Stop! You Don’t Have to Leave to Do What You Love



jenna-100This is a guest post from Jenna Forstrom, the former community manager at Adaptu who’s now an account executive at a local PR firm.  She’s still staying on top of her personal finances, selling (er – donating) her crap since she bought her first home a year ago, and brewing beer. Find out more on Twitter.

I know this is a little un-Man-vs.-Debt-like, but I’ve been CALLED to stay put.

Not to move around, but to buy a house and set roots.

I actually did exactly what Baker said not to and bought a house at the ripe old age of 25. My home is in Portland, Oregon, the microbrew capital of the world, home of the best coffee roasters, nestled between Mt. Hood and the Pacific Ocean. It is the best place on earth. There is just one problem.

Portland is also home to the largest homeless population in the U.S. Meth, black-tar heroin and alcohol are easy to come by in my city. Abuse and brokenness are all over the streets. So as someone who is fiercely in love with the city, I’m forced to make a decision. I can choose to:

  • Ignore the problem.
  • Or be part of the solution.

To be completely honest, I didn’t make the choice. The choice picked me.

See, I was guilty of believing there was nothing I could do to help these guests (a term the team I’m part of now uses for “homeless”). They had become part of the scenery in Portland, camouflaged into the architecture. When I did see guests, there were the lies in my head:

“They are lazy and just don’t want to work.”

“They are just going to use my money for drugs.”

“They might go crazy and hurt me.”

“They must have done something really bad to end up homeless.”

In reality, those are all just lies. These people are simply … Human.  With the same problems and junk that even I struggle with.

I realized all this standing underneath the Burnside Bridge on a Thursday night in the fall of 2011. I was helping to chaperone a youth group volunteering with a program called Night Strike, and while I’m no longer involved in youth ministry, I’ve been faithfully showing up under the Bridge for over a year and a half now.

Night Strike is a unique opportunity for people to gather under the Burnside Bridge every Thursday night and love people because people matter. It’s an opportunity for the members of Portland’s homeless community to hang out, enjoy a hot meal, receive a haircut, shave, have their feet washed and have their old shoes/clothes/sleeping bags replaced. It is also a chance for volunteers to come down and share in the experience, help serve the needs of the homeless in the community, and more importantly, invest in the lives and build relationships with the people you meet under the Bridge.

That is how this tiny, white girl ended up serving Portland’s homeless community and is helping to bring radical relief, mobilization, and transformation in the lives and the city of Portland.

This year, I’m taking my service up a notch and helping to raise $27,000 for a mobile medical clinic by my 27th birthday on Aug. 27, 2013. With this mobile medical clinic, Night Strike will be able to provide medical, dental, veterinarian, and ID procurement services. We will also be providing training to volunteers to walk with guests through the process of transformation in their lives.

Want to help me with my cause?

Consider donating to Beyond the Bridge to help fund a mobile medical clinic!

In Portland or coming to visit? Come volunteer at Night Strike!

Be the change in your own city

I believe (and I think Baker would agree with me on this one) in stepping outside your boundaries. Getting outside your comfort zone for the sake of others. That is where compassion is truly found. It stretches your boundaries of humanity and opens your ability to love, care and consider others beyond walls, barriers and boundaries of fear.

Personally, it reminds me daily that I serve a God who is fighting for justice and is telling a story of redemption here in Portland. I’m reminded that everyone I see in my life is loved by God, so who am I to withhold anything from them? I pray every night for safety and to feel God’s heart for my friends. So far, I haven’t left the Bridge at night without feeling His heartbreak and His overwhelming love for both the volunteers and the guests.

I get that homelessness isn’t a heart issue for everyone like it is for me. But I strongly encourage you to find out what your heart issue is.

Ask yourself these questions

What bothers you? What injustice do you see around you? What do you think is hopeless?

Then ask… What do I know about this?

Then: What can I do about it?


Then go do it.

I think your life will be changed for the better.


Note from Joan: Jenna’s post really touched something in me. I have lived in the same town my entire life. In fact, I described myself as the “anti-Baker” in my Man Vs. Debt introductory post because of that.

But, like Jenna, I truly believe that where I am is where I ought to be. I make a difference in my community in different ways – donating food to local organizations is a big deal for our family, as is caring for our local parks – but the cause isn’t the point.

I’ve often in the past thought I couldn’t do “big things” with my life because I stayed in my small town. Jenna reminded me that you can make a difference anywhere – under a bridge in Portland, Oregon; in a newspaper column in York, Pennsylvania; or traveling across the country to film a feature documentary.

