Shelter for Healing

Syracuse native overcomes struggles, wants to help women in community

The life of Debra Person changed forever in 1998, when she made the decision to join Schenectady City Mission’s Serenity House.

After that, Person transformed her unhealthy lifestyle into a successful one and is now developing a women’s shelter on Syracuse’s South Side, modeled after the Serenity House.

The shelter, Exodus 3 Ministries Inc., will offer basic needs and spiritual support to women in need, she said.

“I am not starting this for personal gain,” Person said. “It’s about giving the glory to God.”

As a faith-based organization, Exodus 3 Ministries Inc. will not be eligible to receive government funding. The not-for-profit will be sustained entirely by tax-deductible donations, and more than $10,000 already has been raised, she said.

Person said she is working closely with board members of Exodus 3 Ministries and its attorney to open the shelter as early as fall.

Pastor Gary Wellings is the program’s board chairman. “There are a lot of hurting people out there,” he said. “You don’t have to go very far to find them. Most people I know can tell you of someone in their family that is suffering. Getting people to come to a loving, caring program that will cost them nothing, that will have people to help them get their life back together, shouldn’t be difficult.”

As founder of Exodus 3 Ministries Inc., Person is familiar with the struggles many women face in her community. She spent a large part of her life struggling with addictions and unhealthy relationships until she came to a point where she wanted to change.

“It was so bad, I lost my home and everything in it,” Person said. “But those things don’t compare to losing your self-respect, self-esteem and self-worth.”

Schenectady City Mission’s Family Life Center, which replaced Serenity House, helped her get her life back in order. After finishing treatment, Person worked as a women’s ministry associate for six years, earned a degree in social work from the College of St. Rose and had a revelation.

“God was going to use me in my own hometown,” she said. “And I heard, ‘Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” The scripture verse is from Exodus 3:10.

Person interpreted the verse as God telling her to open a women’s shelter. She returned to Syracuse, found a job as a case manager at an emergency shelter and earned a master’s degree in social work from Syracuse University.

“I was born with a heart of passion to help others,” Person said. “The Schenectady City Mission helped to cultivate my heart’s desire to give back.”

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