Download your Summer Prayer Guide! Our homeless and hurting neighbors need your prayers… They also need meals and shelter this summer as many are struggling to get by.
Your prayers and support will bless their lives this summer! Follow our guide to pray for them – and reach out with God’s love to provide nourishing meals, safe shelter and long-term care guests at San Diego Rescue Mission need to get back on their feet.
Give your most generous gift now to help those who are homeless, hungry and hurting in San Diego County.
Meet Michelle Smith, our Vice President of Development. Native to Southern California, she has called San Diego home for over a decade, serving at the San Diego Mission for three years. Starting as the Community Relations and Event Manager, she was quickly promoted to Director of Marketing, and then again in February to her current VP role. Known for her contagious smile and love for people, Michelle is a popular friend to all around the Mission!
Michelle studied political science at Point Loma Nazarene University and went on to get her master’s degree in Human Services. “It’s been my heart’s desire for many years to serve the poor and vulnerable.” Working with an issue like homelessness was not initially on her radar. Fueled with a passion to help those in dire circumstances, Michelle devoted her life to reaching those in crisis: at-risk youth, refugees and immigrants, and survivors of sex trafficking. However, when God led her to join the Rescue Mission, Michelle encountered a new depth of His character. “It wasn’t until coming to the Mission that I truly learned the love of Christ, despite being a follower of Jesus for many years.” The challenges facing the Mission are complex but being a part of radical life change every day keeps her going. “I’ve had clients say to me ‘you’re so passionate about the Rescue Mission’ and I tell them it’s not just because I’ve seen it change their lives, its changed mine too. Whether you’re a client, a staff member or a volunteer, if you come to the Rescue Mission, your life is going to be changed by what you witness here.”
How does Michelle’s role directly serve people experiencing homelessness? “I serve our clients by helping provide the resources they need to heal and restore their lives.” The clients served at the Rescue Mission have a wide variety of needs: physical, emotional, and spiritual. From food to beds, staffing to counseling, clothing to job training, Michelle seeks to bless the clients through connecting donors and supporters to each necessity. “Homelessness is an issue that will take all of us to solve so the role of development is to create space for each of you to make a difference – to use whatever God has gifted you with TODAY to love people in great need.”
Ending homelessness in San Diego is no easy feat. Addressing matters of the heart, physical needs, all while working with limited tools and resources makes for hard, emotional work. “There are months that we’re on our knees praying for the resources to come in. God is always faithful to provide, and I dream of a day when our clients and staff truly have everything they need.” Michelle’s faith in Jesus marks her life and is a consistent source in the times of struggle.
When Michelle is not changing the world, she enjoys cooking, eating great food, and live music. You might run into her at the next local Sofar Sounds show, as she helps to organize these concerts. “It allows me to support great musicians and meet new people who share my love of community!”
Michelle’s message to you: “You matter. Your voice matters, your giving matters, your love matters. The need here at the Rescue Mission is great so everything that you do and everything that you give, it’s BIG to us. I personally invite you to come be a part of what’s happening here! It wouldn’t happen without you and so we want you to come, tour the Mission, meet our team, spend time with our clients. Come witness what’s happening here – I promise you don’t want to miss it! “
Meet Kimberly Harris, Community Life Ambassador at the Nueva Vida Haven Emergency Overnight Shelter for Women and Children (NVH). Kim has been with the Mission for over 15 years and in her current role since 2011.
A native of Texas, she grew up “in a dysfunctional and abusive family.” Her home life became unbearable, she says, “really jacked up,” and convinced her that if she didn’t leave she wouldn’t live. So she boarded a train bound for Cabo San Lucas—or so she thought—to party. “But God had a different plan for me.”
The train stopped in San Diego and she found herself homeless. That was August 2002. Fortunately, she learned about the Mission and the help they provide to people experiencing homelessness in San Diego. “I didn’t know at the time but that’s exactly where God wanted me . . . when I didn’t have anyone or anywhere to turn to. It’s all God.”
Today, Kim supervises clients on the graveyard shift in NVH, where they can stay for up to 30 days. Clients arrive from 5:30pm to 7:30pm, complete the intake process, enjoy a hot dinner and then are brought to the dorm where they shower, get clothes, toiletries and other items they need. Before lights-out at 9:30pm they’ll get ready for bed and attend a devotional to hear the good news of salvation, sometimes joined by a local church group.
Kim’s critical role involves offering practical and emotional support during the night, monitoring the shelter, waking them at 5:00am and making sure they get breakfast, among other responsibilities.
But of all this, she says, “It’s really just a matter of loving them and giving them hope, letting them know we’re there for them, hear them and validate them. The Lord has a plan for them.” Like Kim, many NVH staff have been through the same Mission programs. “Who better to minister to someone who’s homeless than someone who’s been homeless?” she asks. “I’m a living, breathing testimonial to the grace of God.”
Kim and the NVH team take women straight from the streets if they have the beds. “It’s much needed, I’m sorry to say.” Once taken in, they are helped one step at a time. That first step is often the hardest. “It’s hard to put your life back together when you don’t know the resources or where to go or how to proceed,” Kim says. “If we can get them plugged into the Lord Jesus, then it’s ‘on’ from there!”