The real question isn’t “Can you make a difference?”

The question is…

WILL you make a difference?

16 thoughts on “Stop! You Don’t Have to Leave to Do What You Love”

  1. Portland may have the highest homeless population in the US per capita. However, it certainly does not boast the largest homeless population in the US.

  2. I also bought my first house at 25 in a challenged Philadelphia neighborhood. The time I spent working with my neighbors to address the vacant houses and drug problems were among the most satisfying of my life.

    I now live in a more conventional neighborhood and feel a loss because I’m not as needed.

    Good for you in finding a way to connect with your community while helping others.

    1. I heard you on the building community part. That is so key for me too. I want to celebrate graduations and weddings with my neighbors, new pets and babies as well as be there for family emergencies and heart break.

      There has to be some problems in your conventional neighborhood where you can make an impact? A single parent that could use some extra help and attention. Homeowners wisdom for a first time buyer?

  3. Beautiful article, I read another article today that asked “What if everyone lived up to their potiential?” Could you imagine what the world would be like? In the end it asked if I was living up to “my potential” Can everyone or anyone answer a complete yes? I know I can’t or don’t. I do sometimes but it’s hearing about how others are living up and beyond their potential, that encourages me to keep going. For me to start to live up to my(your) hearts potential just think what a different place this world, your city, your work, your home would be.
    Thanks for sharing it has giving me a lot to think about.

    1. Tina – Do you have the link to the article? I would love to read it? Have you heard of Bob Goff? He wrote the book “Love Does”. It’s all about doing crazy acts of love. Which I believe I’m doing with this mobile medical clinic. He came and spoke at my church and asked the question, “What if you believed God would blow your expectations away?” And I’ve been trying to live like that ever since I heard it. It’s helped a ton with working with my guests under the Bridge and with my own life, “God, I don’t know what you expect, but I think you’ve got a great story here. How can I help?” has really helped me.

      What are you doing to do to bring that change in potential to your city, work and life?

  4. Wow! Jenna, as a mom I have to tell you I am very proud of you. Your guest are blessed to have a wonderful servant like you in their lifes. You probably impact them more than you know.
    About the article is was one from my job there is no link so sorry I can’t share more but I work for an awesome company that pushes their people to be better from the inside out. I am very blessed.
    Let me share a dream I have with my husband(pillow talk) Opening up a restaurant. “Tina’s Tea house” to be exact. I often dream and think of all the wonderful food options I would have. I also want a special room called “Charlies place” where if you eat in that room all processeds go to families who can’t afford to feed their families. Also and you may have heard of this, we will have suspended food and drinks, when customers are buying their meals they can pay for someone else’s too. And than there would be what I call “Suspended Sunday” where the restaurant is open and we feed everyone from single mom’s & dad’s to Gene’s a homless guy in my town for FREE!
    God Bless you on your journey!

    1. Oh my gosh! I love that idea. I hope I get to read about it coming to be on Man vs. Debt some day. I love the idea of suspended coffee and meals.

  5. KC @ genxfinance

    Beautiful post. It’s inspiring how you are motivated to oversee the issues and look at the solutions instead. And it’s even more beautiful that you decided to become a part of it and make a difference. God bless and more power.

  6. Very inspiring, thanks for sharing! My heart issue is our veterans. I read in Time magazine that more veterans committed suicide than soldiers died in combat in 2012. That makes my heart very, very heavy. I want to help but I don’t know where to start. I’m a résumé writer and I would love to find a way to assist veterans with getting their résumé together so they can find employment. You’ve just reminded me that I need to get started.

    God bless! May He continue to lead the way for you.

  7. I believe it! Do you have the article link? We have a bunch of vets under the Bridge – it’s definitely a big issue. There are a ton of VA programs that can probably use your talents! Where are you located?

  8. Jenna, what a fantastic story, I love this. I feel that homelessness/hunger are my heart issues. I just need to DO something about them!! I’m looking forward to leaving my day job this summer and finally being able to start volunteering at our local food shelters, which I’ve wanted to do for a LONG time. It’s something small but I hope it will grow into something more! I’m also working on building up my site and business, and once I actually start bringing in some income, I want to donate 10% of it to a group like Kiva.

    Thanks for the inspiring post and the reminder not to forget my heart issues!

    1. That is awesome! I hope you have an awesome time volunteering. Seriously, I think we were made to serve others and when we do it feels great. It’s like working out, only better.

      That is awesome about Kiva! I love hearing about people who take their business profits and do something awesome with it money. Keep it up!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Scroll to Top