When Larry Yonker became President and CEO of Springs Rescue Mission in 2013, he had the vision — it was just a matter making it a reality.
“I wanted people to find hope,” he said. “I came here to change homelessness in Colorado Springs, and I think it has changed. There is real movement in people’s lives, and there has been a change in the culture and the way people think about homelessness.”
Yonker, now 69, first came to the Mission as a contractor and consultant before he was hired on as development director in 2011, and from there was chosen to lead the organization. In those days, SRM was working to create its first shelter; the focus of its humble campus was still on feeding, men’s addiction recovery and some limited daytime services.
But a lot has changed in less than a decade. Under Yonker’s leadership, Springs Rescue Mission has become an expansive homeless resource campus — a Community of Hope for the most vulnerable men and women of Colorado Springs.
With 450 beds, the Mission is now the largest homeless shelter in the region. The Resource Center offers case management and other essential services to help those in need regain their health, get back to work and find permanent housing. Every day, hundreds of neighbors in need come to the Mission for a filling meal, a hot shower, a warm bed and compassionate care. Just next door, 65 chronically homeless people have found a home at Greenway Flats. And in the middle of it all, a new 200-seat Samaritan’s Kitchen is nearing completion (slated to open early this Fall).
After months spent in prayer, thought and conversation, Yonker made the difficult decision to retire. He plans to pass the torch to incoming President & CEO Jack Briggs in October (more information about that soon).
We spoke to Yonker recently about his reflections on leadership, legacy, faith and retirement.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
I’m from Fort Collins originally. I did my undergrad at University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, and then went back up to Fort Collins to take some graduate classes. My first time in college, I majored in psychology and then sociology. … I started in 1969, right in the heat of a real revolution in America. I think that really helped shape my interests and my personality. … After college, my wife Kim got a job teaching in Colorado Springs and we moved down here in 1977.
What do you think attracted you to working with the homeless?
God created me with a certain personality and certain filters — ways of looking at things. One of those was a care and a compassion for the poor. I had an overwhelming sensitivity for homeless people, even when I was a kid.
How do you feel like that evolved, and what role did your faith play in that?
My worldview and my view of God changed when I was working with impoverished communities in developing countries. I came to know a more compassionate God. … I was learning a lot and reading a lot, and really enriching my theology. Matthew 25 became a huge part of that. It’s important to me how we live as Christians.
What has been the most significant thing you’ve learned in your time here?
I had never experienced unconditional love the way I have here. We accept people unconditionally, and we meet them where they are. People get a chance to really see Christ here, instead of just hear about him or read about him. My heart is here. I genuinely love the men and women we serve.
What do you see for your future and the future of SRM?
I’d like to continue working in the community and helping in some way. I look forward to spending more time with my bride of 45 years and our children and grandchildren. … I’m really excited to see where Springs Rescue Mission goes from here, and I know it’s in good hands. It will be incredible to see the new kitchen and all of the hungry people that will help, especially when we have Thanksgiving and Christmas meals on campus.
How do you view your legacy as President and CEO of the Mission?
I don’t see this as my legacy — it’s God’s legacy. I’m proud of what has happened here, and I’ve been really blessed to be able to lead during this time. It’s been a gift from God. I’ve loved building relationships with our donors, our guests and the community; and seeing real movement in these people’s lives.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
These have been the best years of my life. I’m so blessed by what we’ve been able to do here. What I hoped for was to change lives, and I think we’ve done that. … I’m just so incredibly grateful and just feel so, so blessed to have been a part of what God is doing here.
To help complete Larry’s vision of a Community of Hope — including our new 200-seat kitchen and more — please consider giving to our capital campaign today.
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