Mission, "brought the (Pasco) mission up by his bootstraps."

He ran into a speed bump at the very beginning of his tenure, when some board members wanted to fire him. Don said they were upset over his firing of the office manager.

But Don stayed on and the operation grew over time. The mission now has a staff of 19 full-time and part-time employees and a budget of about $3 million, including in-kind donations.

Mel Lacey, the board vice president, described Don as a wise, "good man of God," who sets a good example as a leader.

The 73-year-old was born in Missouri and grew up in the Midwest and Southern California. He joined the Army not long after high school, serving for three years.

He then went onto college and graduate studies, and ended up in Washington serving as pastor of churches in Redmond and then Yakima.

It was in Yakima, in the '80s, that he first set foot in a Union Gospel Mission -- when he took Andrew there for a place to stay.

Don became a mission volunteer, and he eventually left the church he was pastoring to focus on mission work.

At the Pasco mission, he envisioned a place that didn't just "warehouse" those in need but instead was a ministry that helped them change for the better.

"Armed and equipped with the Gospel, we have seen that happen," he told the Herald, adding that mission work involves showing people that their past doesn't have to be their future.

The Pasco mission now is in the midst of preparing for its future. Leaders are raising money for a new men's facility and community outreach center, with about $2.3 million left to go.

Mike Richardson, president of the mission board, said Andrew Porter is the right person to lead the nonprofit into this new period of growth.

"He knows us -- Andrew does. He know the ins and outs of the organization," Richardson said.

"Don brought us up. Each year we got better and better," added Lacey, the vice president. "Andrew is going to carry us through."

When Don comes back to the mission part-time in the new year, he said he'll be doing "whatever he gives me," pointing to his son with a smile.

He'll also continue to preach at Richland Heights Baptist Church, where he's served as interim pastor for about a decade.

Don said doing rescue mission work and preaching are two of his great loves, but it's time to slow down a bit.

His wife needs him around more, he said. He's also being treated for cancer, although he's feeling good.

Don said he sees great opportunities ahead for his son and the mission.

Andrew said that when he thinks of his father, the words "strength" and "integrity" come to mind.

The word "steadfast" does, too. He recalls receiving a letter from Don years ago, during his time of struggle, while he was serving a stint in jail.

"I can't remember anything about the rest of the letter. But (in one part) he said that, basically, you're reaping what you sowed. And that was true," Andrew said.

But the letter didn't end there. "The next line said, 'The good news is you can start sowing for the future today.' And that always stuck with me," Andrew told the Herald. "I started realizing, there's truth in that, because everything that got me here is because of what I've done. Even though I don't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, I can start building for the future."

He did just that. In 1989, the year after he received the letter, Andrew -- named for one of Jesus' apostles, a man known for bringing others to Christ -- said he gave his heart to the Lord and left his old ways behind.

The father and son met up at the mission on a recent day. They talked about their work, about family.

They talked about the past and the future.

Andrew said his father has left a legacy.

"I get to stand on his shoulders," he said. "He laid a foundation that I can build on."

w Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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