When we arrived at the Boise Rescue Mission, we pulled in the lot and walked through the back door into a large warehouse. On the opposite side, Glenn Compton was giving an overview to groups of students from Rocky Mountain High and Baptist Campus Ministries. Glenn welcomed us to the group and then quickly put the students to work.
There were hundreds of coats in the warehouse waiting to be sorted and distributed. Glenn pulled out his trusty laser pointer and gestured to the boxes of coats along the warehouse floor. He told the students to sort them by kids coats, women’s coats and mens coats. He told them to remove the ones that were thin, worn, broken, outdated or just generally unappealing. He pointed them to the pile of coats and told them to use their best judgement and to set up their own system? “Go self organize” he told them and it was soon clear that this approach was Glenn’s preferred style for managing teams. After looking at each other for a few seconds, they quickly developed their own sorting and rating system, to process the coats.
After the coat sorting, a large refrigerated truck pulled up to the warehouse. Glenn came over the sorting area and yelled “Attention please, all hands up” and the students put their hands in the air.
Glenn said that they’d just received a 10,000 pound shipment of frozen chicken gizzards that needed to be unloaded. Coat sorting stopped and all hands moved to the truck.
At first the students stood around for a minute, pondering the best way to move 5 tons of chicken from the truck to the freezers about 40 feet away. Glenn prompted them to devise their own system and they formed a human conveyor belt.
And of course because I absolutely hate the cold, I ended up closest to the freezer! But I shouldn’t complain for two reasons: 1) there were students IN the freezer and 2) we all devised the system and it’s my own fault I ended up there!
After the great chicken transfer, we had the opportunity to explore two other facilities affiliated with the Boise Rescue Mission. We started our tour with Amanda at the City Light Home for Women and Children, which is a shelter for homeless women and homeless women with children. When we first walked into the shelter, we entered a modestly sized living room which had a beautiful Christmas tree in the corner and I noticed that it felt cozy and welcoming even with our large tour group.
While we were there we also saw a typical room that the women and their children would share.
I was impressed with the comprehensiveness of the shelter. They featured an extensive drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, gardening classes, tutoring for the children and support systems for the women in the house. You’d think that with so many people in tight quarters that it would be busy, but it was actually very quiet. Amanda explained that many of the families leave during the day to do service work or run other errands.
Next we went to the River of Life, which is the men’s shelter in Boise. When we first entered the lobby, one of the residents saw Amanda and came over to show her something. He swung his backpack around in front of him and pulled out picture frame. He held the picture toward us and I realized that he was very proudly displaying a picture of himself. He explained that a team of photographers was offering free portraits at a nearby church and he was astonished not only that they gave him a picture and a frame, but that they wanted to take his picture. He was so excited to share this with Amanda that he seemed almost oblivious to the fact that 20 people were watching this exchange. It probably sounds strange to you that a man would go around showing a picture of himself to others. It’s probably rare that you would carry a portrait of yourself and show it off, so why would he do this? Imagine what it feels like to sit at an intersection and realize that everyone is intentionally avoiding your gaze. You rarely look in the mirror either because it’s too painful to see your own reflection or because mirrors are hard to come by when you live on the streets. When you’re treated like you’re invisible, you start to feel like a ghost – never sure if people see you or not. When I saw his excitement over a simple photograph, it made me wonder how long it had been since this man felt like someone really took the time to see him as a person. He disappeared into the stairwell and that was the last we saw of him.
As we continued with the tour, I kept thinking about the man in the portrait and I wondered about the hundreds of men who have called this shelter home over the last few years. Eventually we arrived on the third floor, which was the veteran’s wing.
The outside of each room had a picture of a veteran with ties to the area. I learned that many of the homeless in Boise served in one or sometimes two wars and this wing is dedicated to their efforts.
Once we returned to the warehouse, Glenn had one last task for the students – transport the bikes across the warehouse. Glenn must have nerves of steel. I watched as high school students whizzed past him on tricycles, scooters and bicycles. Some bikes carried two students, some students tried to ride two bikes.
One of the teenage boys scooted past on a small pink bike. As he sailed past, handlebar ribbons streaming on either side, he belted out, “Try to catch me riding dirty.” I laughed. Really hard. I wished I had that moment on camera. I looked at Glenn. He seemed completely unfazed.
There were groups of students from Rocky Mountain High’s student council. Kaitlin Carlson and Alisa Schlake explained that the student council organizes service opportunities because they like to give back and it makes you more grateful for what you have. Natasha Docic of the Boise High French Club said something similar and explained that they want to be more involved in their community. We also talked with the team from Baptist Campus Ministries and learned that in addition to this project, that they’re taking the initiative to plan more service opportunities.
I talked with Glenn and he explained his philosophy on volunteering. In addition to service, it’s about team building and spending quality time with your group. He seemed to look at it as an opportunity to teach problem solving skills to the students by giving them opportunities to self organize: “we want groups and families to feel empowered to problem solve” and that was evident in his approach to working with the teens. Glenn also told me that he hopes that he and his wife will have the opportunity to travel the country and volunteer after they retire. I asked him about his hopes for the volunteers and what he wants them to take away from the experience. He said that he hopes first time volunteers will say, “Wow – I didn’t realize how many homeless people there are in Boise. I learned a lot, I helped a lot, and I had a lot of fun.” It’s safe to say that’s exactly how Rebekah and I felt after our time at the Boise Rescue Mission.
How to Help
For a list of numerous volunteer opportunities and online volunteer applications, visit: http://www.boiserm.org/#/events-volunteer
You can also contact Volunteer Coordinator, Glenn Compton, at GlennC@boiserm.org
To donate turkeys or money for purchasing turkeys for those in need, visit:
To donate money to the Rescue Mission, visit:
Drop-off Locations for donating items:
308 S 24th St
Lighthouse Rescue Mission
472 Caldwell Blvd
Glenn’s Wish List for the Boise Rescue Mission:
– New Light House shelter in Nampa
Please support our grass-roots volunteerism project! We’ll be traveling the country in December 2012 to highlight non-profits and inspire volunteerism coast to coast. If you like our work, please consider donating to our efforts!