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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Embodying kindness on the streets of Las Vegas

One Great Hour of Sharing gifts helps Caridad Gardens restore houseless veterans and neighbors back into community

May 9, 2024

Former youth pastor Merideth Spriggs is the founder and chief kindness officer o Caridad Gardens in Las Vegas. (Image courtesy of Caridad Gardens)

For Shawn Duncan, it’s the little things — like getting a birthday card — that mean a lot.

Perhaps it’s because Duncan, a military veteran living in Las Vegas, hadn’t had a mailbox in years.

Or a home.

A native of Michigan with no strong family ties, Duncan had been struggling for years with homelessness and mental health issues — including PTSD — when a chance encounter on Facebook with his former youth pastor changed the direction of his life.

“I hadn’t talked to him in years, but after my old pastor and I got up on Facebook, he called me later that night and said, ‘Hey, let’s talk,’” Duncan recalled. “And we prayed. That’s when he introduced me to Caridad and Merideth.”

Duncan’s life-changing introduction was to Caridad Gardens, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit dedicated to helping and  “humanizing the homeless” —  through job skills training and mental, emotional and physical wellness programs — and its founder, Merideth Spriggs, a former youth pastor who was once homeless herself.

Spriggs started the organization in San Diego, where she was living at the time, not long after the university where she had been employed laid her off. As a result, she ultimately lost everything, including her unemployment benefits and her home.

“I realized if homelessness could happen to me, it could happen to anybody, and that I could be a unique voice,” said Spriggs, whose own work as a volunteer with the San Diego Rescue Mission proved transformational. “Even though I really felt God’s calling on my life to do this, most days I would not have picked this — and still don’t pick this — but I do not feel released from my calling.”

What began in San Diego in 2009 as an all-volunteer organization — which Spriggs said was “a mess to operate” — moved to Las Vegas in its “3.0 version” in 2013.

Spriggs, who has always been Caridad’s director, bears the unique title of “chief kindness officer.”

Caridad Gardens in Las Vegas serves the must vulnerable of God’s children. (Contributed photo)

“When I was doing street outreach in 2014, it was a police officer I was working with who inspired it,” she recalled. “When I gave him my card, he said, ‘That title, director, doesn’t fit you at all. You need to be the kindness officer or something.’ So, I Googled it and since there was no such title, I made it up.”

The unique, street-centered, V.I.P. “concierge approach” of Caridad Gardens is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People, which is in turn supported by Presbyterians’ generous gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

For 75 years, its purpose of helping neighbors in need around the world remains constant, giving the PC(USA) and other Christian denominations a tangible way to share God’s love. In addition to SDOP, One Great Hour of Sharing also benefits the ministries of the Presbyterian Hunger Program and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Duncan agrees that the title suits Spriggs, not only because she dispenses kindness, but because she also embodies it.

“Merideth has been a big inspiration to me,” said Duncan. “She is not someone who is just talking about something, but she’s actually doing something. She’s not necessarily beating people over the head with the Bible, she’s actually living it — walking the walk and treating people with kindness and respect. It gives me something to be a part of. It tells me something that I want to be.”

“The work of Caridad Gardens, in many ways like Matthew 25, acknowledges that we find the plight of Jesus as well as hope in those who are directly impacted by poverty,” said the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, SDOP coordinator. “Caridad Gardens engages in the intersectional work of recognizing that poverty, race and class are intimately linked. As the Matthew 25 initiative in the PC(USA) focuses on God’s reconciling and transforming work, we see strong traces of this in Caridad Gardens and their ability to walk alongside, gently and lovingly, those who know well the power of trauma and destitution.”

Support Self-Development of People and help transform the lives of people through gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

Emily Enders Odom, Associate Director of Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Thursday, May 9, 2024, the Ascension of the Lord (Year B)

Today’s Focus: One Great Hour of Sharing gifts

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Cheri Harper, Presbyterian Women, Program Manager, Presbyterian Women  
Ginger Harris,  Associate of Lending Services, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program

Let us pray

Almighty God, thank you for your gifts of grace, ministers, new initiatives, and the challenge and opportunity to grow in the knowledge of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.