Family Reunions Through Miracle Messages

Miracle Messages, based in San Francisco, is an organization that assists homeless individuals reunite with their lost loved ones using short video messages. Kevin Adler, chief executive officer of the organization, started the organization in honor of his uncle Mark in December 2014. His uncle lived on and off the streets for 30 years and suffered from schizophrenia. According to Adler, he never saw his uncle as homeless but rather as his beloved uncle. He inspired Adler to see all homeless people as someone’s mother or father, son or daughter, brother or sister, or aunt or uncle. It was with this inspiration that Adler started working with homeless individuals.

Miracle Messages offers its services at no cost to homeless people and their families. Adler works with a team of volunteers. Adler stated, “We partner with homeless service organizations and make announcements through them.” He further added, “Anyone who is interested in reuniting with their loved one has the opportunity to record a Miracle Message. We ask questions such as the last time they spoke to their loved one, if they have any way to contact them right now and why they have been out of touch for so long.”

According to Adler, the reasons for homelessness are incredibly varied and include job loss, mental illness, domestic violence, eviction, addiction, relational brokenness, trauma and injury. From Adler’s perspective, there should be a two-step approach to solving homelessness. The first is to assist homeless individuals with safe housing options along with long-term comprehensive medical care. The second is to provide constant social support through relationships. According to Adler, supportive relationships are even more important than providing housing alone. Adler mentioned, “From the numerous homeless individuals we have worked with, one important realization is that family and friends are the key to solving homelessness.”

Miracle Messages plans to grow. According to Adler, he would like to build local chapters to expand Miracle Messages to communities across the United States. Adler also mentioned that he would like to create a better version of a reality television show for Miracle Messages, showcasing the detective work and helping to humanize and reconnect homeless individuals with their loved ones.

Miracle Messages raised funds a year ago when it first began working with the homeless community. The organization has been functioning on a budget of $25,000 that it received from individual donations, corporate social responsibility organizations, grants and a large crowdfunding campaign. However, since then it has not sought or received any further funds. Adler stated, “We’ve been focused on the work.” In 2016, Adler hopes to explore more funding opportunities from multiple sources.

Adler also emphasized the value of having volunteers who work tirelessly to fulfill the goals of Miracle Messages. According to Haley Newman, a current volunteer in Vermont, the reunions through Miracle Messages will hopefully help to lower the number of homeless people living on our streets. Newman stated, “There are so many things that can be done to help this population.” Newman added, “I am so happy to be a part of this amazing project. Not only will this make a huge difference in their lives but in the lives of volunteers like us too.”

In the one year since its inception, Miracle Messages has worked with over 50 homeless individuals. It has successfully reunited eight homeless individuals with their families. Miracle Messages also makes an effort to check up on the people it has reunited while respecting their need for privacy.

One such success story is that of Joseph Torrey and his father, Perry Thornley. Torrey, who is currently based in Maine, was reunited with his father after 19 years away from him. Although his father is still living in a shelter in Vermont and working on improving his lifestyle, Miracle Messages assisted Thornley to get in touch with his son. Torrey said: “I haven’t seen my dad for so long that I didn’t even remember him. It’s sad but true.”  

Torrey, who closely worked with Adler and Newman, stated, “They are both incredible people who both do an amazing job.” Torrey was skeptical about sharing his story at first, but now believes he made the right decision. Torrey mentioned, “My favorite part of working with them was the experience. I’m not in for the publicity. I am in this for the experience.” For Torrey it was a dream come true.

According to Torrey, family is important: “In my personal opinion families form a strong foundation for who we are and who we eventually become.” When asked if he has advice to share with other homeless individuals, Torrey said, “My experience with Miracle Messages wasn’t just a reunion, it was a true miracle. I would encourage all those who have lost touch with their family members to seek out the services of Miracle Messages. If it can change my life, it can change anyone’s life.”

Another success story is that of Jennifer Gotshall and her brother, Jeffrey Gotshall, who had been apart for almost 20 years. According to the sister, her brother went from being an unknown individual to suddenly having people check up on him and ask him about his condition and whereabouts. Gotshall stated, “I’d be surprised if he isn’t confused at times and perhaps even scared. Life as he knew it has definitely changed.”

According to Gotshall, her life changed beyond belief when she learned about her brother. Her brother’s video from Miracle Messages was first shared through Facebook and by the next day, two local television channels in her town of Montoursville, Pennsylvania, also picked up the story. Gotshall stated that not everyone in her family was pleased to learn about her brother’s life on the streets. Many were unsupportive. According to Gotshall, “At one point, every single relative was no longer speaking to me because I put ‘our shame’ in the public eye and didn’t make it go away. I was somehow supposed to have taken care of it by keeping it in California where no one knows us.”

Gotshall stated that her efforts to reconnect with Jeffrey have been successful. However, the main thing preventing her brother from coming home is that she has decided he would have to seek comprehensive medical care first. Since he suffers from alcoholism, therapy is vital for him. She has decided that in his current state, he is better off in his familiar surroundings where he can somewhat function, rather than uprooting him from his environment and putting him in an entirely new world. Gotshall stated, “I decided right from the beginning that I would keep in mind the ultimate goal, which is recovery, as opposed to merely relocating him. He is resistant, and I understand. I am attempting to reach not only an addict, but a mentally ill addict, and it won’t be easy or instantaneous.” Gotshall stated that she will continue to do whatever is necessary to help her brother come home.

Gotshall indicated, “Because of Miracle Messages’ video about Jeffery, members of the community were so touched that they’ve spent the past year partnering with a local church to open a food pantry and shelter. It’s still in the works but should be open soon. We have a lot of plans, which will take years to bring to fruition, but without my brother’s video with Miracle Messages, none of it would have happened.”

Rupal Ramesh Shah is the associate editor of Spare Change News.

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