April 2013 Posts

Rachel’s Lens // My job is about relationships

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

One of my main jobs here at the Mission is writing our monthly newsletter: The Changing Lives Newsletter. The process to produce one edition takes an entire month, so even though I’ve been here for seven months, I’ve only seen the process from start to finish five times. It’s a long learning curve!

I usually start by reading through last year’s edition of that same month to get ideas. As I feel a concept start to percolate, I call other Denver Rescue Mission employees to ask about some program participants. I call program heads, chaplains, mentors, counselors, the list goes on. I ask if they have anyone in their program who would be willing to explain their journey to and at the Mission. Once I have those names and numbers, I make appointments.

Then comes my favorite part of the job: meeting our program participants and graduates. Because I haven’t been here long enough to see an individual enter and graduate our program, my relationships with our participants are built in my interviews. I have met so many gracious people at this point in the process. People who are not only willing to let me snap photos, but are inviting me to ask questions about the most difficult experiences of their lives. It’s incredible to see these people sitting in front of me who are usually so well-acclimated speak about such trying times.

It’s a constant reminder that all of us are one decision away from losing everything. It reminds me of my fallibility and my utter dependence on God. I praise the Lord for these people’s victories and feel privileged to tell their stories.

After the interview, I usually rush back to the office and try to write the story while it’s fresh in my brain. But the writing part is not the part that I look forward to each month. It’s the interviews. It’s the relationships that I get to build. It’s seeing a participant graduate knowing some of the mountains they had to climb to get there.

The finished product may be a pretty newsletter with compelling words and photos, but the end goal is seeing that same person living a self-sufficient life months after it’s printed. To me, that is when the job is truly done.

Train up your children

Written by Ashley Miltgen, Major Gifts Officer

I’ve been realizing lately how I receive so much more than I give when I choose to serve others. It’s been almost a month since Easter, and I am still reaping the benefits of just one simple act.

It was this Easter when I had my first experience washing the feet of our guests at Denver Rescue Mission’s Good Friday celebration. I thought that by participating in this experience, I might be a blessing to others: I had no idea how much this opportunity would bless me and my family.

As I was leaving the downtown shelter, I couldn’t help but become more aware of all the blessings in my life. That night I soaked up everything: the way my daughters were giggling in the back seat; the breathtaking mountains zipping by my car window; the warmth from the coat I was wearing; the fact that I didn’t have to worry about where my children would sleep that night — suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with joy.

After spending the night savoring all the normal things I so often take for granted, I didn’t want the night to end. I decided to snuggle my two daughters in my arms until they fell asleep. Like most nights, there was a lot of talking before entering dreamland. This conversation though, was even more precious. My oldest daughter Grace, who is 6, wanted to know more about the feet washing I had done. The questions started out simple: Mommy, how many feet did you wash? Mommy, were any of the feet ticklish?

Ashley's daughter, Grace

The questions quickly progressed and got deeper: Mommy, how does someone get to be homeless? Mommy, why can’t your work just give the people money for a house? Mommy, what if we didn’t have enough money for a house?” We talked for two hours about homelessness and how we can serve others as the Lord has called us to. And as I drifted off to sleep I was reminded of Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I have since been repeatedly amazed by the questions Grace has asked about God — about how she, too, can serve others — all from her mommy doing one simple act of kindness. One simple act to serve others has continued to bless me beyond measure.


Rachel’s Lens // Good Food, Good Company & a Great God

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

For months now, my husband and I have driven past a little building with the sign Butcher Block Café above it. Underneath that sign, it says in simple, block letters: “HOMEMADE CINNAMON ROLLS.”

I love cinnamon rolls. We have been meaning to check it out, but never got around to it. But one day in March, my coworkers and I decided to give it a go and see if these rolls were worth the effort. They were. If you’re wondering, they are worth the effort any and every day of the week. We liked them so much that we decided to make The Butcher Block our go-to restaurant on Thursday mornings.

For the last three weeks, we’ve started our day fellowshipping together around a plate of cinnamon rolls (and other tasty foods). And yesterday I was reminded, for the umpteenth time, why my place of work is so invaluable.

