Chris Coleman’s Amazing Gift

People from every corner of our community are stepping forward to help us build the new House of Mercy.

An anonymous donor purchased a building on Ormond Street to be our next home. And then two prominent business leaders—Dick Crossed, the founder of Conifer Realty, and Tim Fournier, the company CEO—volunteered to lead the first capital campaign in our history.

Thanks to their efforts and the generosity of countless others who believe in our mission, we will move into our new home at the end of the year. And from that moment on, we will help more people suffering from extreme poverty and homelessness than ever before.

But one of the most amazing gifts in our history came from a man who was homeless for more than a decade. This is his story.

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Chris Coleman grew up in Rochester. His father was a minister. His mother handed out food and clothing to the neighbors. He learned about the importance of giving at an early age.

Two other things were part of his DNA. An appreciation for discipline. And a belief that when you go out in public, you should always look your best.

That was his mindset. This was his orientation to life. And when he became a young man, ready to embark on a career, he never imagined that, one day, he would find himself on the doorstep of a homeless shelter, needing food, clothing, and a safe, warm place to sleep.

Birth of a skilled craftsman

After high school, Chris Coleman worked for Kodak. Then the military came calling. When he completed his service, he entered an RIT program and became a skilled craftsman in the tool and die industry. He held that position for 27 years.

“I made good money and I was proud of my profession. I enjoyed my work so much. I loved working with my hands and solving problems. If I had to make 100 parts, the last was the same as the first. I miss that work. I love it to this day.”

But then a series of events made the world start spinning in another direction.

Health problems and the loss of loved ones take their toll

What happened was this.

Chris developed a severe case of occupational asthma. After that, he couldn’t even walk into a machine shop without getting sick. So he had to quit his profession and get part-time maintenance work.

Then his mother died. That was hard on him. And his father’s health declined, too.

Chris moved home to take care of his father and keep him out of a nursing facility. But when the end came, he and his siblings couldn’t afford to keep the family home. And suddenly Chris Coleman—the proud, disciplined craftsman—found himself without a roof over his head.

“I left that house with a couple pairs of pants, a couple shirts and shoes. That was it.”

Finding a refuge that never closes its doors on people in need

Until then, Chris had been working part-time. But it wasn’t enough to live on. So he sometimes stopped at The House of Mercy when he ran out of food.

That’s how Sister Grace and C.W. Earlsey, the House Manager, learned about his struggles. And they were ready to help him when he said he needed a place to stay. But that was not an easy conversation for Chris Coleman, the proud craftsman, the son of a minister.

“I never expected to be homeless,” he recalls. “I was angry inside at the world.”

Enduring a decade of homelessness

Chris was homeless for more than a decade. And there were times when it would have been easy for him to give in to drinking, drugs and despair.

But two things kept him from that dark path: his own sense of personal discipline. And the patient, caring support he received from The House of Mercy.

Slowly, the anger subsided. He regained his faith in life. He began to change his selfish ways. And then he started giving back to The House of Mercy. He cooked in the kitchen. He worked in the clothing room. He helped C.W. pick up donations from all over Monroe County.

“I was hurting. There was bitterness there. But the people at The House helped me open up and learn to share. I learned that my reward is in doing for others, not receiving. It made me feel good to give back. And it was the right thing to do.”

Another life-changing event happened. He met a woman and fell in love. They dreamed of finding a place of their own.

The long struggle for a disability claim

But there was another challenge for Chris Coleman. His asthma was getting worse. He suffered from chronic pain and nerve damage. And he had lost all strength in his hands, depriving him of the ability to make things, which he truly loved to do.

In 2002, he finally filed for disability. But it took a seven-year bureaucratic struggle to get the help he deserved.

When his claim was finally approved, Chris and his girlfriend moved into an apartment. And a decade of homelessness came to an end.

The people at The House were happy for his progress. But then he just seemed to disappear. For several months, no one knew what had happened to him.

Then one day there was a knock on Sister Grace’s door. She opened it to find Chris Coleman standing there with an envelope in his hand.

“I have nothing to give you but this,” Chris said to her. “And I want to thank you for helping me.’’

A remarkable act of generosity

Sister Grace remembers the moment clearly.

“He handed me the envelope and walked away,” Sister Grace says. “When I opened it, there was a check for $1,000 inside. I couldn’t believe it.

“Here was a man who had been homeless and picking up bottles for a living, and he was sharing his disability money with us. It was one of the most amazing gifts in our history.”

And that wasn’t the end to the story either.

A year later, Chris Coleman sent Sister Grace another check for $1,000. He didn’t even claim it as a charitable gift on his tax return. He just wanted to give back to the mission that had helped him get his life back on solid ground.

“I’m a humble person. I don’t have any big wants or needs. And I was never brought up to be greedy. So I was happy to share what I had. It felt good to do that.

“To show your appreciation, you have to give back. To make progress as a society, we all have to think of other people first.”

To make a contribution to our Capital Campaign you can donate online or by mailing a check to us at 725 Hudson Avenue Rochester, NY 14621.