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Paying it Forward

Kathy and David Voss, founders of Jesus Shack, Inc. with the new mobile medical unit.

David Voss is an incredibly charismatic man; he radiates understanding and comfort. He’s also the president of Jesus Shack, Inc.

But even without the charisma of Voss, Jesus Shack’s success in our community can be attributed to its clear vision. If you have lived in Bakersfield for any length of time, you’ve heard of this Christian-based organization. But forget any pre-conceived notions. This isn’t a church looking for converts. It’s an organization looking to create a better future for our community with a message of pure positivity. Jesus Shack reaches nearly 100,000 people a year. Through extensive community outreach with street teams, concerts, and a mobile medical unit, they hope to leave a lasting impression and encourage action in future generations.

Jesus Shack is the brainchild of Voss and his wife Kathy. Prior to forming the nonprofit, Voss was working as a cardiac scrub nurse and watched people and families experience death and devastation every day. He discovered he had a desire to help people beyond physical healing. While not truly identifying with a specific Christian denomination, the couple had the idea to communicate with and inspire at-risk youth through a music ministry.

Their original idea for Jesus Shack has come a long way since 1997, when they held their first concert. It was a venture that cost them $40,000 and a little faith, that is until one of the inaugural event’s volunteers came to Voss with a blank check to ease his financial worries. The Vosses were moved by the volunteer’s timing and generosity and they were able to grow and pay him back in that first year.

It began as a grass roots concert production company but Jesus Shack now puts on close to 100 concerts a year. Their downtown location is home to a versatile room for performances and corporate meetings as well as an outdoor loading area that doubles as a stage for larger shows. A concert can bring in anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people, giving the Vosses and Jesus Shack staff the opportunity to touch a great number of people. They also apply that experience in event production to assist other nonprofits with putting on their respective events without competing, but working together.

One of the most tangible and tested outreach programs is the Jesus Shack Street Team. Since 2003, teams go out every second and fourth Saturday of the month and target a zip code that shows a need (any need) and they go door to door offering help and hope. With key corporate sponsorships and generous donations, these volunteers bring cases of Pepsi products, food, clothing, and vital necessities to impoverished neighborhoods. The Street Team was established as a way for a variety of local churches, businesses, and government agencies to become directly involved with helping our hurting communities. Anywhere from 60 to 100 volunteers show up each Saturday (everyone is welcome). Although most of the volunteers are young people, Voss is especially excited to see families come out and serve the community together. The Jesus Shack expression is, “Raise a generation to reach this generation.”

A decidedly unique element of the Street Team is that of continuity and frequency. As Voss explained, these groups don’t go out once a year, they are out there every other week reaching families in need.

“We’re just trying to connect,” he added. It isn’t about conversion or religious pamphlets, but offering hope and understanding when poverty and addiction becomes discouraging. “Our whole heart is [there] to break down those walls and to show people that you can work past these problems in your life. There are greater things, don’t give up.”

Sports are another way that Jesus Shack connects with the community. Run It Back and Hoops Xtreme are outlets for kids and young adults to get out and play for a day. Run It Back is a four-on-four flag football tournament and Hoops Xtreme is a two-day basketball tournament during which kids play ten three-on-three games. There are no referees so the kids can practice good sportsmanship and honesty. The goal of these events is to connect to people and establish a trust between Jesus Shack and communities in need. It serves as a tool for Jesus Shack to say, “Hey, we’re here if you need it,” explained Voss.

Recently, Jesus Shack was given the license to provide medical services with their Mobile Medical Program. A large mobile unit has been converted with great effort into a state-of-the-art medical office that will go into under-served areas to provide much-needed care. With a full scope of medical services, the Mobile Medical Program was created in the hopes of benefitting the community by not only offering healthcare to people who had no prior access, but also to prevent ER drop-ins. Voss explained that if Jesus Shack can change that ER drop-in rate by even one percent, it can save Kern taxpayers millions of dollars.

The free medical clinic includes two exam rooms, and an area to take blood and lab work as well as wireless connection to access the Electronic Medical Records Systems and the national database. The mobile unit has the potential to set up extra exam rooms when taken out to a church or community building as well as a triage unit outside to create a smoother waiting experience.

Through a very long fundraising process, the Mobile Medical Program is finally ready to get out and change some lives.

While the goal of the program is to provide prevention, medical education, and chronic care, Jesus Shack is “taking the next step, so to speak,” said Voss. The program isn’t there to just throw drugs at a problem one time, or repeatedly provide a quick fix—they want to help guide people to prolonged health by giving them the tools to live a healthy life.

“At some point, we want to get your head in the game,” he added.

Jesus Shack is quickly becoming a highly-respected philanthropic organization in Bakersfield. And it does so through generous donations of both time and finances. Voss and company rally their volunteers around a message of forgiveness and hope. With its offices fully paid for and little to no overhead, it is an organization that donors and volunteers can see how they have helped with a direct application of money and time. They can even help people seeking employment connect with jobs through their partners, Fastrip and Carl’s Jr.

Yet one of the most important elements of Jesus Shack and its community outreach projects is that they aren’t going to serve entitlement, and they will give happily and generously with the return of accountability. “We’re not going to entitle you. You will give back,” said Voss. Whether it’s through helping with the Street Team or volunteering with other charity organizations around town, Voss hopes to instill a responsibility in the people they help to pay it forward and understand there is a “value to what they are receiving.”

It isn’t necessary to be Christian to help or be helped by Jesus Shack. “Everyone will be treated the same,” said Voss. It seems more that Jesus Shack wants people to open up their heart to the idea of something bigger than themselves, and in doing that you can truly make an impact in the lives of others.

“How do we grow if we don’t move beyond ourselves?” Voss added.

Article appeared in our 28-4 Issue - October 2011