When it comes to the Rescue Mission of Trenton, Barrett Young isn’t exactly a stranger.
He served as the organization’s chief operating officer for nearly a decade. He’s worked for the mission even longer. And he’s been around the organization since he was a kid—the Rescue Mission’s outgoing CEO, Mary Gay Abbott-Young, is his mother.
So when Abbott-Young decided to step down and assume the role of president, Young was the perfect replacement. He was officially named the new CEO last month.
“There are a lot of mixed emotions with it,” Young said. “There’s a lot of pride that comes with it—that the board had enough trust and belief in me to put me in this position, that my mom had enough trust and belief in me to see that it was time to step into a new role. It’s bittersweet.”
Young, a Bordentown resident, was installed effective Jan. 1.
“This is a perfect win-win for the mission, connecting our noble past with the challenges of today and our vision for the future,” Niel Siekerka, chair of the board of directors said in a press release. “Between Mary Gay and Barrett, they share over six decades of experience with our organization—having led us through unprecedented challenges with the compassion, vibrancy and hope that is at the heart of the mission.”
And, as Young says, he’ll be responsible for “all of it.” That includes a shelter that is open 365 days a year, a 91-bed behavioral health unit that provides addition and mental health counseling, ambulatory care, a thrift store and permanent supportive housing. Young will also be responsible for working with the board of directors and management team.
“I always like to say that the mission has a little bit of everything,” he said. “In a way, that’s a good thing. It’s a very busy place. There’s never a dull moment. We’re open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and we provide service at any level. That’s a thing that we’ve always prided ourselves on at the mission. When people are at the lowest of their lives, we’re there.”
Last year, the Rescue Mission served 71,992 warm meals, offered shelter to 1,018 individuals, provided counseling and vocational development to 80 people in the residential behavioral health treatment program and helped 153 previously unhoused individuals with permanent supportive housing.
Those services have been consistent over the last several decades, and ultimately, Young said his goal is to keep that up while continuing to evolve to fit a society where certain technologies are becoming more and more necessary to survive.
“I don’t want to screw up what the mission has done for 100-plus years,” he said. “That’s goal No. 1. My overall goal is for the Rescue Mission to provide the utmost quality of services in an ever-changing world. Everything is data-driven—how can we as an organization use data to further our mission? A lot of agencies struggle with technology. One of my main goals is to keep us relevant with that. If you’re not relevant with technology, can you really provide all of these services?”
And young has seen a lot of change at the Rescue Mission. As a Trenton nonprofit, it had its moments of struggle, he said, but he’s proud of what his mother built over the last several decades.
“I joke that I might retire before Mary Gay retires,” he said. “I’ve had a very fortunate upbringing in employment because I’ve had the opportunity to work not only for my mom, but for one of my biggest mentors in the working world. I like to read other people’s work, but I got to see her in action. I’m very passionate for the Rescue Mission, and that all comes from her. Was it always beautiful and easy to work with her? Hell no! We had ups and downs, but we managed to work through it. Now, I have the ultimate mentor that I can lean on and always call. There’s not always that transition from the top to be able to do that.”
One of Young’s other leadership influences is Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has a quote of Tomlin’s—”The standard is the standard”—framed in his office at the Rescue Mission.
“It’s a very simple phrase, but when you think about it, it’s very complex,” he said. “We believe in the intrinsic worth and value of everyone who walks in the door. If everyone who works here believes that standard, we’re going to be okay. If the staff can buy in, we’ll be able to continue to do this.”
Young studies Tomlin and others who hold leadership and management positions to keep both him and his staff motivated and educated.
“Just because you have a title doesn’t automatically mean you’re a good leader,” he said. “I like to research, read and try to educate myself. What do good leaders do? How do they get people to the place they want to go?”
And he’s grateful that part of that education has come from his own mother over the last number of years.
“Sometimes people want to hang on until the very end,” he said. “Sometimes that’s not the best thing to do. I think she realized that. That’s not to say she doesn’t have the ability. She just believes that the best thing she can do is fundraise, work on the strategic plan without the headaches and stress that come with being CEO. That’s not an easy thing for people who are leaders to recognize. But she did.”
Young has lived in Bordentown for four years with his wife, Leichena, and children Adam, 11, and Leeyah, 3. He said he’s happy to live in a town that helps further his own values—both in and out of the office.
“We love Bordentown,” he said. “We love our neighborhood. It’s fantastic. My wife is African American, and our kids are biracial. We have really, really, tried to raise them in an environment of unity, equity, things of that nature. It’s like the United Nations on our street. That’s what it’s supposed to look like. I love Bordentown for what it offers. I’m very proud of Bordentown.”