My coworker Aneta had the brilliant idea of using part of our meal time to do devotions together. We’ll take turns leading and sharing what’s going on in our hearts and lives. Don took his turn yesterday and shared about God’s peace. He talked about how it’s a free gift every day. But he wisely pointed out that because of our finite minds, this is not a one-time gift; it’s something we need to ask for on a daily basis. What a great way to start your day, being reminded to keep Christ at the center of all we do.

To have a workplace that encourages me daily in my faith is so rare. Days like yesterday remind me to be grateful for the magnificent blessing we all have to work and serve together.

Little Things Make the Difference

Written by Alexxa Gagner, Public Relations Director

February marked my 3 year anniversary working at Denver Rescue Mission. Let me just say, time flies!

My role in public relations is to tell the stories of Denver Rescue Mission, the people we serve and how we change lives in the name of Christ.

One of the things I love the most about this job is meeting with people and hearing their story first-hand. After more than three years of meeting amazing people, building trusting relationships and learning more than I ever expected, I feel incredibly blessed.

I’m around kind-hearted staff members, program participants and volunteers on a daily basis. Up until recently, I didn’t think my presence had much effect–if any–on our program participants. I didn’t realize that God was using me to encourage others.

One of our New Life Program participants helped me out by appearing in a video shoot for the Mission recently. I sent him a simple note and a few cookies as a thank you. Later, he mentioned to one of my co-workers that my little gesture encouraged him to stay in the program. What I thought was tiny and simple was huge to someone else.

The little things can really mean a lot. We never know what others are going through and sometimes even a nod, smile, pat on the back, or hug can make all the difference in the world.

What little things have you done lately that had a positive influence on someone else?

Alternative Spring Break Students Grow and Learn

Patrick Ellison, a student organizer for the Mizzou Alternative Spring Break program, gets to work in God's Little Acre -- the Crossing's own little backyard garden where residents can harvest vegetables.

Written By Danielle Charbonneau Public Relations Intern

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to be outside, soak in some sunshine and get my hands dirty with a group of spirited volunteers from the University of Missouri. The students were visiting Denver Rescue Mission as part of their school’s Alternative Spring Break [ASB] program. Their goal was to learn more about the issues of hunger and homelessness and serve in a city where the issue is prominent.

Student organizer Patrick Ellison said that connecting with Denver Rescue Mission was particularly great because the group was able to work with only one organization, yet do a variety of volunteer tasks in a different setting every day. The team spent at least one day at each of the Mission’s Denver Metro locations (The Crossing, the Lawrence Street Shelter and Champa House). Each location provided a different lens through which to view the issues, giving the group a broad perspective on homelessness and poverty.

While at The Crossing the students teamed up with Lisa Cooper and some New Life Program Participants to prepare God’s Little Acre for planting season.  The group moved truckloads worth of manure and soil from the back of a pickup truck into the backyard garden where about 20 Crossing residents will have the opportunity to plant and harvest vegetables, fruits and herbs this summer.

Jackson Farley gets down to digging while spending a day at The Crossing -- just one of the several volunteer projects his group helped with while visiting Denver Rescue Mission from the University of Missouri. 

God’s Little Acre has become a valuable resource at The Crossing, not just as a source of fresh produce for those who live there, but also as a place to learn.

“The garden is a great teacher,” said Lisa Cooper who runs the Community Gardening Project at the Crossing. “There’s so much symbolism that relates to life. What do you do when something devastates your crop? You re-cultivate. You re-mulch. It’s the same with life. You need good soil to make your spiritual garden grow — the illustrations are so applicable. And most of the guys here [at The Crossing] are visual learners, so it helps them learn the lessons.”

While preparing the garden, the group had the opportunity to work side-by-side with several program participants, including Johnny Gaines, a Denver native who’s been in the program for about 8 months and bravely opened up to the students about his past.

“It felt good to tell them my story,” said Jonny. “It gives me more motivation to keep moving forward.”

The students appreciated the direct interaction they had with the residents.

