That $10,000 Question

The year was 1993. I had just witnessed something incredible and experienced the immediate effects it intended. In just thirty seconds, I knew I was hooked…on marketing. While excessive television may indeed rot young minds and prevent children from exploring the great outdoors, this one commercial may have sown the necessary seeds, at ten years old, to plant me into my future career. 

You may recall “Got Milk?” with the young museum curator eating a peanut butter sandwich, who has the opportunity to win a $10,000 prize for answering the question, “Who shot Alexander Hamilton in that famous duel?” The curator is, unfortunately, out of milk and out of time — mumbling “Aaron Burr” with dismay and a mouthful of sabotage. 

To this day, just thinking of that commercial makes me suddenly desperate for a glass of milk. Yes, good marketing has a way of doing that, and all these years later, I am finally connecting the dots from this childhood moment to my career as an adult, where I get to tell the stories of men and women at Visalia Rescue Mission. While the dots have connected for me, they have yet to do so for many of our Life Change Academy, who are still asking the question, “What do I want to do with my life?” 

In the past three years, I’ve asked our residents two things before graduation:

  1. What are you doing after graduation?
  2. What do you daydream about?

Ironically, those two answers are rarely the same. Some graduates return to their same occupation before the Academy, some stay at VRM as apprentices or are hired as staff, and others work where they’re able. Their daydreams, however, are filled with ambitions to become nurses, pastors, counselors, or for one man, to work in a print and embroidery shop. While our graduates have either learned or relearned what it means to be responsible and work hard where you are, they are still either desperate for a purpose or for a tutorial on how to connect their dreams to a career. In either case, they need tools.

Our Community Center is such a tool, and if you come down for tour, you’ll see the first floor filled with nearly a dozen employees across administration, ministry and development departments. We also have two classrooms, a counseling room, and our main assembly room, which we use for chapel, events, graduations, and recreation, as well as seasonal overflow shelter as needed.

Since 2012, the upstairs has remained wood frames and insulation, but with $20,000 in seed money from Grace Lutheran Church, we are excited to announce our 2017 capital campaign: “All Things Made New” — it’s a reminder to ourselves and a call to you to believe God with us — for more restored lives and new beginnings. Once completed, the upstairs will not only provide us with crucial, additional office and meeting space, but will be home to our new Restoration Room. 

The Restoration Room will encompass the components of a learning and tutoring center, equipping our residents with basic computer and administrative skills. It will also serve as a space for our residents to spread their wings and learn new skills and trades. Our ultimate goal is to connect our residents and graduates with a vocation that provides a living for themselves and their families, but that’s not the end of the story. To quote civil rights leader and theologian, Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Join us in making all things new at

Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.