Two Penny Missions
Providing hope to the hopeless and home to the homeless
article by Larone Richardson | photography by Martin G Meyers
Imagine for a moment that you are four years old, and one day you’re separated from your mother, grandparents and siblings. You’re placed in a “receiving home,” because no foster home is available to take you in. A year and a half passes, and when you’re almost six years old, you’re moved to a foster home, where you endure physical and emotional abuse for the next 11 years. Finally, thankfully, you and the other foster children living there are removed from that wretched place.
Now an angry young teen, you’re placed in a children’s home, only to be invited to leave shortly thereafter because of your “anger issues.” So you’re placed back with your mom, but predictably, that’s a disaster. You are sent to another foster home … what are the chances of this story having a happy ending?
Amazingly, in this case, at least, chances of a happy ending are 101 percent. The last foster parents with whom he was placed remain his ‘parents’ to this day and are truly family… as their son is now his brother-in-law.
The man that little child became is Two Penny Missions founder Danny Acree, who has since dedicated his life to providing hope to the hopeless and a home to the homeless.
Every day in our community, people wake up to yet another day of quiet desperation. Some are adrift in a sea of loneliness. Others may be faced with a job loss, or are ensnared in an abusive relationship. Some have no food, no money, no job, no car, not even a place they can call home. “Maybe it’s because of what happened to me growing up, but I’ve always had a place in my heart for people like that,” shares Danny Acree, who, though now retired, still works part time as a Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Deputy. He’s witnessed a lot of suffering throughout his 30 plus years in law enforcement. “People who we responded to were hungry for someone to do more than just resolve their law and order concerns,” continues Danny. “They needed hope, someone to actually care about them, someone to actually love them and share God’s love with them.” But even though he felt this deep compassion and empathy for the people he served as a Deputy, he didn’t know how best to express it, or what to do about it.
An opportunity to transform this nebulous desire into an actual boots-on-the-ground action presented itself in a most unlikely manner one hot, muggy, August night in 2009. Danny’s son, Austin, who was 7 years old at the time, asked his Dad if he knew how to make Rice Krispie treats. “I told him, ‘No, Son, I don’t, but I bet I can figure it out.’” The next day when Austin came home from school, there were seven batches of Rice Krispie treats ready and waiting. Austin asked excitedly if they were all for him. “Nope,” his daddy told him. “One is for us; the rest are for our neighbors!”
Father and son began spending their “down time” sharing Rice Krispie treats along with their love of God and His Word. Neighborhood kids even joined in, delighted by their new “mission work,” and the sharing mission started to grow, gradually and steadily. “I guess you could say at that point in time, we were the Rice Krispie Treat Mission,” grins Danny.
A few months later, the mission acquired its much-needed name change. Danny and Austin were reading the Bible’s account of the widow’s two mites (a mite was the least valuable Roman coin in circulation in Jesus’ time). “This little old lady only had two copper coins to her name,” says Danny, “and she gave it all to the Lord. Others gave a little out of their abundance, but this widow lady gave everything she had! Austin and I were so moved by that story, we decided, that very night, to call our ministry Two Penny Missions.”
In the years since, Two Penny Missions has blossomed into a grass-roots organization that has helped countless individuals and families, providing food, clothing, furniture and shelter to those in urgent need. Operating under the umbrella of Family Church in West Monroe, this non-profit, faith-based mission is fueled by a diverse and caring conglomerate of area churches, businesses and individuals who see unmet needs and respond according to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Cory Walker, local businessman and Two Penny Missions Board Chairman, gives his take on their ultimate goal. “This Mission exists to help people see and understand that there is more to life,” he says. “Our desire is to reach out to people who need the love of Jesus Christ. We won’t be able to help everyone, but we want the ones we can help to see that our love for them is based on our love for Jesus.”
As is the case on a national level, shelter for the homeless is an urgent need in northeast Louisiana. “We get calls from law enforcement and social agencies all the time asking for our help,” says Danny. “It may be a wife who needs to get away from an abusive husband, someone who they picked up who’s chronically homeless, or a family who’s lost their home in a fire.” There simply aren’t enough facilities available.
In the past, the mission has paid for hotel rooms to meet those short-term immediate needs, an expensive, necessary, yet imperfect response, but a better solution is on the horizon. Two Penny Missions is now on the verge of two exciting developments that will help our community not only care for those less fortunate, but help them turn their lives around.
