The executive board of the Federation of Social Workers selected Sister Grace Miller from the House of Mercy to receive its 2020 W. Burton Richardson Lifetime Achievement Award.
Miller participated in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and volunteered at a homeless shelter in the early ‘80s. She learned that homelessness in a city with freezing temperatures and 100 inches of annual snowfall is a life-threatening condition. At night, on her way to social justice meetings, she would offer to take those in need to a shelter, give them a hot meal or let them warm up for a few minutes in her car.
During one blizzard, Miller found three men on the streets. She tried to find them a safe place for the night, but the shelters were full. She convinced one church to take the men in, but the experience left her angry and determined. She knew Rochester needed a place that would never turn away people in need.
Miller founded the House of Mercy, a mission based in one of the poorest neighborhoods in town. By the end of the first week, hundreds of people were coming to her door.
Many who came for help were inspired by her actions and wanted to help others. Volunteers helped with cooking, cleaning, handing out food and clothes, and helping the mission survive on a small budget. One woman cooked an estimated 70,000 meals over 30 years. Two others cooked even more.
House of Mercy provides food, clothing, shelter, health care services and other forms of assistance to Rochester residents in need. The shelter hosts almost 100 people every night, and provides meals, backpacks with school supplies every September, and food baskets and gifts for families every holiday season.
Miller will be honored at the 16th annual Human Service Worker of the Year Awards. FSW is accepting nominations for individuals and organizations through Sept. 28. Visit fsw-union.org for information.