The first time I got to interview Paul, it was in June 2017, only a few months he and his family started ShowerUp in Nashville which was October 2016. It’s been six years and now ShowerUp has mobile units in six cities as well as a disaster-response team.
- Nashville, TN
- Chicago, IL
- Huntsville, AL
- Wichita, KS
- Hartford, CT
- Boston, MA
Niki: I saw your recent photos, you, Rhonda, and your four daughters on your “Who We Are” page. You have a beautiful family. Are they all helpers with you?
Paul: Everyone helps even our oldest daughter. She’s pretty busy with school but she pitches in whenever she can.
Niki: I read your back story. So, you were in radio? How cool is that? A path not taken in my life; one I look down wistfully sometimes you know? Now everyone has a “radio” station. Podcasts are the new radio. Do you guys have a podcast? Any plans for one in the future?
Paul: No, not yet, but maybe someday.
Niki: So, tell me about that moment where you got that big nudge from God. “Yo Paul. Do this. Not kidding!”
Paul: It was a Sunday morning. I had literally just been scrolling through my news feed when I came across a story that featured a mobile unit that had showers. I thought, “Oh, I wonder if that’s something we could do to provide showers for people who are experiencing homelessness.” I paused on it for a moment and asked that internal question “Is there anything there?” and that was the moment that I heard God say to me “You’re doing that.”
Niki: You heard this in your head? In your heart?
Paul: I was by myself. I heard God — in my head, in my heart, both – saying “You’re doing that.” And I said, “No I’m not.”
Then I heard again, “You’re doing that.”
I said, “I don’t have time.”
The third time I heard, “You’re doing that.”
I said “Okay. I guess I’m doing this.”
I was old. I was 50 at the time. When we launched, I think we were only like the third organization in the country to provide showers for people experiencing homelessness. I was not aware of anyone else doing it.
Niki: You must have felt overwhelmed by this with so many questions.
Paul: I feel overwhelmed every day, but I’ve also learned to trust every day.
Niki: So, was there a dream that led to this, something you wanted to do to help others?
Paul: There was, but not necessarily my dream. It became something God created. Before ShowerUp, there was a revelation of my heart probably five or six years before. I was challenged with the idea of “What does it really mean to be a Jesus follower?”
Niki: Like the book, “In His Steps”?
“…Jesus sure did care for the poor.”
Paul: I read that yes. But Jesus sure did care for the poor. Our family started handing out lunches to people experiencing food insecurity, clothing, backpacks, sleeping bags, and other needs. A good chunk of our extra time went to that.
Niki: That’s so inspiring. The dream of one person can change so much. Have you heard about Sister Lucy Kurien, Maher?
Paul: I have not.
Niki: (I briefly told Paul her story.) After 25 years, Sister Lucy’s heart is wide open still and breaks constantly, but that kind of openheartedness — I mean, the heartbreak comes with it, doesn’t it? You’ve experienced it, I’m sure. Are there any stories that stick with you over the years?
Paul: We’ve had equal extremes of heartbreak and triumph. It’s the same person sometimes. There is forward momentum, but progress is seldom in a straight line. I do have one story. One guy that is – he makes my day better when he shows up. Danny. We were serving Danny for a couple of years. He was probably our age, 50 to 60. He would come to get a shower and talk about fishing or talk about moving back up north to get a cabin on a lake.
There was a time right when the pandemic hit, we noticed that Danny stopped coming. We hadn’t seen him in weeks, and I remember thinking, “I hope everything is okay.” When people stop coming suddenly, we worry something bad happened, but we hoped for the best.
Danny came back probably eight or ten months later. He just showed up one week. I was so happy to see him. He looked great. I asked, “What happened? Where have you been?”
He said, “You guys posted a picture of me…” The picture we posted was just after he got a shower. We partner with Mobile Laundry. Danny had just gotten his clothes washed and was sitting on the curb with his backpack open and a stack of clothes neatly folded next to him. You have never seen folded clothes as neatly as Danny folded clothes. We took a picture of Danny with his clothes placed in a stack near his backpack.
When I posted the picture, I remarked on how well Danny folded his clothes and I wrote something like, “Someone who does this still has hope. Do you still have hope in life for tomorrow, that tomorrow will be a better day?”
Danny said, “I saw that post that you made, and I thought ‘I do still have hope.’” So he went and he got himself a job. It turns out his employer was a great guy who gave him a lot of hours of work and helped him find an apartment. And Danny was given by his employer’s brother an old pickup truck that needed a ton of work and his boss let him work on the truck when he wasn’t busy. So, Danny watched YouTube videos to learn how to fix up his truck.
He said to me, “Do you want to see it?”
At first, I thought he meant a picture.
“I drove it here,” he said.
So, I went and saw the truck. He did a beautiful job on it. He said, “Paul I’m doing great.”