She’s witnessed a lot in her time with the Mission. Asked what memories stand out of people she’s helped, she recalls a mother with two small children who came to NVH as a client several times, struggling with the daily realities of living on the streets. “It’s hard enough to take care of yourself but my heart goes out to women with kids.” Later, Kim saw her at Rock Church and her life had changed dramatically. “I can’t go anywhere without running into former clients and it’s so rewarding to see those transformations.”
This, as with so much else, brings to mind her faith. “Jesus says He’ll put our feet upon a rock and He did that with her. She was so grateful someone took the time to care and validated her. It’s what God asks us to do—love others with our hearts, minds and bodies and in the process to share the gospel with them. We’re just loving them. They might not receive it the first time they’re here but eventually they will.” Kim observes that many people’s pain and defensiveness are so deep they don’t expect love and grace anymore. Reflecting on her own time as a client, she adds, “It took me a while to understand that God was calling me. It will for them too. But it’s so rewarding to see them receive God and all He has in store for them.”
It takes longer for some than others. Kim recalls seeing women in the shelter in 2002 whom she still sees there today, almost 17 years later. “I ask, ‘Aren’t you tired?’ And they say, ‘Yeah, I am.’ These streets will wear you out and tear you down. We’re just changing them one heart at a time.” Then she reconsiders, “Well, the Lord’s changing them.”
Others move more quickly. Some leave NVH and move into the year-long program, Haven of Hope (HOH) and then into transitional housing and “up and up and up.” Kim adds, “Just seeing them grow in God’s grace is wonderful.”
She loves serving people at the Mission, and especially serving with the team the Lord assembled there. Differences of age, background, testimony and more all contribute to her appreciation of the community. She feels especially grateful to see all the youth coming in, wanting to serve and help people.
Kim’s work background when she joined the Mission didn’t involve all the social and trauma-related aspects she’s so skilled in now. How did she learn? “It’s all been God teaching me, along with training at the Mission.” She thinks about her time here and adds, “It’s a privilege to get paid to live out your faith with people. That’s usually reserved for pastors and people who work in the church. For God to give me a job where I can live out my faith and he can guide me and teach me . . . it’s just phenomenal.”
As we prepare for another holiday season and the busyness that comes with it, I’d like you to take a moment and think about the importance of human connection or in some cases re-connection.
As humans, our need for social connection is as strong as the need for food, water and warmth. And when we experience social pain, like feeling degraded, undeserving or unloved, the feeling is as real as physical pain.
In fact, this is one of the first things God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” We were created for connection. We were created in the image of God and The Bible says God is love. And to love, you have to have somebody to love.
I come from a broken home. My parents divorced when I was in 8th grade. However, even divorced, we still got together and celebrated as family – with grandparents. I was fortunate that my family valued connection and an ability to look past differences and come together to celebrate the holidays.
This is why I’m so grateful for San Diego Rescue Mission. Our holiday meals provide an opportunity for those experiencing homelessness to feel taken care of. To feel loved. It’s a place where the lost and lonely can find connection and feel part of a family.
I saw this need for connection in the eyes of a women who joined us during this year’s Thanksgiving Outreach Meal. As she headed out the door after she’d finished eating, I saw her crying so I leaned down and asked what’s wrong? “I’m just so happy”, she said.
This feeling of human connection can extend far beyond a holiday meal. It is often the first step needed to begin the healing process.
In fact, one of our recent graduates, Nathaniel, first came to us during last year’s holiday meal. He was struggling with health issues and under great financial stress, which lead him to homelessness. When he showed up at our holiday meal, he explained:
“I’m crutching around the dining room tables, looking for a place to sit and I can’t fit down the aisles because there’s so many people. So, I find a seat at the end of the table and a man named Phil comes over to me – he was very kind – he takes my crutches and moves them for me, and then serves me like I’m at a restaurant. And when he brings my food, he asks how I’m recovering and what my story is. He was genuinely concerned so I told him my whole story.”
The connection they made that day inspired Nathaniel to join Phil’s church. Phil and other members of his church began to mentor Nathaniel and have continued to walk with him as he’s worked on his program.
Nathaniel has not only had an amazing recovery and is walking again, but this October, he graduated from our year long recovery program. Thanks to the encounter he had at our Thanksgiving Meal he’s developed an incredible support network of friends and mentors at his local church that will continue to walk with him in life.
We were created for connection. A loving, supportive relationship can literally be a matter of life and death.
By the time San Diego’s homeless men and women walk through our doors, they have exhausted all relationships and resources. They need to regain a sense of connection as much as they need a meal and safe shelter. And that sense of connection starts with Jesus.
So this holiday, and into the new year, I invite you to focus on connection. Strengthening connections to those around you, those who need you, and to Jesus.
Thank you for your continued support in helping us lovingly address the needs of those experiencing homelessness in San Diego. We wish you a grateful and joyful Holiday Season!
