Roanoke Rescue Mission CEO celebrates final Thanksgiving at mission before retirement

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) -- Thanksgiving at the Roanoke Rescue Mission is a bit different today than it was when it started 68 years ago.

"The Thanksgiving feast started out with two scrawny chickens and a lot of gravy," explained Rescue Mission CEO Joy Sylvester-Johnson. "Today we have a true feast here with every imaginable dessert."

Sylvester-Johnson's parents started the mission. It's her 66th Thanksgiving here and her last as she is set to retire.

"A little bit of sadness but I'm excited about what's next."

Sylvester-Johnson said she'll always be a supporter of the mission, which over the years has built a following of volunteers.

"Instead of just my mom and dad, it's a host of volunteers who've all come down to spend their Thanksgiving with us and create a Thanksgiving family for everybody that doesn't have one."

Dawn Haigler is in the mission recovery program, away from her family in Baltimore, but she said she is with family here, a new one as Sylvester-Johnson describes.

"I've never experienced love like I have experienced here," Haigler said. "It is so much love and I mean even though I'm not with my family, this is my family here. They are wonderful here. I've never seen a community like this before in my life."

A life of service. A life Sylvester-Johnson says is well lived.

"I've learned through the years that being in service is the best way to live and so I want to keep being of service to my community."