After 12 years in radio, Rick Hempsmyer took a job with the Salvation Army because it "made sense." Helping people filled the spiritual hollow in his life, and he continues to fight stereotypes and bureaucracy in offering a hand-up to those in need.
BW: What does the Salvation Army really do?
RH: The philosophy is pretty basic--if someone is thirsty give him water; if someone is cold give him a coat; if someone needs a place to sleep give him shelter.
What role does religion play in that generosity?
You can't force God. You need to give respect, food and clothing and let people make their own decisions. Religion is never required, but we do have a church and encourage people to seek spirituality.
Are you religious?
I have always rebelled against organized religion. I was raised LDS, and then I went eastern with Taoism, Buddhism and Zen. All have a bit of the truth, but it's how you express faith--doing good works in the world; being kind to your fellow man; taking a focus. I'm Episcopalian now. It's a strong Christian religion, but there's room for thought, compromise and acceptance.
How did you end up in charity work?
Eight years ago, nothing was making sense. Then I ran into a Salvation Army captain in Boise and we chatted. He was a good communicator, curious, and he offered me a job doing community relations. I said yes because it made sense. I didn't know anything, but I wanted to do good works somewhere. I had a spiritual awakening.
What do you do as director of development?
I raise money and communicate to the media and population of Ada County what SA does and why it deserves support. I show them what we do; that's how you sell an organization like this.
There's been an uproar in the North End over the change in mission at the Boothe Family Care Center. How do you sell that?
Some members of [North End Neighborhood Association] feel the Boothe Center is a detriment to their community. It comes down to stereotypes. They're afraid that suddenly, 60 to 70 homeless men will be drinking beer, urinating on their shrubs and abusing their animals, but it's a misconception. They need to understand that this is an emergency facility, not a shelter. And the fact that hardly anyone knew we were even in the neighborhood until now is proof that we can do a good job and be a good neighbor.
Who's your favorite Muppet?
Kermit, because he overcomes his greenness--always.
Do you ever feel like you can't overcome your greenness as it relates to the homeless situation?
Too many people have a Mother Teresa complex and think they have to do something superhuman, but it's the everyday things that make real change. Batman doesn't swoop down with a pair of warm socks, you know.