Interview: Gar Mickelson, Kaleidoscope Community Services

I walk into 2nd Street Commons, a nondescript building in downtown Coeur d’Alene (CDA), Idaho, sandwiched between a dive bar and a closed gun shop. Once inside the first thing I realize is that I have no idea how to categorize the premises, though I try: a coffee shop without a coffee bar, a living room without a TV, a pub without the liquored smell of vomit, a church without a program. There is no schema that fits, and I love it.

People are simply scattered. They look weary, but comfortable, at ease, respite. Some folks relax on the couch while others bustle up and down hallways, in and out of the kitchen.

It is here where I meet Gar Mickelson. He wears a bright smile, gives a big hug, and introduces me to everyone. “This is my friend Kevin,” he says. And everyone I meet makes me feel like family. They, too, give hugs and handshakes.

Gar gives a tour of the facility. As we walk along I continue to meet people, a mix of volunteers and visitors. Some are cooking, cleaning, painting, hauling. The volunteers are passionate and dedicated. Because I am cynical this is all odd for me. I’m waiting for the hook, the agenda, the money making scheme, something to take me out of this fairy tale of genuine coexistence.

We walk into a new room, “Excuse the camping gear,” Gar says. “We’re holding that for someone who was forced to leave his camp site.”

“For free?” I ask. “You’re holding it for free?”

“That’s what we’re all about here, Kevin. ‘Come and be for free.'”

I really want to give Gar another hug, but that would be too weird. So instead, we head into his office, and I ask him a few questions about how Kaleidoscope Community Services started, when it started, and what the heck this place even is.

What is Kaleidoscope Community Services? What is 2nd Street Commons, and how long has the CDA location been established?

Kaleidoscope Community Services is a private, faith-based non-profit corporation based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. KCS exists to bridge the gap between community needs and community resources, and we do this in a variety of ways.

KCS opened the 2nd Street Commons at the end of January, 2014. Since that time we’ve had over 100 volunteers from 10 different churches, served almost 500 gallons of coffee, served almost 1000 meals, and have gone through approximately 6 miles of toilet paper… 

The 2nd Street Commons is one of the tools we use to meet needs in our local community. Our guests can find a safe and friendly place where they can set their bags down, get a free cup of coffee and a snack, and can eat a hearty and nutritious afternoon meal. Along with our Sunday through Friday afternoon regimen, other groups use the 2nd Street Commons for a variety of gatherings including bible studies, book discussions, birthday parties, movie nights, and professional meetings.

10606244_690810381007761_160818930641238416_nRegarding the CDA community, what are the area’s biggest needs and challenges (e.g., social services or public health)? How does KCS overcome them?

Over the years as I’ve studied struggling communities, I’ve found a common thread between them all: a need for quality people to spend time with at-risk populations. (By ‘at-risk’ I mean those struggling to cope and survive cultural expectations for them. They are people who have not been able to compete and perform like everyone else in the community. They end up in chronic poverty and are usually connected to someone who is in trouble with the community justice system). There is also a high percentage of mental illness and substance misuse.

The key is to provide quality mentoring by trained and motivated community members. This is where the church should shine! Creative, well funded strategies that focus on meeting needs combined with relational mentoring (at all age levels) would help tremendously.

I’d like to know how Kaleidoscope came to fruition. Was it a big vision, a dream? Or was it simpler, a response to community’s needs?

My personal passion for ‘local outreach’ has been developing over the last 20 + years. “The-Church-Reaching-Out” has always made so much sense to me as a follower of Jesus. Over the years this passion has grown and it has always been my dream to have a mission place as an expression of ‘church’. About two years ago I began to think seriously about dedicating the rest of my ministry years to being a ‘local missionary’. As I was expressing my ideas to various friends in various coffee shops, this idea of a ‘catalyst hub’ non profit began to take form in my heart and mind.

One morning as I was discussing my ideas with yet another couple of friends, I described my idea as a ‘kaleidoscope’ resulting from many varying collaborations. One of my friends said “hey that would be a great name for the ministry!” From there it seemed like everything started falling into place. Looking back I have come to think of this journey as one of discovering and naming what was in me from the Lord, then stepping out in faith to actualize it.

10628507_690810407674425_4010372483437369057_nWhat are some of the ways KCS “Connects resources?”

To get ‘real’ information about community needs we attend community meetings, we interview staff persons who work for various social service agencies  and nonprofits serving the under-served, and we talk to the underserved themselves. Once we digest the information we begin to look for connections on the resources side. We talk to other agencies and nonprofits, we talk to staff persons from various churches, we talk to folks in the business community and we look for grants that might help alleviate the needs we see.

How can people help? How can they get in touch with KCS for more information?

We have a Facebook page as well as a website. I can also be contacted through email at gar.mickelson@kaleidoscopecs.com or through the phone at (208) 699-2250.

Donations are always welcome and warmly received!

KCS believes in 100% transparency. Check out their website to see where and how the money is spent. Pretty cool stuff, and if you’d be willing, DONATE. I think it’s a great cause, an incredible re-imagining of local outreach for the underserved. What do you think?

[Pictures from interview segment provided by photographer Lisa Renee]

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