A success story – with a twist of reality…

At your United Way of the Lewis & Clark Area, our focus is generally the support of our 36 partner agencies, helping them to do their jobs better through such efforts as fundraising, or ensuring that efforts are not unnecessarily duplicated. We also serve as a source of information, such as when someone calls our 211 assistance number or contacts us directly at our offices in Helena, looking for assistance. We can help sort through the confusion and match those people up with the best agencies for solving their immediate issues. On rare occasions, though, we get the chance to make a real impact directly in the life of a homeless person. What follows is the recent experience of Dr. Jeff Buscher, a minister and one of our United Way employees, as he personally made an impact in our community …

Thanks to the “Tuesday Showers” program at St. Paul’s Church, our team has developed relationships with a handful of our un-sheltered neighbors. Each week, as they shuffle in out of the cold, they are incredibly appreciative of this unique ministry. This is a very practical expression of Jesus’ charge of caring for what he called “the least of these” in the Sermon on the Mount.

One of our regular guests spent several days and nights in and around the church building. She was always there and willing to talk so we were able to offer her connections to community services. Initially, she was resistant to our offers of assistance. On Sunday, the day after Christmas, with temperatures dropping below zero, our friend was spotted in the doorway of another church in the community. The church folks knew we had a relationship with her. We were called to possibly help get her into a warm spot for the night. By the time we arrived, we could see her shopping cart tracks in the fresh snow headed in the direction of one of our busier streets. After nearly 2 hours of searching, we did not find her. That night it did get down to 10 below.

The next morning, I dropped off a loved one at the airport for the early morning flight, and I thought I would swing back by the church to see if our friend was there. She stood in a recessed entryway, warmed by the air that escaped through the double doors. Because she knew me, she accepted my offer to come to our offices to warm up for a bit. I carefully loaded her bags and her shopping cart into my car, and we were off to a warm comfortable spot. On the way she asked me to stop at a convenience store, where she offered to buy me a cup of coffee. She sat in our office lobby while I went to work contacting agencies to make sure she would not spend another night out in the elements.

Several of our local providers went above and beyond what we asked of them. Providers like the staff at the Salvation Army, AWARE Inc. the Center for Mental Health, Montana Independent Living Project, and the Assistance Coordinator at Good Samaritan Ministries. By mid-afternoon, we secured a room at a local hotel where she can stay for up to 2 months while she addresses her other needs. Things like a legal ID, a Social Security card, and a birth certificate. As I drove home that evening, I could not help thinking about how it truly does take a village to care for one another appropriately. Or as our old friend from the A-Team used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together!”

I wish this great story ended on that high note, but the next day, when I arrived to take our friend to an appointment for further assistance, she informed me she did not want to stay at the hotel. I pleaded with her to reconsider but she was determined to move out. I offered to give her a ride to a new spot, but she politely declined. All I could do was leave her sitting on the bench in front of the hotel with 4 small bags and the new coat we got her the day before. As I drove away, it began to snow lightly and all I could think was how we can offer gifts, but it is up to the recipient to accept the gift. Our friend will live as she chooses, for as long as she chooses. It is comforting to know that help is available, if or when she decides to accept it. Kind of like the grace of God.

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