Showing Support Through Service:

James Harbour (right) and kitchen supervisor James Poe (left) laughing during the lunch service

For nearly 17 years James Harbour has been blessing the dining halls of the Mission’s men’s center with his infectious smile, positive demeanor, and dedicated service.

He started volunteering with the Mission when it was still a fixture on the corner of 24th Street and 3rd Avenue North near the post office. James had long been familiar with the downtown location, so when he chose to get involved with a shelter, the Jimmie Hale Mission was a logical choice.

“I decided I wanted to do something in a missions setting,” he said, “and a men’s mission made sense to me. I don’t work on Wednesdays so I’ve just dedicated [that time] to serving lunches and that’s what I generally do.”

Even though James was a solo volunteer from the beginning he has had the great pleasure of working alongside several organizations and church groups through the years. Many local businesses and congregations have regularly revolving volunteer schedules at the Men’s Center, and when those groups show up during the Wednesday lunch serve he quickly becomes a part of that family.

James is a living yearbook filled with nearly two decades of Mission success stories. He recalled men being reunited with estranged family members thanks to the help of dedicated counselors. He recounted tales of clients who were malnourished when they entered the shelter who later became influential staff members and even program directors. James has also seen many former clients thriving in and around the city years after completing the program and said that all of these memories fill him with joy.

James prepares a plate for the clients

He offered an example of an encounter he had while eating breakfast downtown some years ago.

“There was this couple sitting near me and I could see the woman [from my position], but not the man,” he said. “When they got up to leave she came over and said, ‘You have no idea what it meant to my husband that you were [at the Jimmie Hale Mission] helping.’ He apparently saw me and told her that he remembered me. That brought me to tears.”

“I’m certainly not changing anyone,” he added with a hearty laugh, “but it means a lot to me to be associated with [the Mission]. I’ve just seen fantastic things happen here. It’s quite amazing.”

James is incredibly dedicated to his Wednesday post. In fact, aside from an illness that left him recuperating in a hospital for several months a few years back, he rarely misses the mid-week opportunity. When asked about why he’s so passionate and committed, James didn’t miss a beat.

“I think the people that serve get as much, if not more, out of the experience than the clients,” he confessed. “The idea of service, of helping somebody means a lot. Look, they have plenty of people in the kitchen, they don’t really need us, but it shows the men that people care when they come because they want to, not because they have to. And I think that showing your support actually helps people get better.”

James has not only been a consistently positive influence in the men’s dining hall, but has also persuaded others to look at the world a little differently thanks to additional encounters he has had at the Mission.

James arranging plates for the men at lunch

“My nephew from Illinois came to visit one time,” he said. “It happened to be on a Wednesday so I brought him to serve lunch. He’d told me before that he’d never hire someone with a GED because he thought if they dropped out of high school, they didn’t have enough gumption to work at his [grocery] store. I told him about the GED program here and he met [several staff members] and he said, “I’ve changed my mind.’”

When asked about what advice he would offer perspective volunteers, James said he would encourage them to take the leap. And though he’s particularly fond of the Jimmie Hale Mission, he feels that the needs in the city are great and that helping anywhere is better than nowhere at all.

“Just pick out something and do it,” he said. “Then you’ll find out if it’s something you want to continue to do. If you’re a person whose found success in a program similar to this I would think that’s even more reason to get involved. It’s just about helping someone else, that’s the main thing, and it’s very rewarding.”