This story just tells me what hope can do in someone’s life. And Danny still shows up every six months. He came to visit again four or five months ago. He’s one of these guys who made a decision and was ready to do something with it.
Niki: Thank you for sharing Danny’s story. Hope is so powerful, for sure. Have you heard about Project Roomkey in San Francisco?
Paul: I have not but it sounds similar to the Nashville government’s project. In the State of Tennessee, there is a non-profit that is working to rapidly rehouse people. Hundreds of people have been helped with rapid, temporary housing.
Niki: Are you a part of it?
Paul: We help people stay in touch with caseworkers sometimes. It depends on the city. We’re connected with an organization called Vitality based in California. We’re getting ready to launch in Chicago. They work with doctors who go mobile. They take physicians and they’ll do anything, not just blood pressure, and not just wound care which is very important but also stuff requiring regular follow up, like treatment for chronic illnesses that require regular monitoring.
Niki: So, was there anything you and your family shared about this work, a common heart thread?
“See a need. Fill a need.”
Paul: We always wondered what need had to be met and looked for that.
Niki: That reminds me of that great animated movie Robots “See a need, fill a need.” Have you seen it?
Paul: No but I’ll look for it.
Niki: So, you guys were out on the street already while you were a radio host, handing out meals, blankets, sleeping bags, backpacks. And then came the idea for mobile showers. Now you have how many mobile units? In how many cities?
Paul: We are in four cities and getting ready to launch three additional cities this year – two in New England in Hartford, CT, and in Boston, MA. We have seven mobile units total. Nashville has four and we have one in each additional city. We have some national units that are used for disaster relief now in Kentucky.
Niki: Wow disaster relief is huge. Tell me about that.
Paul: Disaster relief has become a part of our mission because there are needs that we can help meet right away, and we want to be a part of the solution.
Niki: Do you have a staff now or are you all volunteers?
Paul: We have staff now. We have three full-time staff and a few part-time staff. Still, we’re non-profit so we rely mostly on our hundreds of volunteers. For example, this Sunday there are 25 jobs available on the volunteer sign-up for handing out coats and shoes with another organization.
Niki: Would you say ShowerUp is a hub for other organizations that are helpers to gather?
Paul: Not a hub, really. We believe in partnership. In that regard, we’re partnering with people.
Niki: When did you get your product page going? I love the “Shower joy” for the holidays one.
Paul: We’ve always had a tee-shirt for sale. In the past year, we started working with a vendor to handle all the printing. That artwork for “Shower Joy” was from one of the people that loves ShowerUp. They have some skill and talent and we asked for some ideas, and they came up with some great ones.
Niki: Has this helped with expenses?
Paul: Not so much. It’s not a significant revenue stream. We make a few dollars.
Niki: How much does it cost to run one mobile unit say for a month? Can I ask you that? I ask because we’ve supported MissionWolf.org over the years off and on but I had no idea how much it cost to run the place until they put out a newsletter. That inspired me to do more.
Paul: We send out an email to donors and volunteers every other month and let people know what we’re doing what projects they can participate in, and where there is need.
Niki: Tell me about the photographer who has been taking these incredible portraits lately. How did you meet? Will you be doing a series? Can these be purchased? Are you going to make these into cards? Can you tell me how this is done? I saw the one today you posted on Instagram of the young man and his dog. So beautiful. Gritty. Real. And so beautiful.
Paul: Those photos are done by Eric Dolberg. He’s our Operations Manager for Nashville. He had a degree in photography and has a side business, but he works for us full time.
Niki: So, you began in October 2016. That was a big month for me. It’s the month I met Elle Luna on Awakin.org. During the interview, you could call in and ask questions. And that’s when I heard about #the100dayproject on Instagram and that’s how I met you initially. You began posting photos on Instagram and other social media. I was in a bad place emotionally, in one of those holes that happen after a tragedy. I believe Someone sent Elle or I was nudged her way. If we’re open it happens.
Paul: It does.
Niki: Would you be willing to be on a podcast in the future? I’d be booking super-in-advance of course. I could ask you questions all day.
Then, we ran out of time. But I did ask Paul one follow-up question by email.
Niki: Have you found that the generosity of people with little is exponentially greater than those with abundance?
Paul: Great question. I don’t know the answer. I can tell you that I talk to many people who feel that their abundance allows them to be more generous and that they find real purpose and impact from supporting the work of organizations like ours. I have been told often that their participation is in funding and that’s what they have been called to do. What I have found is that, though the amounts may be vastly different, the heart is the same. A generous heart can’t be measured by dollars and cents.
Other questions for our next (third) interview:
- What does the future of ShowerUp look like?
And, because Paul is in Nashville, I thought of another question an interviewer asked a long time ago:
- “How is Elvis, and have you seen him lately?”