Shepherd's Heart Fellowship and Veterans Home
Community Partner Profile
Pastor Mike Wurschmidt, Senior Pastor of Shepherd's Heart Fellowship and Director of Shepherd's Heart Veteran's Home, a transitional house for homeless Veterans, has been partnering with fifth-year Occupational Therapy (OT) students from Duquesne University for the past three years. Shepherd’s Heart is a part of the Allegheny County Homeless Engagement Network and is an entry point for homeless veterans to get into the VA system. On average, the center houses twelve male Veterans who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, or drug and alcohol abuse.
Shepherd’s Heart is set up to take homeless Veterans off the streets and get them clean and sober in hopes that they will be accepted into the VA program. The success rate of Shepherd’s Heart is at seventy percent, which is far above the national average of 29 percent. The center has graduated fifty-five men within the past two and a half years. Program graduates have gone on to get jobs at the VA and restaurants, while others have gone on to college or are employed by Shepherd’s Heart. As Pastor Mike relates, “Some of these guys are great leaders.”
Building Relationships Over Time
Each year, for two semesters, OT students partner with Pastor Mike to develop a life skills course for the veterans living at the home in hopes of rehabilitating the men. “Each group [of students] has its own wonderful way to engage and entertain the men.” The first semester is spent getting to know the veterans and reaching a level of mutual trust. Students use the Kawa River Model to help the veterans open up and tell their story. The second
“Our Vets, with the help of students, are now serving others. I love when we can get students to understand that homeless individuals are just like us.”
semester is spent doing life skills training with the Veterans. Students teach how to dress for success in interviews; cooking classes and menu planning; budgeting and balancing a checkbook; relationship building; and computer training where students take the Veterans to the Duquesne computer lab.
Although the students are there to help the men, “The men help the students just as much as the students help them.” Through working with these veterans, the OT students develop a comfort level with individuals who they, in the past, felt uncomfortable interacting among. Pastor Mike notes that by simply talking with the veterans, “in some ways the men were like their [the student’s] fathers––just the trust and respect––it brought great healing to our veterans.” Pastor Mike also observes that “the OT students have brought great healing to some of our vets that have lost touch with children and family.”
This partnership has altered the lives of both the students and the veterans. However, this partnership has also served as means to better the community by helping individuals again become productive members of society, and by opening the eyes of students to a whole new part of their community. “To have the OT students come in, young and excited about life––it was more than a class.”