Bill Kerler: Serving others, just like hosting old friends | TheUnion.com

Bill Kerler: Serving others, just like hosting old friends

Bill Kerler
Other Voices

Why on earth would I ever want to cook meals for unknown homeless people?

What would ever possess me to do such a thing, especially on cold, wet and snowy nights?

Please allow me to take a moment to tell you my journey to this newfound love for serving others.

I am the chairman of the Salvation Army Grass Valley Corps Advisory Board and I attend Calvary Bible Church in Grass Valley. The Salvation Army does wonderful social programs in our community that often go unnoticed, unless you are the person receiving their charity. Our church for years has actively supported one of the Salvation Army's mercy mission projects — the "Booth Family Center," which provides transitional housing for homeless families. In addition, the Salvation Army, with the generous support of our Nevada County Health and Human Services, runs a cold-weather shelter on Alta Street for homeless people. The shelter needs food cooked in a remote location — enter Calvary Bible Church.

I began to look at each homeless person with the same love I have for my own son.

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So where do I fit in? There is a long answer and a short answer. I've had a blessed life and married late and so at 45 years of age for me, we had a baby boy. I retired, as did my wife, left Menlo Park in the Bay Area and came to Grass Valley to raise him in a small, very peaceful community. I envisioned being involved with my son throughout his life: the baseball coach, his tennis-playing buddy, chess matches while discussing philosophical matters. I had it all planned out.

Then something happened. Our son was diagnosed with a disease called autism, a severe learning disability. Why would this happen, especially knowing that I was getting ready to bathe him in attention, giving him all the opportunities to reach the highest heights in life?

Well as it turns out, God had a good reason. Through my son, I have experienced love in new ways and to have a heart for all people. Starting when he was in second grade and classroom teachers were ready to discourage parent aids — the time being ready for the young students to learn independence — I found myself with free time. I was immediately drawn to helping those in need with food and shelter.

Of course, it is not that I was drawn, God was drawing me to it.

What I first noticed about several homeless people, there was a learning disability that in some way was similar to my own son's. But these relatively young adults oftentimes no longer had any sort of active parental involvement in their lives. They had worn out their welcome. Now out on the streets, they were lost. They didn't know how to navigate life. Drugs became an opportunity for them to feel normal.

I began to look at each homeless person with the same love I have for my own son.

Homeless people often feel invisible, as they walk the streets and people try to ignore them.

Feeding them healthy, delicious food in abundance started to build trust between me and them. I have had a rule of thumb, with every meal I cook for the shelter, I pretend the guests are going to be longtime, unseen old college friends who come into Grass Valley and we were going to have a dinner party. What I would serve my old college friends is what I would serve the homeless.

For example, today, one of my best friends in Grass Valley is Adrian, a 37 year old who was once homeless. He, too, has had to battle with a learning disability. I somehow came into his life and gave him some help he needed. He is doing well now, reconnected and living with his mother, in fact. Looking back, it's amazing how God places people in your life — a blessing to be there for someone in need.

There are many stories like that playing out within the Salvation Army. The work they do goes unseen by the general public because they want to stay humble servants to this community.

The Salvation Army needs our Grass Valley community's support. Reach out to the officers Capt. Cristian and Becky Sibaja at the Salvation Army by calling 530-274-3500, or visit them at their offices at 10725 Alta St. They would love to engage you.

Bill Kerler is an advisory board member for the Salvation Army in Grass Valley.

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