[Hpn] Homeless director resigning

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 22 May 2004 09:42:27 -0400


www.pennlive.com

Time to move on
Bethesda Mission exec director will step down
The Patriot-News
Saturday, May 22, 2004
BY DIANA FISHLOCK
Of The Patriot-News

Bethesda Mission's long time executive director, Bryan Yesilonis, is re
signing Sept. 30, he said.
For 14 years, Yesilonis has led the mission and expanded its services for
Harrisburg's homeless. He has worked for the mission in some capacity since
1984.

Now, Yesilonis, 49, said he needs to spend more time with his family. He
said he might work in the private sector, perform domestic work for an
international mission group or raise funds for Christian organizations.

"I have seven kids. They've been coming in since they're little and making
meals and going out on missions," he said. "It's not a 9-to-5 job. It's sort
of a lifestyle, rather than a job. You're never really off work."
Since 1914, Bethesda Mission has offered Harrisburg's homeless a bed and
Bible study.
Under Yesilonis, the mission's work expanded considerably, said board
chairman James N. Cooper. It added a women's mission, a youth mission, and
made improvements to its building.
Yesilonis "established an outreach ministry to provide food in surrounding
counties," Cooper said. "He established a medical clinic ... where many of
the poor and homeless get to see a physician for the first time in many
years. He established a mobile mission where, every Friday and Saturday
night, a vehicle and volunteers go into the community and provide food and
clothing to the poor."
In 2001, Harrisburg Mayor Stephen R. Reed spoke against Bethesda's plan to
move the shelter to a larger location at Fulton and Reily streets. City
Council struck down proposed zoning changes that would have allowed the
move, disappointing Yesilonis.
"That's part of the job, dealing with community leaders," Cooper said. "I
think he's done an outstanding job at that."
Kendall Hanna, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank,
called Yesilonis a calm, determined, persistent leader.
"You have to believe that the impossible can become possible, and I believe
Bryan exemplified that and embraced that," Hanna said. "He was persistent in
his advocacy to expand the number of beds for the homeless in Harrisburg."
Bethesda's board will form a committee to perform a national search for
someone a lot like Yesilonis, Cooper said. "No. 1 is going to be their
religious conviction, and No. 2 is experience in working with the poor and
homeless."
Cooper will miss what he called Yesilonis' "complete commitment" to
Bethesda. "He has dedicated his whole life to helping the poor and homeless.
... And his complete trust in God. ... It has been quite enlightening to me
to work with him."
In a 2002 Patriot-News article, Yesilonis said treating the homeless had
become more complex than in the 1950s, when they were mostly white male
alcoholics.
Roughly 80 percent of Harrisburg's homeless have chemical addictions, from
alcohol to crack cocaine; about 40 percent suffer from some type of mental
illness; and 20 percent are battling both afflictions, Bethesda's studies
have shown.
Those issues, along with welfare reform and a lack of affordable housing,
made helping the homeless much more complicated, Yesilonis said in the 2002
article. "The needs of these people are a bottomless pit."
In an interview this week, Yesilonis said the position is "extremely
demanding" and said he was always working.
Yesilonis has helped serve soup and traveled on mobile missions, he said. "I
know a third of the homeless in Harrisburg by name. Some of the homeless,
some of the poor, I've known for 20 years because they've been coming to the
soup line for 20 years."
Mission work isn't just a job, Yesilonis said. "It's a calling. It's a
mission."

DIANA FISHLOCK: 255-8251 or dfishlock@patriot-news.com


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