“I loved having small conversations with the people at the Mission and being able to see the smiles on their faces,” said Ara Acosta, a 21-year-old student who said her trip was “a very eye-opening experience.”

Caroline Bauman, a journalism major at the University of Missouri, said she was “inspired” by what she saw at the Mission.

“The Mission here is really impressive,” she said. “If every city had a Mission like this, then we’d be living in a vastly different America.”

If you’d like to organize a group volunteer trip to The Crossing or any of the Denver Rescue Mission facilities, please click here.

New Life Program Participant Johnny Gaines (pictured front) got to share part of his story with students volunteering at the Crossing for Spring Break,  including Connor Hickox (pictured left)

University of Mizzou Student Jordan Denker gets help from an NLP Participant while operating garden machinery during her Alternative Spring Break Trip at Denver Rescue Mission.

Rachel’s Lens // Simply Learning

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

When I looked out the window on Tuesday morning, I let out a complaint about having to get the snow and ice off my car. Ugh, typing that makes me a bit mad at myself.

While getting ready for the day, I decided to drive down to the Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter and see if they opened the doors for the men who didn’t have anywhere to go during the harsh conditions.

They had opened the doors, but on my way inside, I saw a man standing across the street. I invited him in but he said he was OK. In my 3 minutes outside, my hands started to cramp and I couldn’t feel my toes. I can’t imagine how cold he felt. I asked if I could take his photo and he said yes. His name was Tony.

I thought about him and others like him for the rest of the day. I don’t know his story and I don’t know why he stood outside in the cold.

This post has no neat, wrapped-up ending. I am simply learning. Learning who we serve and why. Tony is significant to this process, I just don’t know how yet.

Adventures in Alice Land // Legacy Giving Gets a Flavor Boost with Alice Cavanaugh

Written By Danielle Charbonneau Public Relations Intern

Alice Cavanaugh loves her job: Although, she doesn’t think of it as a job.

“It’s more of a ministry,” she says. “I have so many opportunities to minister.”

Alice is Denver Rescue Mission’s Legacy Gift Officer, which means she’s in charge of securing donors who would like to include the Mission as a beneficiary in their will. At most organizations, this type of giving is called “planned giving,” but Alice doesn’t care for that term.

“A ‘planned’ gift is transactional,” she explains. “A Legacy Gift is transformational.”

It might sound like semantics — job vs. ministry, planned vs. legacy — but as one gets to know Alice, it becomes clear that it runs so much deeper than that. It’s a philosophy that seeps into every part of her work. It’s a shift in perspective that’s elevated “planned giving” to something much more personal and purposeful.

“I want to spend time with a donor so that their lives are transformed,” Alice said. “I want to instill in them that this is not about their gift: It’s about them. It’s about having a relationship with our organization, about being in alignment with us and what God is doing through us. It’s about the relationship. It’s about showing them Christ’s love.”

That’s been Alice’s goal from the start: to build relationships. And she has succeeded with flying colors. Her donors have become like family. So much so that Alice keeps pictures of them on a prayer board in her office and in stacks on her shelf. She lights up and comes to life as she shares these photographs and the endearing stories that go with them.

There’s the photo of Edith — a charming, sweet, woman pictured with her tongue sticking out, dyed neon blue by the frosting on the 101st birthday cake Alice brought her to celebrate at her assisted living facility. There’s the picture of grey-bearded Mickey standing behind his prized Harley Davidson out front of IHOP where Alice met him for lunch one afternoon. He took her for a ride on that Harley. Then there’s the picture of Alice in a red Corvette – a driving adventure she took with one of her donors, Kathleen, driving down the canyon from Evergreen, their hair blowing in the wind.

Legacy Donor Edith displays her neon-blue tongue, dyed from the frosting on the 101st birthday cake Alice brought her. Edith, now 103, is still a Denver Rescue Mission Legacy Donor whom Alice still visits.

Alice is always looking for ways to connect with her donors in unique ways and make them feel special. One day Alice went to meet Irene, a donor and widow that’s been giving to the Mission for more than 25 years. Alice watched as Irene grew more and more excited talking about a Wild Animal Sanctuary she’d always wanted to go to.

