Michelle Downs has dedicated the last 20-plus years of her life to her family as a stay-at-home mother to her three daughters. “After they all graduated, I felt like I was fired,” she said.
Michelle found herself with more time on her hands than she liked. She knew she still had so much to offer others and so she began to look for places to serve in her community.
At first, Michelle did not know where to volunteer or what she might be interested in, so she prayed. “I told the Lord that I had all this time and energy and asked Him to show me what to do,” she said. She found the Victor Valley Rescue Mission online and read about the volunteer opportunities. “I didn’t know anything about drug or alcohol addiction or homelessness.”
On her first day of volunteering, Michelle served coffee and breakfast. While serving, she saw a young man “ripping his clothes off and banging his head” because of the drugs he was using. “My first thought was, ‘God, what have you gotten me into?’” But Michelle stayed faithful in serving at the Mission. “The Mission feels like a family. Everyone in the office gives their all and it is beautiful to see.”
The young man Michelle saw on her first day now comes for coffee and breakfast regularly. He and Michelle have connected, and while she cannot always understand him due to the effects of heavy drug use over the years, Michelle said, “Yesterday he told me he loved me. I think I make him feel safe and heard.”
Michelle gives God all the credit when asked why she volunteers. “I was just obedient,” she said. “God turned my actions into feeling for the people. I’m just a middle-class housewife that didn’t want to sit at home all day and do nothing. I still had something to give.”
Michelle even admits that at one point, she questioned God about working with addicts and the homeless. “I thought, ‘Is this really where God wants me?’ But my perspective has changed and I miss them when I’m not there.”
Michelle volunteers three to four days a week serving meals and coffee, distributing hygiene supplies, and organizing haircuts every Wednesday. The haircuts allow Michelle to build relationships with the Mission’s guests. “It is nice to have conversations with them,” she said. “I’m able to sit and talk with them and hear their stories.”
The more Michelle got involved, the more her compassion grew. “There is a song, ‘Break My Heart for What Breaks Yours.’ God broke my heart for them. I now see them and know them.
“It is more than just passing out coffee. They aren’t throwaways. They are people with college degrees, families, and jobs.”
Michelle sees the importance of each person that comes for a meal, a shower, or a haircut. “Whenever I see a homeless person I now have a completely different view of them,” Michelle said. “I ask myself, ‘What’s their story? Can I stop and give them water, and help them?’”
Making herself available to just sit and listen has been the most rewarding part of volunteering. “They have stories, they have lives,” Michelle said. “Some will come and talk about their lives and what has happened to them. A lady was talking about a miscarriage she had and I could relate because that happened to me too.”
This woman now comes to the Mission asking for Michelle. “So, now I talk with her and I think it was because I just sat and listened.” There are many others that Michelle has connected with. “I saw another lady reading a book and asked about it. We both like reading the same books, so now I bring her a new book and we talk about it.”
Michelle is not just “a housewife with time on her hands.” She is changing lives by making people feel safe, seen, and loved.