While Jenn Miller was working on her senior project at Alaska Pacific University in the summer of 2021, she was determined to help others have their voices be heard. She felt the laws and boards created to help the homeless weren’t as effective as needed and wanted the community to see the homeless as individuals. She pitched her professors the idea of allowing street people to share their stories and she would make a short film. Like a documentary. But Jenn realized she was asking for something, not helping.
She found a community endeavor in another state and thought it was a great idea that could be accomplished in her hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. How we are sharing the message and how we strive to do the work of Jesus may not solve everyone’s problems, Jenn thought, but to be the light for one person at a time, with something as simple as a warm shower, can make a difference.
The project of “Showered in Grace” began! The mission is to help bring dignity to people who are stigmatized and marginalized in our community and facilitate a network of support. Jenn says, “God has called me to care for others and to meet them where they are.” Her ability to listen and not judge people for their circumstances is crucial to this project. This is also an opportunity to use her white privilege to open the doors and ask the questions that others have not been able to.
Owned by the United Methodist Church in Alaska with the purpose of providing emergency disaster relief, the mobile trailer has three fully enclosed shower stalls each with a sink, towel rack and bench. Miller says donations from different churches and organizations will help provide soap, shampoo, conditioner, and a clean towel to each person seeking a hot shower, no questions asked. “I’m not trying to preach that you have to believe like I do, love like I do, look like I do,” said Miller. “I’m just there to say ‘hey, do you want a clean shower?’ And meet the people where they are.”
“There are so many decisions being made regarding those who are homeless, yet without their voice being included. Our volunteers will see and humanize the issue of homelessness instead of stigmatizing all homeless individuals as “bad” people,” Jenn says. She envisions Showered in Grace will help those who have been looked down upon to see that they are not invisible.
With so many great organizations to give assistance to, those who support Showered in Grace will find that one service is offered: a shower to give people dignity and improve their self-worth. When seeking community support, Jenn learned more about how others see this project, which has been more telling of WHY we need this project: to show love to those who feel unnoticed. There have been expressions of fear from the community, but there has been more support than criticism. Jenn was surprised how many inquiries reached her right after the first news piece was aired on local television.
Community involvement is welcomed, and funding needed as the project grows. The organization is working on the 501c3 paperwork so those who are wanting to donate funds will have a direct place to donate to. Different United Methodist churches are accepting monetary donations on behalf of Showered in Grace. Donations of individual toiletry items came in from a company that sells those items to the hotel industry. There have been people who have reached out with smaller tangible donations. Pastors are talking to their congregations to allow the program to use space to park the shower trailer and water for showers.
The biggest challenge has been getting the shower trailer up and rolling! So far, over $2,500 has been spent on fixing mechanical problems. The hot water heater and pump were cracked. Jenn was fortunate to have her brother and his friend complete these repairs. Then it was discovered that the shower mixer cartilage was also cracked. And of course, the repair part could not be located in Alaska, so it was ordered from “outside,” taking a while to arrive. Now the weather has been well below freezing for two months and the long winter is just beginning. Not a good time to attempt mechanical repair.
The project is not without associated financial costs. Revolving needs include propane for the water heater, gray water disposal, gas for the truck to haul, shower supplies, clothes, towels, sanitizing supplies and more. Also needed is storage for the trailer in Anchorage, eliminating hours of driving back and forth to Wasilla where the trailer is currently stored.
When asked if she could put into words what "fears" we, as United Methodist Women and Christians, are struggling with here, Jenn responds, “I see people struggling with and alarmed about the unknown. Not understanding how to help or if they will really make a difference.” There is a mixed response between compassion and “giving handouts” which “will enable them to be lazy.” To keep her motivated, there are many Bible verses that she turns to, starting with Luke 3:10-11: “And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”
While Showered in Grace is taking baby steps, Jenn says this evolving mission project has made her focus more on what God has been calling her to do. She knows that God has lined up people in her life, giving her a support team to make this a possibility.