Recognizing Volunteers

Volunteer Blog Pic

Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Los Angeles Mission.  Last year, 6,648 people gave 22,741 hours to the Mission.  Our volunteers did everything from serving meals to painting hallways.  Event volunteers helped wrap Christmas presents and fill Easter baskets. Still others handed out those gifts and baskets at events.

Some creative volunteers decorated inspirational bulletin boards. Still other experienced volunteers quietly worked one on one to improve students’ reading skills.  We had fit volunteers lead exercise classes. While some other talented volunteers gave haircuts, and did makeup for women at the Anne Douglas Center.

The selfless donation of time is actually valuable for a nonprofit. The worth of volunteer hours represents literally billions of dollars in value to California nonprofits. The donation of people’s precious time exponentially expands our ability to assist those who need help the most. Added to donations of much-needed finances, food and clothing, the giving of time is essential to continuing the work we do every day at the Mission.

Our volunteers come from all walks of life. Those who give their time to the Mission are a real reflection of L.A.’s rich diversity.  Millionaire businessmen serve next to volunteers who were once homeless themselves. Many Mission program graduates can be relied upon to return to give back. They understand all too well what it is like to live on Skid Row. So they come back to help offer encouragement in any way they can.

We are thrilled to be able to say that we have everyone from Hollywood stars to college students come down to serve others. We especially appreciate the mindset of college kids looking for a spring break opportunity to give back to others instead of going “wild” on some beach.

It is obvious that Hollywood heavyweights have many options other than serving the homeless. Yet their continued participation helps us to attract media interest at our special events. Still other Hollywood volunteers prefer to remain anonymous by serving without the press on non-event days.

While the public may be aware of the big events we put on four times a year, the Mission is busy here on Skid Row everyday. Many famous faces show up at those events to help serve a meal, hand out gifts or new shoes, and wash the feet of the homeless.  But our unsung volunteers are here every day.  Some people have been coming down regularly for decades. Just like some companies have been donating for many years.

I truly believe that one significant reason a person decides to change their life is because someone has shown that they really do believe in them.  Often renewal begins because of love and concern demonstrated by a stranger.  It has been said that true compassion is helping someone who has no way of repaying their consideration.

Our volunteers give out of the goodness of their hearts; compelled by faith or something in them that just wants to be of service to others. People who freely give of their time, talents and treasure do so in the hope of making some small difference in the lives of others. What they may not realize is that a little action can often make a huge difference in the life of another person.

National Volunteer Week and Volunteer Appreciation Month are great reminders of the generous outpouring of Americans who desire to help those in need of human kindness.  But a yearly remembrance of the many contributions of volunteers is not enough of a thank you.  At the Los Angeles Mission, there is not a day that goes by that we don’t appreciate our volunteers.

But the real secret of volunteering is this. It is what our volunteers consistently say: that they receive much more than they give. That they are rewarded each and every time they come down to the Mission. That helping another person just makes their lives better.  They thank us for letting them help out in the work we do.

Do you want to help?  We have many different ways you can: lots of opportunities.  The first step is to attend a volunteer orientation.  Those meetings take place on the first Saturday of every month.  You can join us May 2nd by registering on line at

Saying a truly heartfelt thank you to everyone who has helped out at the Los Angeles Mission feels inadequate. But believe me when I say that we couldn’t do anything without the participation of our tremendously talented and big-hearted volunteers.

A sincere thank you is to the best way to express our gratitude.  So, please accept our thank you for helping. And join us. You won’t regret it.

Our Homeless Veterans Deserve a Home

In today’s highly partisan national discourse, there is one idea everyone can agree on: taking care of our nation’s veterans.  Facing a frustrating, unending series of foreign entanglements, how we care for our warriors when they return has reached the mission critical stage.  We simply cannot continue to ignore those who give their all to keep us safe.

While the methodology of the various homeless surveys are by no means perfect, the results can still break your heart.  Veterans comprise around 34 percent of the general U.S. population yet veterans are grossly over-represented in our country’s homeless population.  By some counts, 40 percent of chronically homeless males are veterans.  And, of the increasing number of females who find themselves homeless, three percent are military vets.

California is home to the highest number of veterans in the nation; with close to 11 percent of all veterans living in the state.  Unfortunately, California also ranks first in the high cost of housing.  The Golden State also has the dubious distinction of currently leading the nation with the highest rate of poverty (24 percent of all Californians live in poverty).  In this perfect storm, California, unsurprisingly, also has the highest number of veterans (at least 29,000) with no place to call home.

By some accounts, Los Angeles has the largest population of homeless military veterans in the U. S. The V. A. estimates there are more than 8,000 veterans living on the mean streets of L.A.  This accounts for approximately 11 percent of all homeless veterans nationwide.

Our nation’s walking wounded warriors can be found walking the streets of L.A.’s Skid Row.  Many of the men and women who have protected us – now need protecting themselves.  They suffer from multiple health and mental health challenges like: brain trauma, PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and chronic medical problems stemming from injuries suffered on the battlefield.  It is now our turn to save their lives.

The United Way LA’s Home For Good program has decided to take a radical stand to solve this problem.  We want to challenge everyone involved in this issue to work together to push for action to end homelessness for veterans by 2016.  This could be the perfect legacy issue for President Obama and the new Republican Congress.  The federal government has the capacity to handle the unique set of health and housing issues facing our homeless veterans.  The president and first lady have shown great sensitivity to what is certainly a bi-partisan problem.

At the Los Angeles Mission, about twenty percent of our Fresh Start program members are veterans.  We provide mental health counseling; housing and food assistance along with job training just to name a few of the ways we help restore lives.  The Mission works hard along with all of the other homeless service providers on Skid Row.  However, what all of us are able to do is just a drop in the bucket.  The problem is a never-ending flood of people in need of different life-lines in order to get their lives back.

Homeless service providers all over this nation wonder why government can’t work smarter and more effectively with those of us working on the front lines to solve these tough problems.  We have lots of experience and we seek new ways to work together.


Herb Smith, President of the Los Angeles Mission, chairman of the board of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) and a member of the Home For Good Business Leaders Task Force.