Getting Started: A Career in Rescue Missions

The touching story of how BDI’s Shellie Speer found her passion

The touching story of how BDI’s Shellie Speer found her passion

From Shellie Speer, Sr. VP BDI Academy

Recently, I received this photo from Dan Doty, City Union Mission, Kansas City, MO. It was taken in 1979 at a Royals baseball game… when I was 16 years old. The woman next to me is my beautiful momma. She passed away a few months ago, so it’s very special to see that smile on her face.

The older gentleman on my other side is Ralph Dawson. Without ever knowing it, this sweet man totally changed my life’s path…igniting my passion and career in rescue missions.

I was first “introduced” to a Rescue Mission when I was 14 years old. I was hired to help out in the office during the summer… and I was also volunteering as a camp counselor, taking care of children at the shelter, serving meals, sorting clothes and handing out food boxes.

Walking through those doors, my eyes were truly opened to a type of life I’d never imagined. My parents had a strong relationship – both had jobs – and I had a home, food and clothes. So did all my friends. I had no concept of anything else.

Ralph had come to the Mission for a warm bed and a meal many years before. He attended classes there and was eventually hired to cook the hundreds of meals the Mission served each day.

He’d been homeless and on the streets from the age of 11. He had no family. He had completed a stint in the Army where his love for alcohol began. Somewhere along the way, Ralph had become a pastry chef. But his drinking kept him always looking for jobs, always living under bridges. He was in his 60s when I met him, but we became fast friends.

I remember realizing at such a young age that Ralph and the other men at the Mission had such a love for the bottle… but what they needed was the love of the Lord. And the Mission provided that opportunity.

I continued working and volunteering at City Union Mission all through high school and college. And I continued my friendship with Ralph until he died in the early 1980s.

Ralph struggled with giving up alcohol. But every time he stumbled, the Mission would open their arms to welcome him right back in.

My love for those who are hurting, hungry and homeless began when I was a teenager. And through an amazing series of God touches, I’ve been blessed to help care for this sometimes-forgotten sector of our society for over 40 years.

It all began with Ralph Dawson.💛

If you have a passion for helping others and would be interested in working with BDI or learning more about BDI Academy, contact us today. Let’s care for the forgotten and release generosity, together.

You need to read this! Click here to read “3 BIG Nonprofit Takeaways from Pandemic Giving” from BDI’s CEO and President, Michael J. Tomlinson.

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  • Shellie Speer

    Shellie Speer-Burnett, Senior Vice President, BDI Academy

    With over 30 years of partnership in Rescue Missions and nonprofit organizations, Shellie Speer-Burnett brings her expertise, counsel and philanthropic-centered passion to assist in furthering the work of BDI’s Rescue Mission clients. For 22 years of her career, she served as the Founder and President/CEO of her own agency, ENEX Group, which helped her clients capture hearts and donor loyalty in their communities.

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