Creating Young Philanthropists: Sean Sheppard
What does Embrace do?
Sean Sheppard: We mobilize college students to restore the homes of disabled veteran homeowners and to serve homeless families by providing food and clothing and, soon, public health and social services. Since I worked as a strength and conditioning coach prior to this, continuing to work with college-age people was a seamless transition for me.
We are focusing on creating young philanthropists. They are the ones truly benefiting from the community service they perform, because our organization is an environment that allows the young people to serve and give back from a young age. When you serve as a young person there's a great chance you will be doing so for the rest of your life.
How do young people benefit from the multi-faith aspect of working side by side with folks of other (or no) faiths?
Sheppard: I think it affects them in an incredibly positive way. They receive real-life exposure to people outside their own faith rather than what is typically shown on television. One of the best ways to get to know those who are different from you is to spend time with them. We aren't necessarily trying to convert people to Christianity—we are teaching people how to serve. When you spend enough time with someone on a regular basis, faith may come up as a topic of conversation. Whatever your faith is, at least you know you have one thing in common with one another—serving those in need.
When it comes to our volunteers, we have an incredibly diverse group of students who serve, and that diversity is mirrored by the people being served. Embrace is bringing people together.
How is this work an expression of your faith?
Sheppard: When the recession hit in 2008, I learned what true adversity is (editor's note: see "From 'Good Guy' to God's Guy" below for back story). I discovered that my purpose on this earth is to help others. I also discovered that I had a gift for helping others and for recruiting people to help others with me. That's what makes my heart sing. When I am helping people, God seems to show me favor. It seems like the more effort I put into giving personally and through Embrace, the more the Lord seems to bless Embrace and bless me personally. In order for God to say, "Well done, good and faithful servant," each day, in my particular case, I need to have spent that day giving in some way, shape, or form.
Can you explain a little bit more about your two programs,
"Healing Our Heroes' Homes" and "Embrace the Streets"?
Sheppard: With Embrace the Streets we want what we are doing out on the streets to help homeless families. Every Wednesday and Thursday we go with students to where the homeless are to serve them. Typically we serve over 100 each night by providing food, blankets, and clothing. We are in the process of constructing a model that provides the homeless with public health services, social services, and other resources that will improve their quality of life while they're on the street while concurrently providing them with information to assist them with getting off the street. Social work and public health professionals and students who are majoring in those areas will provide those tools in a farmers' market format.
Healing Our Heroes' Homes mobilizes volunteer contractors and volunteer college students to come together to restore the homes of disabled veteran homeowners. Disabled veterans often return home to a dwelling that is not equipped with ADA compliant appliances inside or outside the home. We come to the disabled veterans' aid by making their home usable for them, because often their physical and psychological needs have changed dramatically since the time they purchased their home. We have modified five homes so far and are doing our sixth this month (July 2013). We have given over $250,000 of labor and materials into the five homes we've done thus far.
What do you envision for Embrace in the future?
Sheppard: My vision is broad and simple: I want to help tens of millions of people. However God wants me to go about doing that, I'm all in.
Learn more at Embrace. Read more about Sheppard's journey below.
Kara Lofton is a summer intern at ESA and a full-time student at Eastern Mennonite University.
From "Good Guy" to God's Guy
Sean Sheppard is the founder of Embrace, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization that uses community service to bring diverse groups of people together to bring about social wellness in society. Through Embrace, Sheppard devotes his life to helping homeless civilians and veterans. However, 13 years ago, Sheppard was a different person caring about different things.
As an only child who was accustomed to thinking exclusively about his own wants and needs, Sheppard spent most of his teen and young-adult years womanizing and partying with like-minded male counterparts. Sheppard always thought of himself as a "good guy," but never felt that good about himself or his life. Sheppard soon learned that his definition and God's definition of "good" were a great distance apart.
While Sheppard was busy living his life for himself and thinking about all the things he wanted and didn't have, the economy took a turn for the worse. Sheppard had next to nothing in his bank account, and his home was facing foreclosure. This marked the turning point of God's life-changing grace.
Sheppard began helping the homeless at the Salvation Army, and he says, "God put it on my heart to drum up enough energy to start helping people who were worse off than me." The more time and energy Sheppard spent on helping the less fortunate, the better he felt.
As the economy continued to decline, more people faced homelessness, and more nonprofits were forced to close. In 2000, Sheppard established Embrace and began serving the homeless on his own time. Since then, Embrace has helped numerous homeless civilians and veterans through various programs. Sheppard has also brought thousands of people together from all walks of life to assist with his efforts.