Every adventure starts somewhere and ours began with two very special people that made our journey possible. Even though their hearts are one and the same, their stories are quite different. Dorri and I feel blessed that they were willing to share their experiences with us and then support us as we follow their lead, acknowledge the problem, and attempt to make changes.
Many of us, if not all of us, have had that gentle nudge moment. Possibly the feeling was a push from above encouraging us to step out of our boxes. I’ve had them. While sitting at a street light, with the outside air hovering somewhere between extremely uncomfortable and blistering, an idea has crossed my mind many times. I should carry cold water bottles in my car and hand them out to the homeless people on the corners. Maybe I’ll even throw in a protein bar. Once home, the thought has drifted off, and I have found myself focused on the task in front of me, not giving the man on the corner another thought. I forgave myself because not only is that normal behavior, it’s also understandable. We’re busy people with a million concerns of our own. And if I’m honest, I took a little credit for just having the kind thought.
William Darnell and his wife Candiss are not the type of people to talk the talk with no follow-through. Together they traveled to Costa Rica on a mission trip, delivering aid and God’s word before returning home to their full-time jobs. William works in the medical supplies business, while his wife is an ultrasound supervisor at UF Health Shands Hospital. One fateful day, William decided to visit his wife at work and missed the entrance to the parking garage. This mishap led him to a park where he saw homeless people. He decided to bring them some lunch from McDonald’s and say a prayer with them.
William left the park with a vision. Why not serve the people right in his backyard? Unlike the passing thought many of us have, that’s exactly what he began doing. With the help of his wife and friends, Jeff and Alice Dyal, he prepared fifty bag lunches and headed back downtown a couple of weeks later.
The next time, William and Candiss prepared one-hundred bagged lunches consisting of a sandwich, cookie, fruit, and a prayer, and then loaded up his truck and passed those bags out to our homeless community. William’s journey all began six years ago, and since then, what is now called Saved 2 Serve, has grown to an organization feeding 750-1000 people per month. Twenty to fifty volunteers participate in each event, and the organization has a Facebook following of over 700.
William serves large groups of homeless people but finds that the ones with the worst drug addictions do not come to the large group events. Due to this, William will search out the smaller groups and make sure that these folks can also receive services and prayer.
Saved 2 Serve has branched out from only giving bag lunches to supplying training, clothes, notebooks, resumes, and prayers to assist the struggling with the interview process. They have also distributed 180 clear backpacks with school supplies to students in need. William’s organization also provides other services such as helping people get set up in apartments once they have found a job. Often, the expense of the housing and transportation leaves little left to furnish the apartment. Saved 2 Serve takes donations of furniture and many other items that assist people as they struggle to get on their feet. Although William admits that storage can be a problem since his team works out of their garages.
When asked what he would change about the homeless situation and process of getting off the streets, William responded, “I would like to break the stereotypes people have of our homeless community.” He wants people to know that there are a million individual stories behind the one common situation. William reminds us, “In reality, a lot of people could be one family catastrophe away from being homeless.” Many people are willing to work, but without affordable housing, they remain on the streets, creating a vicious cycle. People need a home to take a shower, to clean their clothes, to store their clothes, to prepare for the day, yet affordable housing remains an issue. Finding a spot to construct such places is often met with resistance because no one wants such a neighborhood built in their backyard. Not only does the housing hold people back, but transportation does as well. Sometimes public transit can solve the problem, but other times they need a vehicle to get to work. Yet how does one afford a car without having a job?
The goal of Saved 2 Serve, according to William, is to let God take them to where they need to go. Sometimes, William finds that his intended path becomes altered, and it is his belief this is God’s hand. For example, their project of distributing the schoolbags began when they attempted another mission. What William would like to see happen is that Saved 2 Serve could assist in opening a shelter that can offer more job training in trades such as plumbing. This project is an enormous undertaking but having the goal is the first step.
“It all started with lunch and a prayer,” William explains. From there, he was able to earn the trust of our homeless community. What he might not have expected were the unlikely friends he earned while changing lives, both his and theirs. Thank you to William, Candiss, Jeff, Alice, and all the people that paused for a moment in their busy lives to lend a hand to a fallen fellow man. May people like them continue to remind us and inspire us to open our hearts and minds. For when we do this, we allow ourselves to see the world through the lenses of others whose lives have been dimmed by circumstance. William and his wife remind us that being the light in the lives of others brings unforeseen blessings to all that are involved.
If you would like to be a part of William and Candiss’s mission, please visit the Saved 2 Serve Facebook page and click on donate. For opportunities to volunteer your time or talents, please follow their page and watch for upcoming events.
We first met Dale Linn through William Darnell of Saved 2 Serve, a local Jacksonville charity that helps the homeless. After hearing about our project to write a blog raising awareness of this issue, Dale was excited. “I’d been praying for someone like you to do this.” As we chatted over lunch, his enthusiasm was evident from the minute we introduced ourselves, as was his passion and energy for helping people.
At one time Dale and his family were successful entrepreneurs, living in Detroit, who felt they had the “Midas touch” and were eager to share the secrets of their successes with those who asked. All was going along swimmingly until they decided to buy a restaurant. Dale says he feels a “surge of pity” when he hears someone brag that “Failure is not an option!” He continues, “Failure is the most readily available of all possible options, and anything other than failure is an unearned gift offered to clueless children.”
Dale eventually lost his business, their house, the family dog, and the esteem of friends, families, and colleagues. The fallout included pulling their children from their private school, but Dale was too busy, as he says, “surviving, to feel the pain and weight of pity.” Left without a lot of options, he admits to squatting at a family member’s house who was traveling out of the state for a time.
“I moved into his house, forged proof of residence for the school system, and only admitted to squatting because the mail was forwarded to a PO Box, and the utilities make it impossible to even pay the bill unless you’re the homeowner.” Acknowledging and appreciating people who struggle to survive and yet keep their dignity and integrity intact, Dale admits to using his privilege to find comfort. With his back against the wall, he says he also used his children as a “bargaining weapon” for a significantly reduced rent that he negotiated and never paid.
His family experienced God during this dark journey in a way that few privileged Americans rarely do. He quotes Paul, who said, “We were under great pressure far beyond our ability to endure so that we despaired of life itself…that we might not rely on ourselves but on the God, who raises the dead.”
As a result, Dale and his family recovered with a passion for the Lord and his mission wherever it may be. “I don’t know if it’s because of my brush with homelessness, or because I always thought I’d be a newsman when I grew up, but I volunteered with the local street paper every time I could get downtown.”
Through this work, Dale “had the opportunity for the first time to build relationships with people living on the streets.” After moving to Jacksonville, he had a vague idea about an attempt to bridge the gaps between, as he phrases it, “friends in need and friends in deed; and the rest of us who just want to know what’s going on and how we can help. I did not then and do not know now exactly what that would look like.”
Dale has met so many interesting friends in need, many of whom have such interesting stories, as he says, “many of which may even be true.” He arranged for us to talk to six of these friends in need whose stories you’ll read about in upcoming blogs.
As he feared, he said, he got caught up in this adventure and has just now landed on what could be a viable potential offering for Jacksonville Street Media. Feeling that the clock is running out in the fourth quarter, he’s not sure how to bring it to fruition. As Dale says, “Situation Developing…”
Lunch is over, and we end our conversation. Dales says, “So that’s the trailer for my story. It’s kind of twisty turvy and doesn’t have a satisfying hook yet, but I’m working on that.”