George's Inspiration: Kansas Homeless Shelter Head

George volunteered with homeless shelter head nearly three decades ago.

May 19, 2010— -- My story of inspiration is one of service, charity and hope. It comes from just a couple hundred miles from the heart of America, the geographical center of the U.S., in Kansas.

There is a man there named Loring Henderson and he's inspired me for a very long time -- nearly three decades.

Henderson runs a homeless shelter in Lawrence, Kan., giving hope to those whose lives have whittled down to just a bag of clothes, a blanket and a pillow.

"He's allowed them to get an education, he's allowed them to get a job…these are all footprints he's going to leave in somebody's life," said former colleague Marla Mirabile, director of Redemptorist Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Those footprints also had an impact on my life. Henderson lives out an ancient lesson that says "whoever saves a life saves the world."

That is the lesson he taught me when we first met almost thirty years ago. I had just started as an intern in Washington, D.C. after college. Henderson and I met through work at similar think tanks and immediately hit it off.

Then one weekend morning Henderson introduced me to his life of volunteerism and took me to volunteer at a soup kitchen. For years he helped that soup kitchen, it was one of the many organizations he was devoted to. we volunteered there together.

Henderson also helped Dolores Wilson open a residential home for developmentally disabled adults called the Bethlehem House in Washington, D.C.

"We call him the Godfather of Bethlehem House and he was very instrumental in our beginnings," Wilson said.

But there's one act of kindness Wilson said she'll never forget. One of the residents, Michael, was wheelchair-bound but he yearned to go swimming.

"Every Saturday Loring came and took Michael to the pool at the YMCA," Dolores said. "I think Loring gave him a sense of importance…he just loved his time with Loring."

In the early 1990s Henderson was ready for his second act. Hi path of compassion and service took him back to his hometown of Lawrence. He put his big-policy work aside and began working at the Redemptorist Center in nearby Kansas City, running the food pantry and other services, helping many people in need.

When I asked him what made him come back to the Kansas - Missouri area, he told me he got a "seven-year itch to get out of Washington," but he also wanted to get back to hands-on work with people.

"It was a time of my life that I'm going to earn a living doing what I really want to do," he said.

Among countless others, another footprint in Henderson's journey was when he helped a young refugee couple from Bosnia, Elvendina and Sadat Tenic get a new start in America.

"He's allowed them a step to get an education," said Mirabile. "He's allowed them a step to get a citizenship. He's allowed them a step to get married. These are all things Loring did."

Mirabile is still moved by working with him, even 10 years later.

"Think about it, to be able to do all that stuff for nothing, you know, for $15,000 or $20,000 a year? Who does that?" Marla said. "A saint. That's Loring."

Before my visit with Henderson ended I wanted to show him the impact from one of the countless footprints he has left. I reconnected him with the Tenic couple, who now have two daughters. Henderson had not seen them in 10 years.

After I witnessed handshakes, lot of hugs and a room full of thanks, it was clear that there is a lifetime of thank you's and many footprints still to come.

Now Henderson is working on getting a larger facility for his shelter in Lawrence, as the current one is cramped for the nearly two dozen that sleep in a single room. He wants to expand the jobs center to get more of the homeless into the workforce and get into their own homes -- all without a doubt or hesitation.

Henderson has the unique combination of deep commitment with utter lack of judgment – and that is incredibly inspiring.

"He inspires me and I hope he inspires all of us to be a better person, to do more things to help other people," Mirabile said.

"GMA" would like to thank the Lawrence Community Shelter, in Lawrence, Kan., the Bethlehem House in Washington, D.C., the Redemptorist Center in Kansas City, Mo. and the Catholic Key Newspaper in Kansas City, Mo.

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