Alvin and Madeline Roth’s five children speak about their parents’ leap of faith to help build an organization that has helped numerous neighbours in need since 1951:
“Their faith drove them and their faith was based on love,” said Brian, one of Alvin and Madeline Roth’s five children. When his parents were chosen by their church community to establish a safe place for men struggling with homelessness and addiction in London, they did not hesitate to do so. “I look back in amazement that it happened,” said Paul, Brian’s brother. “Selling the farm, the only thing they knew, and leaving their community to do something like this”.
After arriving in London, Alvin took the lead setting up Goodwill Rescue Mission (now Men’s Mission). On January 29th, 1951, Madeline served the first meal to nine men seeking shelter and nourishment at the Mission. In those early years, the Roth family lived in one half of the Mission house on Talbot St., while the other half provided emergency shelter. The two halves were connected by the kitchen.
Though an unusual living situation for most, the Roth siblings did not feel out of place. “I was two when I moved there… During that time, the men were my friends,” recalled Gloria, Alvin and Madeline’s eldest daughter. “You’re just used to it because that’s your life,” added Paul.
The first employee of the Mission, Erma Kropf, was hired when Madeline was expecting her third child. “Erma came and helped in the kitchen and became part of the family,” Gloria explained. Erma remained an employee for over 17 years, transitioning from kitchen duties to social work at the Women’s Mission which opened its doors in 1956.
Alvin’s approach to continue building upon the Mission closely aligned with one of his favourite sayings: Meeting need at the point of need. “He would start to see another need and while he was there, the Women’s Mission, Quintin Warner House, and the Teen Girls Home got started… It just kept spreading,” said Gloria. The beginnings of the Women’s Mission are unique in that Alvin purchased a house for this purpose without the immediate means in which to pay the mortgage. “It all stems back to his faith. He knew if he was walking the walk, God would be there for him,” shared Brian.
Alvin’s leap of faith was validated as the Women’s Mission, after merging with the Family Centre in 1986, became what is now Rotholme Family Shelter, serving hundreds of families every year.
Erma’s role at the Women’s Mission involved life skills programming including cooking lessons, and providing help and hope to women in need along their journeys. “We talked to them and encouraged them, and helped however we could… We took time to be a friend,” she said. Several decades later, Erma is still friends with a few of these women, particularly one who had come to the Women’s Mission after leaving a mental health hospital unit and later became a mental health therapist. “She went back to school and thrived,” said Erma. “She calls me every so often and tells me how she’s doing”.
Over the past 70 years, what began as simple accommodations for nine men has grown and evolved into Mission Services of London, an organization of five branches of service, each dedicated to helping hundreds, even thousands, of neighbours each year. “As I look back, it’s one of those things that it’s almost hard to believe it happened,” Paul marvelled.
Story and Video Prepared by Amy Bumbacco
Communications & PR Coordinator