Photo by Erika Fleegle

Light of Life’s annual Day of Hope Picnic in Allegheny Commons West Park July 23 is a way to celebrate and bring community members together.

By Erika Fleegle

In the still heat of a summer afternoon, jazz music wafts from a stage. Neighbors lounge in the shade and children play at a nearby playground. All this is due to the Light of Life Rescue Mission’s annual Day of Hope Picnic in Allegheny Commons West Park July 23.

The picnic, now in its fourth year, serves as a way for community members to enjoy company and share stories of fellowship and healing – two things that the Light of Life mission is well known for. In its 63 years of operation, Light of Life has provided assistance to countless homeless and disadvantaged community members.

“It’s a good chance for people to get outside of their own walls,” Kate Wadsworth, the mission’s public relations manager, said. “People can get out and see their neighbors. We’re showing how Jesus can change lives and promote healing and recovery.”

This healing and recovery came in the form of the various organizations and performers present throughout the day. Forty-two agencies and organizations from across the county had signed up to provide health screenings, homeless support , and drug and alcohol recovery resources to those in need.

“It’s great to see all of these Pittsburgh agencies work together in the same place for the same purpose,” Wadsworth commented.

Local musicians and performers, such as the Urban Impact jazz band and praise dancers, kept audiences entertained between testimonials from those whose lives had been changed by the work of the mission. Activities for children were also available for a majority of the afternoon, and a clothing tent provided visitors with donated clothing from area residents. An estimated 1,000 meals were served.

“This has been really well-received. It’s an event people want to be at,” said Steve Rorison, Light of Life’s Outreach Coordinator.

“The most rewarding thing is the fact that there are things available for people to better their lives,” he continued.

The Light of Life mission works to provide this betterment through a variety of programs catering to men, women and children. Through these residency programs, as well as ministries for food and emergency shelter, local residents are able to take advantage of meals, shelter and educational opportunities in order to become productive members of their communities.

Some residents going through the program were on-site during Thursday’s festivities.

Donald, a current member of the men’s recovery program and former Light of Life resident, was helping out as a volunteer that day.

“When I was younger,” he said, “I always wanted to help homeless people, people who were less fortunate. I just never thought I’d be one of them.”

He cited his time with Light of Life as “a really good experience” and noted that, thanks to the program, he had been recently baptized at a staff picnic.

For other volunteers, it’s enough to see those taking shelter in the mission smile, even receiving something as simple as a meal.

Light of Life’s executive director, Craig Schweiger was pleased overall with the turnout of the event.

“I’d love to see this grow,” he said, “and I’d like to include kids more.”

For Schweiger, the highlight of the event was seeing the progress made by the mission’s residents.

“I love being reunited with old clients. You see them again, and they’re doing well. They think of their time here fondly.”