The John Van Diest Chapel at our Burnside Shelter has been a Portland Rescue Mission classic for decades. Each day before breakfast and dinner are served, homeless guests walk in off the streets and have a seat in the chapel for a brief announcement and prayer before the meal. At night, we lay out mats in the chapel so homeless guests have a warm, safe place to sleep. And each Sunday morning we hold a church service there.
But about a month ago, we started doing something completely new in the chapel.
The large room is now transformed every afternoon into our new Community Center –- a relationally-focused, activity-driven place for our homeless guests to hang out each day. Chris Kingston, the Mission’s Community Center Coordinator, oversees the activities every day.
“The new Community Center is so exciting,” Chris says. “It’s a concept that we’ve hoped for, to have ongoing scheduled, programmatic events.”
The Community Center is more than just a “day room” for homeless guests to get out of the cold and have a place to relax. The focus is that and so much more.
“The difference between what we have and a day room is dramatic. Day rooms are typically a sterile, boring environment with a few chairs set around a TV and people sleeping in the corners of the room,” Chris says. “We strive to be relational and event driven.”
The Community Center offers:
- Hot showers every afternoon. Guests can sign up for a time each day. “Once someone has taken a shower for the day and gotten clean, they just feel more human. It opens up conversations and lets me ask how I can pray for them,” Chris says.
- Open Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for both men and women
- Movies on the projector – featuring snacks, coffee, and more. “This is something that many guests can’t afford and don’t usually get to do. We show movies that have meaning and significance. Last week we watched The Count of Monte Cristo, a film that has so many life lessons and rich content to talk about afterwards.”
- Board Games – Jenga, Yahtzee, chess and more
- Karaoke – A huge draw for homeless guests
- Bike Repair
- Resume Writing
- Rent-Well Classes that teach how to work with apartments, landlords, etc.
We want the Community Center to feel as if a person were walking into his or her own living room. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. Especially as the weather gets cold and rainy, we want it to be a nice, fun place to come into.
“We’re trying to be the hands and feet of Christ,” Chris says. “Trying to meet people in their broken state and make life a little more normal for them. I love when our guests say, ‘You know, you guys are different. You care about us, you want to get to know us. Your sincerity is real. You see us as the people we are and accept us where we are.’”
What needs to happen for the Community Center to be successful?
“Volunteers. We definitely need more volunteers,” Chris says. One of the great parts about volunteering in the Community Center is that you get to do what you’re passionate about. Love playing music? We want you. Enjoy cutting hair? We need you. We’re especially looking for volunteers who are:
- Teachers, or have a passion for teaching
- Resume writers
- Hair dressers
- Cyclists knowledgeable about bike repair
- Musicians – to play live music
- Photographers – to present their work to homeless guests via the projector
- Artsy people to run a creative workshop – crafts, painting, etc.
- HR specialists, or anyone experienced/interested in helping guests improve their interviewing skills
If you or someone you know is interested in volunteering in the Community Center, or would like more information about it, please visit www.portlandrescuemission.org/volunteer.
As always, thanks for your continued support!