“She knew so much about it,” said Alice. “I asked her, ‘Irene, would you like to go there?’ Tears just came to her eyes.” So Alice took Irene on a little field trip to Keenesburg to visit that Animal Sanctuary.

It may not have been as wild though, as the time Alice took another donor, Gene, to see Acrocats — a circus-like acrobatics show performed entirely by real-life cats. Gene had always loved cats, but her apartment wouldn’t allow her to have one. When Alice went to visit her, she found Gene glued to the computer trying to purchase tickets to the show. As Alice helped her online, she had an idea.

“Gene,” Alice asked. “How are you going to get there? Wouldn’t you like to have some company?”

A few weeks later they sat side-by-side in the audience at a funky little theater in a funky part of town.

“It was wild… these cats were doing tricks… the trainer even had the cats playing in this band… one was playing drums and another the keyboard — It was wild,” Alice said. “Gene just thought it was the best!”

That’s one of the things I love the most — to give donors these experiences that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Alice. “It’s just another one of those ways to go the extra mile.”

Alice always seems to go the extra mile. When she was asked to do a presentation on Legacy Giving at a conference in January she could have just made a hum-drum slideshow presentation and passed around a boring black-and-white handout like most presenters. But that’s not how Alice works: She likes to have a little more fun.

She convinced her fellow presenter to do a 50’s themed presentation blasting Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock and doing a theatrical performance:  They dressed up as old people, entered in wheel chairs and by the end were boogying to Bob Seggars — a demonstration to show how Legacy Giving doesn’t have to be morbid or about old people and stacks of financial paperwork —  it can be fun, modern and meaningful.

“It can be vibrant,” she told her crowd. “The donors will tell you things, so be attentive. Learn something about them. Develop traditions together. Take them their favorite McFlurry. It’s the little things that mean so much.”

Alice is all about keeping her donors involved. She’s grown the Goodheart Society (a club for those who’ve chosen the Mission to receive their Legacy Gifts) to 175 people. These members receive the Goodheart Newsletter, a mailing that keeps them engaged in the Denver Rescue Mission community. Shortly after being hired, Alice started the Angel Card Project: With the help of a volunteer she calls her “Card Angel,” Alice sends out handwritten cards to the families of donors who have recently passed — an act of empathy that has been profoundly meaningful to the recipients. Right now Alice is working on revamping the Legacy Giving webpage to include some of the photos and stories of the donors she loves so much.

“I take my ideas and I run with ’em,” Alice said. “And I have an incredible boss that lets me do that. He’s given me the creative freedom to tailor the job to who I am. That’s what loving your job is all about — seizing it as an opportunity to utilize the gifts God has given you.”

Alice loves her job. Alice loves her ministry.

Legacy donor Mickey took Alice out for an afternoon spin on his prized Harley Davidson. 


Guest Post // Snapshots From a Life-Changing Trip

Written By Caroline Bauman, Alternative Spring Break Participant

When an experience truly changes you, it does so slowly, in snapshots.

A little over a week ago, I took a 20-hour road trip with a group of fellow Mizzou students to the mountain city of Denver. Countless miles and a significant consumption of Girl Scout cookies later, we found ourselves on the streets of downtown Denver. As part of Mizzou Alternative Spring Break, we had committed our week to helping serve Denver Rescue Mission. I went into this trip with little knowledge of homelessness in Denver and many false ideas. I left honored and humbled to be a small part of a large Mission that is transforming a community from the inside out.

It’s impossible to sum up or simplify our work with the Mission, so I’m not going to. Instead, I’m going to show you snapshots. These are the lessons that taught me the most, after all.

Lessons from Gary

Denver Rescue Mission isn’t about Band-Aids. A major lesson I learned is when a person is homeless, so often their hardships cannot be magically fixed by food, money or even a home. True healing has to start much deeper.

One of the programs I was most inspired by at the Mission is the New Life Program. Men participating in the program spend a couple years changing their lives through work therapy, counseling and spiritual development. My team had the pleasure of working with several program candidates at the Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter. By the end of the week, one candidate in particular felt like family.

