If you are from Lincoln, Nebraska you’ve most likely heard of People’s City Mission, a homeless outreach founded by a number of local churches in 1907. This, my friends, is not your grandmother’s charity. Aside from being the first entity in Nebraska (non-profit or otherwise) to win an Effie award, PCM has earned a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator six years running. How many charities do you know that would start a successful coffee company to help raise money? In my opinion, PCM oozes innovation. The Carl and Mildred Curtis Transitional Housing Center which has 60 single-occupancy rental units for men blew me away. This is clearly a place where dignity is not dead–the bathroom facilities were cleaner and more pleasant than the community bathrooms in my college dormitory. Tom Barber, the mission’s current director was nice enough to take some time to give me a tour and answer a few questions (two of which appear in the video above and the rest appear below). If you are at all interested in ministering to the homeless or starting your own non-profit company you will absolutely love this interview.
What are a few examples of the sad things you see at PCM?
People are at the shelter for many different reasons, many of them negative. It is always hard to see the effects of bad choices that people make. Things like addiction, abusive behaviors, or mental health problems. At the mission we get to observe the aftermath that some of these issues cause. And it is very sad to see.
What is an example of one of your brightest success stories (in terms of people)?
A young man of 15 came to the mission six years ago. His name is Bonus. His family was fleeing persecution in Sudan. Bonus struggled a lot with his situation but slowly overcame many of the issues troubling him. He was a very talented artist and several of his pictures are hanging in the mission. He went on to design school, and now is working for us in hopes of saving enough money to finish his degree.
What do you like best about what you do?
I like being part of an organization that rescues people from very tough situations and helps them get back in the game. That does not always happen with everyone, but for the ones whose lives are turned around, it is very rewarding.
Has the homeless population here in Lincoln taught you anything unexpected about life?
Yes. The durability of the human spirit. I see people all the time who are going through real tragedies in their life. In so many cases, they fight on, don’t quit, and don’ run away. They adjust to their situation and keep on going. It is very amazing and much different than the stereotypes that have been created about homeless people.
What advice would you give to others who want to be innovative in the charity sector?
Stay the course. Innovation has a diffusion curve. In the beginning most people don’t understand or immediately accept new ideas. These ideas need champions that will carry them along. You must be that champion and press on with an innovation, even under resistance. This is especially true for the charity sector where most agencies are primarily grant driven and therefore very “governmental” in their approach to things. Edison said genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. He is right. Innovative ideas are worth about 10 percent. The other 90 percent is pushing along until it works!