Meet Priscilla Tapia, a lead teacher at San Diego Rescue Mission’s Haven of Hope, a licensed Preschool for 2-5-year-olds experiencing homelessness. Her work here began in March 2016, when a dear friend and former Rescue Mission staff member recommended her for a job opening.
Priscilla discovered her passion for working with children while studying Child and Family Development at San Diego State University. “I had an opportunity to work in different classroom settings and programs with a wide range of ages and populations. I knew I wanted to work with children in some capacity.”
Prior to the Rescue Mission, she held an internship at a Recovery Center that provided resources, support and services to children and families experiencing domestic violence, child abuse, homelessness and drug + alcohol abuse. That was the first time she saw behavioral challenges in a therapeutic setting and realized the effects of environmental stimuli on children’s development. It was an “aha” moment in her career.
“I realized there were so many ways I could make an impact in my community. Most importantly, I could apply my skills, experience and knowledge to be a light of support and a tool to help families understand, accept and overcome obstacles and hardships. This experience led me to apply, and see where God could lead me, here at the Mission.”
Her preschool classroom is a play-based and child-centered environment where the focus is on providing a safe and nurturing space for children to play, explore, learn, and connect with each other and themselves. Their social-emotional development is a top priority because many have experienced trauma. Among the ways that staff support students are mentoring, role playing, mediation, guiding words and behavior, problem solving, as well as encouraging healthy and safe emotional expression. In many cases, the preschool is the first-time children enjoy the space to rest and sleep in a peaceful environment and have the nutrition their bodies require.
“Our entire center and mission is based on our faith, admiration and love for Jesus. Seeing children praise God through songs as they sing how much Jesus loves them gives them empowerment and a sense of belonging, peace and purpose. He is the centerpiece.”
As someone who’s service-oriented and generous of spirit, Priscilla loves much about her work. Among the highlights, she reflects that the most fulfilling experience is when she can see a child smile, how far they’ve come with others and witness their overall growth.
“Just giving the children a safe space, and the notion that they can make decisions and discover the world with what they have to offer during this beautiful stage in their life, is an impact we’re all making every day.”
Priscilla says she is also thankful for the opportunity to grow in her faith and apply it in ways she hadn’t before—or could even imagine. “I work with the most supportive, goal-oriented, intelligent, wise, loving and professional staff and it makes coming here every day even more fun and fulfilling. I feel ready for what the day may bring. I’m being challenged daily but I’m also gaining skills and adapting to situations and responding to them.”
“These children are our future and it’s during this time that we can make the most impact while providing positive experiences, facilitating learning opportunities, forming strong and genuine relationships with them and aiding them in their attainment of significant life skills. We’re constantly posting the children’s artwork in the hallways for staff, parents and the many tours during the week—so please visit and see what the preschool’s been working on! I only hope that I’m giving as much as I’m gaining from working here at the SDRM Children’s Center. I’m proud of where I work and who I work with every day.”
Although San Diego Rescue Mission has been hosting Sleepless San Diego for years, this will be my first experience. I am excited to see this year’s turn-out, as the concept of an event like this really resonates with me. It’s a reminder to teach our youth about community issues and show how they can make an impact in a cause they care about.
During this year’s Sleepless, we’re not only teaching about our cause, but encouraging action through service. In fact, in addition to setting up personal fundraising pages, hundreds of kids have already signed up for one of our nine service sites around San Diego to clean, paint and fix up our community.
At the end of the service day, participants are invited to sleep out at Liberty Station for an evening of inspirational performances including our headlining speaker Tonier “Neen” Cain. Tonier spent 20 years living on the streets, homeless. Her life was filled with brutality, incarceration, hunger and substance abuse until she learned how to turn her life around. I first met Tonier at our national AGRM conference and I look forward to seeing her again as she shares her inspiring journey of hope with everyone attending this year’s Sleepless San Diego.
Many of our current clients will also be attending this year’s Sleepless serving as volunteers and helping to set up and break down the event. This is a great opportunity for our clients to see first-hand that there is a community who truly cares about them and is willing to help those who are ready to make positive life changes.
Our staff, volunteers, clients, performers and participants are all working hard to make sure this year’s Sleepless is a huge success. And I am equally grateful for our generous corporate sponsors for helping cover all of our operational costs associated with throwing an event of this size.
If you can’t attend this year’s Sleepless San Diego, I encourage you to support one of the individuals or youth groups who have created fundraising pages for the event at https://www.classy.org/event/sleepless-san-diego-2018/e181526
Together, we can encourage our community’s youth to have a passion, find a cause, take action and to make the world a better place.
Join us on December 21, 2019 for our special Christmas Outreach Meal.
This is one of three times in the year when San Diego Rescue Mission opens its doors to the homeless community to celebrate the holidays. Gather to enjoy home-cooked meals, entertainment, and to celebrate in the festivities!
San Diego Rescue Mission is a non-profit homeless shelter and recovery center serving thousands of homeless, hungry, and poor men, women, and children in San Diego since 1955.