Cup of Cool Water is a nonprofit ministry in downtown Spokane that “walks alongside youth who are homeless on their journey of reconciliation with themselves, God, and society.” For almost 25 years they have kept their doors open to youth, ages 14-24, from a wide range of backgrounds and personal beliefs.
The organization operates from the standpoint of “come as you are,” and be welcomed into a supportive community. They emphasize that their work is not dependent on a specific faith, but exists to support youth in loving themselves, continuing to grow, and finding and embracing the spiritual element of life.
“More than anything they need a caring community to surround them and opportunity—even if it’s just to figure out who they are,” said Executive Director Randy Waltman.
Cup of Cool Water offers a place for youth to eat, shower, do laundry as well as other opportunities for community service and job training.
Currently, there are eight participants in their job program. The program teaches skills through painting buildings and houses in the community with the goal of steady employment. With Cup of Cool Water staff supporting them every step of the way, graduates choose their next move into jobs like manufacturing, food service, and even music production.
“We measure our impact on one life at a time… People want data and numbers, which is important, but we like to measure by changed lives. Not in the way we may think is best, but what the youth are striving for,” said Waltman.
Funding from the Washington Youth Development Nonprofit Relief Fund allowed for stipends to fairly compensate the youth for their hard work. The stipend provides stability for the youth while they are in the program, throughout training, and during their transition into a new job. So far, all their graduates have stayed employed and housed.
Waltman clarified, “We have a job training program because the youth wanted a job training program. This is not playing into the idea of ‘they need to get a job.’ Youth inform what we offer.”
Another important aspect of the organization’s work is its model of reconciliation. Youth will not be turned away, but if for any reason they are asked to leave then it is offered as an opportunity for a conversation. They are always welcome to come back and talk to staff about what might have happened. The door is never closed. The same is true for youth working with and for the community.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years,” said Waltman, “One thing I’ve learned the most is that proximity builds compassion. The more people engage with marginalized populations, the more stereotypes are broken, the more we see humanity and hearts are softened.”
Waltman’s personal experience with homelessness as a young man drives him to ensure that young people have support and role models. He sees Cup of Cool Water as a community-led effort and hopes to one day, “work themselves out of a job.”
“I want to be a difference-maker. Not in a savior way… but a person of service.”