Alumni Series: Gary and Meli

Meli and Gary

"I am married now, spending time with my family, and golfing!" --Meli

"[Today] we are busy helping others who don't have as much." --Gary

When you give to Union Gospel Mission of Salem, you’re investing in lifelong change. Read a couple of stories from past residents who have experienced enduring transformation.  



Gary graduated from UGM’s New Life Fellowship program more than 15 years ago. Since stepping back out in the world as a changed man in 2005, God has only continued to sanctify him. 

“I was raised in an alcohol-abused home,” says Gary who began drinking in early elementary school. “About ninth grade, I started playing hard. That’s when I got introduced to marijuana and it just escalated—speed, cocaine…” 

On a night that’s surely imprinted on his brain forever, the old Mission cross beckoned him inside. 

“I’m walking down Commercial Street with the hangover of hangovers, and I see the sign in front of UGM, ‘Come to me heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ And I thought ‘I ain’t goin’ to no church.’” But Gary walked inside anyway. 

That night marked the first of many days of intentional life-change for Gary. “I was a very cold person. Now I care. When I see someone hurting, I want to help them. Now I talk to Jesus and he talks back to me, ‘Take care of my people.’” 

Today, Gary and his wife Debra stand as founders of a non-profit called The Giving Plate. Their mission is to feed the hungry today with compassion and hospitality. Since its opening in 2010, more than 5.75 million pounds of food has been given away to needy families. 

Gary’s story is unique in and of itself, but his is one of many lives changed at UGM.  



It was only in 2019 that Meli graduated from UGM’s New Life Fellowship program, but much has been packed into her life in the last three years.   

“I was addicted to doing crime almost more than drugs,” says Meli about her past self. Meli initially graduated from NLF once before 2019. But one of the key principles she claimed was missing from her heart-change was freedom from her past. “There’s healing from Jesus,” she says. 

One of the most impactful takeaways from UGM for Meli was this: “I am loved by people and God, people can be trusted, and I can succeed.” 

Today, she works full-time as the Director of Services for Oregon of Employment Options. With pride we share that she is a certified alcohol and drug counselor and is working on her human services degree. Even more, she’ s married and has reconnected with her family.  

Meli is allowing God to work all things for good through the investment she makes in causes dear to her heart, causes she can relate to personally by the suffering she’s withstood.  


“I mentor people going through the amputation process and [I mentor] women coming through Simonka Place,” says Meli who lost her leg to infection.  

To anyone who is hesitant about seeking out UGM for help, she says, “The freedom you could have from the pain and suffering is amazing, and UGM is worth it!” 

Read more stories

“I didn’t see it at the time, but now I see His hand through all of it,” says Merci. “He gives us a new beginning.”
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