Regardless of what else might have been going on May 11 anywhere else in Portland, from 2 p.m. through dinner at the Burnside Shelter, it was a time of celebration and joy for everyone who visited the Guest Care Center. Portland Rescue Mission staff members, volunteers and guests all gathered together in one place to celebrate our annual Birthday Party for the Homeless.
As a demographic that is often forgotten and frequently overlooked, men and women felt remembered and loved, helping reestablish their identity not as homeless people, but as people we care about.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Alexa Mason, our Public Relations Specialist. “Men and women living on the streets aren’t often seen as people, but rather an issue to be dealt with. And so when we do events like this, it provides an opportunity to reinforce the fact that people matter, they are valued by the Mission, and more importantly, they’re valued by God.
“It was such a joyous time because you saw smiles and people enjoying their time to relax and just be present.”
Complete with games likes Sorry, Uno, Yahtzee, Connect Four and many others, tables spread throughout the Guest Care Center played host to some fun-filled games for those in attendance. Laughter and rousing conversation echoed throughout the facility. Coupled with opportunities to do a little art, take some fun snapshots at a photo booth, and some old-fashioned ice cream (with a plethora of toppings), all the elements of a great birthday party were available to the guests.
“I’m loving the ice cream and the people,” said Bernard, who recently came down from Tacoma to Portland to find work. “It really does feel like my birthday! So, I’m going to enjoy this ice cream and hang out with my new friends. Thanks a lot!”
Arnold, another guest, echoed Bernard’s sentiments. “The ice cream is great, the music is good and the pictures are fun. I really appreciate it,” he said. “It’s a really wonderful thing going on today and I’m having a great time. I’m enjoying it!”
For some of the guests, much of the afternoon and early evening’s events also provided a glimmer of hope for better things to come. Given the opportunity for three birthday wishes, one man named Skyler talked about paying it forward.
Skyler explained that he used to be part of a band, and while they’re now defunct, he hopes they can someday reunite, along with his family. As a singer-songwriter, he does want to eventually get some of his music out, though. But he said, ultimately, given three birthday wishes, he’d pass two along to the young volunteer that played some beanbag golf with him and the other one to his mom and dad.
“I’ll get my wish later,” Skyler emphasized. “I’ve had it paid forward to me today.”
He continued with a message he wanted to convey to everyone involved with the birthday party. “When you put your effort into something like this, it really does come back to you tenfold at events like this. You get to see people being served, and it makes you want to go out and do it again and again, more and more often.
“I love grabbing meals here. They always have good food and there is really great people here.”
Other birthday wishes from guests included everything from peace in the world, housing for everybody, justice for all, family and even a “classy” Buick.
For Jimmy, another one of our guests, he said his hope for the future is to simply become a better person everyday that glorifies God with his actions regularly. He said he feels blessed just to have been able to watch basketball stars like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in their prime.
Serving as the capstone of Monday’s festivities was the birthday cards the guests had the privilege of reading during their dinner. Downloaded, filled out and sent in to Portland Rescue Mission by wonderful members of the community, birthday cards were appreciated by all 290 people who stayed for dinner.
“To see the joy of our guests actually taking those cards, reading them, sharing them with others at their table and smiling really enforced the purpose of what we wanted them to know in the first place. It meant a lot to them,” Alexa said.
Thank you to everyone out there that contributed, including A Jesus Church – Bridgetown and Beaverton Toyota, to help make our 2015 Birthday Party for the Homeless another one to remember. Through your continued, very heartfelt support, Portland Rescue Mission will continue to provide the services so desperately needed by hurting and homeless men, women and children by way of our Hope, Pathways and New Life Ministries. Blessings to you and your families!