January 6, 2021

New CEO of Rescue Mission of Trenton Keeps it in the Family

By Anne Levin

Barrett Young

As far back as he can remember, The Rescue Mission of Trenton has been a part of Barrett Young’s life.

The new chief executive officer of the 105-year-old organization started as an emergency shelter associate in 2003, working from midnight until 8 a.m. In 2013, he became chief operating officer. But even before then — way before — Young was tagging along with his mother Mary Gay Abbott-Young, who was CEO of the Mission from 1986 until this week.

“I literally grew up here,” said Young, 39, in a telephone interview last week. “I used to come here with my mom all the time. When she’d get called suddenly to come to work, I would run and jump in the car to come with her. Sometimes I’d even hide in the car.”

The Mission’s board of directors announced Barrett Young’s promotion last week. Abbott-Young will now serve as the organization’s president. Her focus will be on public advocacy, grants, funding, and the organization’s strategic plan.

Between mother and son, there are more than six decades of experience at the Mission, which is dedicated to helping the homeless and those who have nowhere else to turn.

“As the chief executive officer, Barrett will be responsible for providing leadership for the organization, working with the board of girectors and the management team, as well as overseeing all aspects of this very complex organization that last year served 71,992 warm meals; offered shelter to 1,018 individuals who were homeless; provided counseling and vocational development to, on average, 80 individuals in the residential behavioral health treatment program; and helped 153 previously homeless individuals enter permanent supportive housing,” said Niel Siekerka, chair of the board of directors, in a press release.

Siekerka also expressed enthusiasm about Abbott-Young’s new role. “We are very fortunate that Mary Gay has agreed to stay on with us in this new role,” he said. “Over the course of three-and-half decades, she has been at the helm of the Mission, expanding the organization’s ability to help those who have nowhere else to turn in five distinct, yet unified, and vital ways, including the Shelter, the Behavioral Health Center, Vocational Development, Supportive Housing, and the Thrift Store. Knowing that she will be readily available to provide insights and perspective, while also being able to focus on enhancing the Mission’s fundraising and other key strategic initiatives, provides solid footing for our organization as we look to a new era.”

While working on his master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania,  Barrett Young co-founded the Penn Restorative Entrepreneurship Program, a partnership between the Mission and the University led by Penn faculty and students. The program trains a small group of formerly incarcerated individuals with the goal of helping them start and succeed in running their own business.

“As a kid, I was at the Mission a lot,” Young said. “I played basketball with the guys. Because of the way I was raised, I’ve always kind of understood and accepted people’s differences. I also understand where I sit in the world of equality and inequality as a white male. I’m not an idiot. I realized that a long time ago. But the Mission has always been about inclusivity of everyone.”

Many clients of the Mission struggle with addiction. More often than not, it takes several attempts before they are able to conquer their habits.  Young describes the organization as “a bubble, a judgment-free zone. If you’re willing to do some work, we’re working to help you,” he said. “People ask how many times it takes to come out of treatment. I say, ‘I don’t know, as long as it takes.’ As long as they don’t assault a staff member, we will help them.”

Young’s sister is a lawyer; his father is retired after working more than 30 years for Amtrak. Though his mother could retire if she chose to, Young is glad — and not surprised — that she is staying on board.

“The good thing is that she is stepping into a new role,” he said. “A beautiful thing is you have a person who has dedicated 40 years of her life in growing this organization, and I have the great benefit of not only working for her, but being her son. The ability to pick up the phone and make that call when I need to — not everybody has that.”