Short and stout, Gary has a boisterous laugh that can fill a room. As we prepared meals for hundreds of homeless, having Gary in the kitchen with us felt like having a big brother nearby. He was always around with a ready smile and a helping hand, and couldn’t go more than a few minutes without cracking a joke. Gary was the spirit of the kitchen, he was the hairnet police and he was a friend. When talking to Gary about food or just life, I never would have guessed he had spent part of his own life homeless.

Gary’s perseverance and determination to right his life was a light in a dark place, and will continue to be.

Lessons from a 7-year-old

More than 60 percent of homeless in Metro Denver are families with children. I hear a statistic like that and feel a little punched in the gut. To say my perception of homelessness was turned on its head after a week with the Mission would be an understatement. When I thought of the homeless, I pictured the Lawrence Street Shelter – men lined up for food and a bed. What I didn’t picture was a blond 7-year-old boy with a missing front tooth.

Oliver was wearing a Thomas the Tank Train Engine T-shirt the first day I met him. My team volunteered at a reading and writing club held at The Crossing, a long-term shelter for families and program participants. Oliver was practically exploding with joy, because his birthday was in March, and that was the day when all March birthdays were celebrated. He got his very own birthday cake and three presents, all of which were sports related.

Throughout the week, I helped Oliver with math and reading. He re-taught me my multiplication tables. Grammar worksheets, however, were another story. I never really understood the phrase “pulling teeth” until I tried to get this kid to do grammar worksheets. The problem? Oliver didn’t grow up reading. He didn’t grow up with a stable educational environment until his mother moved to The Crossing. “Homelessness in America is a cycle” is a phrase I heard throughout the week. I get that now. After all, if you grow up worrying every night about where you’ll sleep or what you’ll eat, your future seems limited to that style of existence.

When thinking about all the children who face that insecurity in Denver alone, it was easy to feel overwhelmed and disheartened. Even when working with a program as wide reaching as the Mission, I knew my hands will always be too small to catch all the pain I want to heal. Yet, Oliver was a ray of hope for me. He loved learning math, and I know he will get there with reading. He’s a fighter and a joyful one at that. On days I was feeling most discouraged, Oliver taught me to believe that cycles can be broken.

Lessons from Denver

On our first full day, someone told us Denver is one of the sunniest cities in America. That’s why 30 degrees there felt wayyy different than 30 degrees in Missouri. That’s why we could go sledding in short sleeves. Fittingly, if I had to limit our trip to one word, I would use “bright.” Be it a smile when serving dinner, playing endless games of make-believe with kids or hiding thousands of Easter eggs – my group learned how to be a light to those we served. And as with any form of service, I know I took away much more than I gave.

My work with the Mission illuminated so many misconceptions I held about homelessness. More so, it illustrated the impact a small group of Missourians could have on a city as large as the mountains surrounding it. The lessons learned in Denver will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to carry them back with me to Columbia. Homelessness is an issue across the world, including in my college town.

If my group can come back with just a semblance of the empowerment that the people we served gave us, I have no doubt we can change Columbia. I have no doubt we can change our world.

Caroline Bauman (far left) and her Alternative Spring Break team worked alongside New Life Program participants (right) throughout a week-long trip to Denver Rescue Mission.


A Group Effort // Tim’s Story

Six years ago, scared and alone, Tim spent his first night at the Lawrence Street Shelter. It was winter and the city was blanketed with snow. He had just stepped off the bus from Grand Junction, drunk, hoping to find solace in his mother’s home.

“I called my mom from the bus station, and she said, ‘This is the bed you’ve made.’ It was tough love, and it was exactly what I needed,” Tim says. She directed him to Denver Rescue Mission’s Lawrence Street Shelter and instructed him to speak with a chaplain about the New Life Program. He did exactly as she said and found himself packed into the lobby with many other men who needed shelter from the cold weather.

Tim's mother was an advocate for his sobriety from the beginning. They have finally restored their relationship, thanks to Tim's success at Harvest Farm.

