What is your life’s purpose?
My life’s purpose is to discover the problems that are holding people back and help amass the resources that can fix it for them and others who are suffering from the same barriers.
How are you living your purpose?
I work as a Co-Director of a homeless shelter, Interfaith Sanctuary, in Boise, ID. There I am able to walk alongside many of our most chronically homeless individuals and find out what is holding them back from moving forward in their lives. Once these issues are revealed I find the people in our community who can help create better solutions for this population.
I was honored to present my talk, “Reclaiming a homeless man’s life in 15 crazy steps,” at TEDx Boise this past April. Here’s how that came about. I was working in a tent city that grew outside my shelter doors. These men and women were choosing to live in tents rather than local shelters. I brought in medical aid and nutrition and tried to keep them safe as the weather got colder. During this time, I got to know an ex-con, Bodhi, very well. He asked me if I could help him get a copy of his birth certificate. I said “sure” and that is where our journey began. Once I started seeing all the hurdles that Bodhi would need to jump over to get his birth certificate, I decided to walk alongside him and help him overcome every obstacle. I shared with stakeholders in our community how difficult it is to get your identity back when you are homeless and have no form of identification. As a result, we created a task force that is taking on these challenges and creating real solutions to ensure no one exits the prison system without a copy of their birth certificate. They are using a mobile ID Unit to create State IDs for all inmates exiting the system.
I saw the power of this story and was determined to share it with as many people as possible. I submitted the idea to TEDTalk, pitched it to 12 judges, and was selected as one of the speakers for TEDxBoise. Bodhi is one of thousands of ex-cons across the country who have served their time and been released from prison with little more than a change of clothes and bus fare. Without ID, you can’t get a job and apply for housing, benefits, and support. You can’t do anything! This story revealed a problem and allowed us to collaborate and come up with a great solution.
How did you find your purpose?
It was a slow process of discovery. I have worked in fundraising for many years and have had the opportunity to work with several different non-profits throughout my career. Then, something very personal happened to me and my family. We lost our mother and a year after her death our father had a psychotic break. Working alongside my two sisters to try to save my dad’s life taught me firsthand just how difficult the mental health system is to navigate. We had all the resources at our disposal to bring our dad back to us and failed over and over again.
When my dad passed away three years ago, suddenly my purpose was very clear. I wanted to work with our chronically homeless who are suffering from untreated mental health issues and help them navigate through the confusing and very difficult process of getting out of homelessness and back to self-sufficiency.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
Follow your heart. I would never have predicted that at 52 I would be a Director of a Homeless Shelter. I started in Marketing, moved into event production, found my way to non-profit work but found my true purpose via some very difficult life experiences and also some very inspiring ones. We are always learning and growing and changing; be open to that change and you are sure to find your purpose!
I have learned everything through stepping into it and trying. I fail often but also learn my greatest lessons within those failures. Because of the work I do with our homeless population, I find my purpose from the stories our guests share with me. As we work to help them overcome their barriers, we work to eliminate those barriers for the next person. Every story allows us to make small positive change one day at a time one person at a time.
What resources do you recommend?
Here are some links that have inspired and motivated me to keep pushing:
Utah’s “Housing First” Model
Israel Bayer and his street newspaper Street Roots
The movie I, Daniel Blake—A must see
The movie A Street Cat Named Bob—Amazing and Inspiring
Connect with Jodi Peterson
Website: Interfaith Sanctuary
TEDTalk: “Reclaiming a homeless man’s life in 15 crazy steps”
Jodi Peterson has been working with the homeless community of Boise for more than nine years. In her role as the Development and Co-Director of the Interfaith Sanctuary, she has fashioned events to fundraise for the cause, created visual pieces to help educate the Boise community on the challenges faced by the homeless, and stood in the trenches of the tent city, Cooper Court.