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August 15, 2009, the day that Furnie Gaines passed away, will go down in Rescue Mission history as a "day that will live in infamy." Gaines had courageously battled pancreatic cancer for months, and he continued to work until the very end.
Gaines grew up in Atlantic City. He came to the Rescue Mission after having exhausted various programs in the Atlantic City area to help people with alcohol addiction.
"They ran out of places to send me," Gaines said in a 2008 Times article, "Pupils proclaim their "Present-Day Hero': Antheil school honors Rescue Mission staffer as the perfect role model."
Gaines was an alcoholic. He would tell you that at his worst, he'd drink almost anything to get a high.
At the Mission, success didn't come instantly. He fell off the wagon more than once.
He said, "I tried, and wound up drinking. But I didn't get thrown out. I had been in several other places ... where, if you started drinking, they throw you out. But this place was different."
Eventually something clicked, and Gaines began to change. He moved through various jobs at the Mission -- from cleaning latrines to housekeeping to cooking -- while attending group, individual and AA meetings.
On Aug. 18, 1989, Gaines took his last drink. He stayed at the Mission, working in a variety of jobs. After staying sober for a year, he joined the Mission staff.
Through the years, Gaines held many positions at the Mission. Eventually he was promoted to oversee Mission facilities -- the kitchen, housekeeping and transportation and support services. No matter what title Gaines held, he was willing to do whatever was needed. As was said in a eulogy at his funeral, "No job at the Mission was beneath his dignity. He never got too big for his britches."
Ultimately, Gaines' success transcended the Mission. He emerged as a leader in the community at large. An active participant in the Trenton Rotary, Gaines was named a Paul Harris Fellow for his dedication and commitment to the work of the chapter. In 2008, Gaines was the first non-school graduate honored by students of Antheil Elementary School in Ewing Township as the school's "Present-Day Hero" for his longtime commitment to the school.
On Aug. 20, 2009, more than 500 people attended Gaines' viewing and prayer service. As long as there is a Rescue Mission of Trenton, its residents and staff will always speak highly of this former resident who turned his life around and brought honor and respect to his family, his community and the Mission.
To make a donation to this year's Times Holiday Appeal in memory of Furnie Gaines, make your check payable to The Times Holiday Appeal and mail it to Times Charities Inc., P.O. Box 416045, Boston MA 02241-6045.
Hutchinson Industries, a longtime supporter of the Rescue Mission of Trenton, has pledged to match the first $25,000 raised from contributors, challenging the community to be generous.
Donations to The Times Holiday Appeal will go directly to the designated nonprofit organization without the deduction of overhead expenses. All gifts will be acknowledged in The Times. Anonymity will be granted if requested.
For more information about the Rescue Mission, call (609) 695-1436 ext. 102 or go to www.rescuemissionoftrenton.org