Crisis Ministries 

Crisis Management: Brad Cashman follows his bliss

Crisis Ministries
573 Meeting St.
Charleston, S.C. 29403
(843) 723-9477
www.charlestonhomeless.org

What it is:
Crisis Ministries provides food, shelter, and hope to end homelessness and hunger one person at a time.

What $25 would do:
Fund self-sufficiency programs that are mapped out according to guests' needs after an initial assessment. These programs could include mental illness treatment, assistance in finding affordable housing on a minimum wage income, or AA/NA meetings.

Wish list:
• Canned food, preferably #10 cans
• Men and women's underwear in large sizes
• Toiletries
• Towels (white is preferred due to bleaching)
• Cleaning supplies

Brad Cashman hangs up the phone in his small office at the Crisis Ministries homeless shelter. The caller, a photojournalist, wanted to do an essay about homeless veterans. The phone rings again. The man on the line wants to start volunteering right away, with specific hours. "Is this court ordered?" Cashman asks, directing his intense blue eyes to an orderly pattern of sticky notes and schedules on the bulletin board. He reads him the number of a nonprofit where defendants can do community service.

On his way to the shelter lobby, Cashman opens the door for an older man struggling with a walker and compliments the football jersey of a little boy running out the door. He stops in the clinic to greet the medical workers and leans his tall frame in his co-workers' offices to chat. "I like to keep things light," he said. "We're dealing with guests who might be at the most stressful point in their lives."

In his own words, Cashman is following his bliss. After three volunteer coordinators passed through the shelter in two years, the 28-year-old Cashman, with his color-coded file cabinet, scribbled notepads, and passion for service, has brought stability and enthusiasm to the volunteer program at Crisis Ministries, which helps more than 350 people get back on their feet each year.

"It's not about him — it's about others," Matt Whipple, the leader of Cashman's Toastmasters club, says. "Brad consistently looks for ideas and things that he can do to make a difference."

Cashman believes in helping volunteers find their direction, whether it be giving nutritional seminars or doing art projects with the kids. A search for his own direction consumed most of his youth.

"I love understanding how people view the world, whether it's a homeless person, a CEO, or a college student who wants to give back," he says.

His dedication to helping others goes beyond Crisis Ministries. His many community efforts include learning to teach English as a second language and starting up the volunteer program Hands On Charleston. "We should use our free time being hands on, learning more and reading more," he says. "We can find our own passion and bliss and start thinking of ways to get active."

Although Cashman is driven now, when he enrolled in Virginia Wesleyan College, he lacked both volunteer experience and a major. "I didn't have a direction," he says. A project for the homeless he completed in a pottery course sparked his passion for art and volunteerism. "It was the first time I gave myself to a cause," he said.

Inspired by a post-Sept. 11 speech President Bush gave encouraging Americans to volunteer, Cashman decided to dedicate a year of his life to service. After graduating college in 2002, he applied to AmeriCorps, the government's flagship domestic volunteer program.

In AmeriCorps, his assignments ranged from mentoring high-risk middle schoolers to fighting fires with a helicopter crew in Southern California. "My first time in a helicopter was flying into a plume of smoke," Cashman says.

The end of fire season marked the end of Cashman's year with AmeriCorps. Directionless, he returned to his home state of Virginia where he worked construction and studied pottery under a former teacher, who introduced him to Joseph Campbell's book The Power of Myth. Cashman found direction in the book's "follow your bliss" message. He applied to be a team leader for the Charleston-based AmeriCorps team.

"That year Brad discovered what it meant to lead others in service," Cashman's AmeriCorps supervisor Keith Doucette says. "He learned how to motivate his team when they were less than motivated."

"I was in charge of 11 really challenging young adults," Cashman says. His challenge turned traumatic when three months into the program a team member was assaulted. "It was my lowest low," he says. But he decided to go on. "I hit a weak spot early in my volunteer career, but I finished strong, knowing I could handle anything."

After finishing the year, Cashman and four of his team members moved into a house downtown. "I picked the most expensive room because I knew I was going to make something work," he says. "I was going to follow my bliss."

At 25, he applied for the position at Crisis Ministries. He believed in the shelter's mission of breaking the cycle of poverty with education and resources. "Today there are more high-income gated communities and more low-income urban communities that have been neglected," he says. "We need public service, American sacrifice, to continue with this great country."

These days Cashman enjoys his job so much that he often stays late, but initially he struggled with the disorganization. He served as a mediator when multiple groups arrived to serve the same meal in the shelter's soup kitchen. "One old gentleman threatened to hit another man over the head with his cane," Cashman says. He solved the conflicts by creating an online schedule.

Cashman works hard so that volunteers can create happy memories for people going through tense situations. One church group took a little girl from the shelter to the ocean for the first time. She filled a bucket with shells, sand, and water, in an effort to take the beach home with her. "It was like a visit to a new country that opened her eyes up to a new world," he says.

Although Cashman finds fulfillment in fighting poverty, coping with the transient environment of shelter life isn't easy. He remembers joking with a man in a wheelchair who always read mystery novels. "Many of our residents are smart and witty," he says. "I think their street smarts have rubbed off on me." He later learned the man had died of an infection. "I've broken down hard before," he said. "When I clock out, I can't think about work."

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