Ron is the Executive Director of The Lighthouse Mission, the only walk-in rescue mission between Everett, Wash. and Vancouver, B.C. The Mission helps Whatcom County’s men, women, and children get back on their feet, and on with their lives.
What do you love best about your job?
I love seeing people’s lives change. That’s what keeps me coming back. And second to that, I love being part of an organization that is professional, and cares for its staff, and continues to grow.
What do people not understand about the Lighthouse Mission?
They think we’re just a shelter, or they have a stereotype in their mind of what a shelter is—honky-tonk piano in the chapel, soup, soap and salvation—but we do so much more than that. Our staff has a high degree of sensitivity to and understanding of mental health and addiction. About 60% of the people we serve have a mental health issue.
Is that rising?
It is. And one of my concerns is that we’re becoming a magnet community. Bellingham is a great place for professional transients. Our waiting lists are a lot shorter than Seattle or Everett. This is a special place, and I want us to focus our resources on helping local people.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I am reading Mere Christianity with a group of homeless guys. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read it before. We’re about halfway through, and loving it. It’s like Christian algebra. Lewis is a deep thinker.
How’s it going with the group?
Good! I bought them each a study guide. We meet once a week for an hour, and I work hard to keep it light and easy to understand. I tell people: the most impactful thing I’ve ever seen is a group of people around a table with a book. A skilled facilitator can guide a thoughtful discussion and answer the questions people are asking.
What are people surprised to learn about you?
That I’m the director. [laughs] They ask to see my boss fairly often.
What is the biggest need the mission has that the community needs to know about?
We want to meet unique needs in the community. Once the nursery is completed, we will have tapped out our campus here. We need more space. I want the mission to have a bigger front door. I want to be able to get more people off the street, especially those that we’re currently unable to help. I’m not interested in being a flophouse, a dead end. I want to promote change in people’s life, and we have the continuum that this population needs.
We have a group of 10 people right now who are enrolled in the Technical College who came to Bellingham, homeless and addicted. You don’t go from homelessness to college overnight. That takes time, but we can do it. We’ve proven it.
But we need more space if we’re going to do it at the scale this community needs.