The first project will provide short term emergency shelter. “By now, everyone is familiar with the concept of micro or mini-homes,” says Danny. “Well, we have some property in Ouachita Parish that was donated to us. There’s room for us to place four to six separate micro-homes onsite, along with two bath houses. There’s an old, dilapidated house on the property now that needs to be torn down, some trees that need cutting, some dirt work done, and we’ll be ready to put the mini-homes in.” Each micro-home will cost about $3000, and will be approximately 10 x 12 feet. Because domestic abuse victims may be housed there, the exact location won’t be revealed to the general public.
“We have partial funding set aside to pay for a few of these homes,” explains Danny. “The only thing holding us back is that the work is being donated by unpaid volunteers who all have full-time jobs! It’s a process, but it’s gratifying to know that we are now sitting on ‘Go.’”
Danny envisions “small groups,” such as Sunday School or Bible Study classes from area churches, taking responsibility for the short-term residents of these micro-homes, providing needed food, fellowship and prayer support. Board Member Tisha Crain, business owner, wife, mother and grandmother, knows from experience that prayer is a powerful tool. “I’m a part of Two Penny Missions, because I’m a prayer warrior,” she smiles. “My role, I believe, is to pray for those God places in my path, and to help them, to show them that Jesus loves them.”
I asked several other Mission board members to share their thoughts about the ministry of Two Penny. CenturyLink Analyst Christa Ford explains her involvement, “I feel that being able to work with Two Penny Missions allows us to give back. It enables us to bless others as we have been blessed.”
Krista Richardson, wife, homemaker, and mother of two boys, agrees. “God has given me a passion for wanting to help people who are struggling,” says Krista. “These people seldom choose to be in their position. Some are hard-working people who just can’t seem to catch a break, they need someone to just give them a chance to pick themselves back up. We strive to give the hopeless a sense of hope.”
“I’m a retired Army National Guard First Sergeant,” shares Brett Bennett, who works full time at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. “In the past, I’ve felt led to serve my community in many different ways, and I didn’t have a Board to report to. But when Danny asked me to serve on this Board, I jumped at the chance. To see people serve God in such a selfless way is inspiring to me; I’m honored to walk beside Danny in this vision God has given him.”
“Two Penny Missions isn’t about me,” Danny is quick to point out. “I owe my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Cindy, and my entire family; my pastor, Beck Payne, and all the selfless businesses, community leaders, churches and volunteers who give their time and money to this cause. It’s amazing to witness how their love for the Lord is translated into helping others.”
In addition to the micro-homes project, Two Penny Missions has a second, much larger venture currently in the works, a longer term haven for people with no place to call home. Slated for ground-breaking in early to mid-2017, the shelter will be located in the downtown area of West Monroe. “We’ve already acquired the land,” says the mission’s Chief Financial Officer Bradley Bridges, “and we’re off to a really good start on the funding. We’re currently in the process of raising awareness and raising the remainder of the funds needed to build it. The shelter will allow us to provide for basic needs and will include a vocational aspect, and most importantly, to share the Gospel. There are several churches in the area that are supporting the ministry on a monthly basis, as well as businesses and private donors.”
Preliminary plans for the 5,000 square feet shelter have already been drawn. And according to Danny, only about $50,000 more is needed in order to have $100,000 needed to start the building. “Shoot, somebody could come along tomorrow and donate that amount outright,” smiles Danny. “I’ve seen stranger things than that happen in the last 10 years.” The home will provide living quarters for twelve people and have dedicated spaces for a food bank, kitchen and dining area, laundry facilities, on-site security, and possibly a clothing repository.
“This won’t be a shelter for free-loaders,” Danny continues in his trademark, no-nonsense way. “We’re going to have a program geared to set the residents up for success, to provide them with the tools they need to go out, find a job and be able to provide a living for themselves and their family. We want to enable the people that come to the shelter to be able to go out into society and be a productive member of our community. I want them to feel loved and cared for, to walk away from there saying, ‘That was my home, and it gave me a second chance.’”
Before I leave the interview, I ask Danny if there is any urgent need that he needs me to mention, expecting a request for funds or food. “Dehumidifiers,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Got a call from Baton Rouge, and those people down there need dehumidifiers in a really bad way.” Sensing my apparent confusion, he continues, “We try not to say ‘No’ to any genuine need. We’re Two Penny Missions, you see…we’re gonna be the ‘change!’”
If you, your church or business would like to become involved with Two Penny Missions, or if you know of a need that they could help meet, contact them at 318-355-2423 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.twopennymissions.com.