After a few nights as a guest, Tim enrolled as a Program Candidate. Three months later, he moved to The Crossing to begin the New Life Program. Phases 1 and 2 went well for him, but Tim says: “I was stubborn. I kept telling myself that I could handle drinking.” He wanted to manage his alcohol intake instead of eliminate it. After breaking the Mission’s no-drinking rule, Tim had to leave.

Once again, Tim’s life spiraled out of control. He spent his nights alone, drinking. He didn’t have a place to live, and he lost his job. The program at Denver Rescue Mission had helped him find a semblance of peace the first time, so he decided to give it a second chance.

He breezed through Phases 1 and 2 just like the first time. But the nagging temptation that he was strong enough to drink moderately got the best of him. “I still wasn’t dealing with my issues. I wasn’t giving myself to God. I still wanted to do things my way, not praying or acknowledging that I had to give up some of the things I wanted in order to get some of the things I needed,” says Tim. One night, he tested positive for alcohol and had to leave…again.

After another year of tumult, Tim prepared to spend his first night on the streets. It was snowing, and as he downed whiskey to keep warm, he had a sudden thought: he didn’t want to be there. He called a friend he made at Denver Rescue Mission who had graduated from the program. “He picked me up and put me to sleep on his couch,” Tim says. The next morning, hungover, Tim tried to put up a fight when his friend drove him to the shelter for the third time.

He didn’t want to go back into the program; he didn’t want to fail again. But this time was different. After
two weeks at the shelter, he was allowed to join the New Life Program at Harvest Farm.

Tim flourished there. “The simplicity and the beauty of nature and animals and farm living provided a setting where I could quiet my mind and start over again. I could relearn what was important in life: the simple things,” says Tim. He learned how to open up for the first time, allowing other people help him heal.

Tim graduated the New Life Program on January 17, 2013. He has worked as a Yard Loader Technician at Insurance Auto Auction since July 2012, and he is already moving up in the ranks. “If I have a loader job for the rest of my life, I’m excited about that. I’m optimistic about that. My goal right now is to be good at whatever job I have. I want my mother to be proud of me and not have to worry. I want to find a way to serve other people,” Tim says.

He has chosen to stay in the post-graduate program at The Crossing for the next nine months, surrounded
by his community: “I desperately don’t want to relapse, and I need accountability. I need godly people around me to solidify my sobriety as part of my normal life.”

Tim’s success is a result of the group effort of many people God placed in his life over the past six years.
It was his mother telling him to make things right, his friend pushing him back into the program, the chaplains giving him three chances to find sobriety, the men he walked alongside at the Farm, and donors like you who believe in the power of community!

(Posted in the Changing Lives Newsletter – April 2013)

Rachel’s Lens // Losers & Miracles

Written by, Rachel Greiman, Writer/Photographer

A few weeks ago, I was brought in on a super-secret project here at Denver Rescue Mission. We were having an all-staff meeting and our Senior Leadership team decided they wanted to have a little fun.

They asked a handful of employees to do on-camera interviews about why they love their job. What these participants didn’t know was that our group of senior leaders danced behind them the whole time.

I edited the video down to showcase only their best moves and we played it for the whole staff at our annual meeting. It was a hit! If you’re interested in seeing it, click here.

Though the video didn’t play the audio, the staff was truly speaking from the heart and said some incredible things about their work. Yesterday, I was looking through the videos for some good sound bites and came across Brad Rhoda, the Manager of Operations at Harvest Farm, saying something that blew me away. The man is a poet. I mean, maybe not really, but he probably should be. He was answering the question, “What makes you want to come to work?”

His quote: “I really believe that I work at a miracle – I participate in a miracle every day that I come here – because these are ‘losers.’ These are people that are worthless according to what the world has told them. And that’s a lie. I defy anybody to challenge me on that because all you have to do is look at what we’ve done here, together with ‘worthless’ people.”

I think about all the people I’ve met since working here: staff, program participants, volunteers, donors – not one could ever be considered worthless. Each group is a thread running through this great tapestry, forming a beautiful picture of community. Like Brad, seeing this community come to life at Denver Rescue Mission every day is truly watching a miracle take place. It’s a miracle to watch our participants fight life’s hardest battles and come out smiling.