Every popular super hero has an alter ego. Batman has Bruce Wayne. Superman has Clark Kent. Spiderman has Peter Parker.
Lynn Daniell — executive director of the Raleigh Rescue Mission, a nonprofit serving the homeless in North Carolina’s capital city — has an alter ego, too. Throughout the year, Lynn changes his clean-cut appearance to dress up as Howard, a homeless man with long hair, bent teeth, and grubby clothes.
He speaks at schools, churches, and other events. No one in the crowd realizes who Howard really is; they simply think he’s an impoverished man there to tell what it’s like to lack the basic necessities of life, comforts that most of us take for granted.
When Lynn walks into the room dressed up as Howard, the usual reaction is dead silence.
“Some people feel sorry for me,” Lynn said. “Others are scared to death.”
Lynn uses his alter ego as a powerful method of communicating the hardships of homelessness. On a given night in Wake County, 1,100 men, women, and children are without shelter. The Raleigh Rescue Mission serves them, feeding 1,575 meals each week to individuals who otherwise might be forced to eat out of garbage cans.
A new path
Lynn recently celebrated 20 years at the mission, but his life wasn’t always dedicated to serving the less fortunate. Like most young men, he graduated from college wanting a high-paying career.
“I was striving to be successful,” Lynn said. “I worked for a company that was very fast-paced. If you worked hard, you had a chance to be promoted and make some money.”
But his life was turned upside down at the age of 33 when his wife was diagnosed with cancer.
“For the first two years of treatment, I thought I was strong, capable, and that I didn’t give up,” Lynn said. “Then I realized something: I was working for a start-up company in a high-stress role, with a sick wife. I couldn’t keep doing it.” Lynn had given his life to Jesus Christ at the age of 16, but the new trial prompted him to revaluate his life.
“I went back to the basics of what I really believe and who I was,” he said. “I re-dedicated my life to the Lord.” Lynn’s wife passed away after an 8-year battle with cancer. “At that point, I took a look at my life and asked, ‘What do I want to do?’” Lynn said.
His desire was to get out of the rat-race and participate in something more significant, using his gifts, passion, and life experience to help others. He took three months to analyze and evaluate — and then made a decision.
Helping the needy
Lynn’s first experience with the homeless came through his local congregation, the Church of the Good Shepherd, which hosts Shepherd’s Table. He ran the soup kitchen there part-time. A year later, he joined the Raleigh Rescue Mission, directing day-to-day operations and programs.
“What inspired me to work here is what the Raleigh Rescue Mission has maintained for 51 years — the ministry side of it,” he said. “Obviously, we do a lot of different things that can be done socially in helping people who are homeless, but the ministry part is what has attracted me.”
In 2004, he was hired as executive director.
Lynn’s goals for everyone who comes through the mission are the same: Have a relationship with Jesus, become connected to a local church, stay clean and sober, find employment and a safe place to live, and have goals for their future.
“We want to see transformed lives,” he said. “We also want to see a transformed community. We want better citizens because of the work we’re doing.”
To learn more about the John William Pope Foundation’s support for humanitarian charities like the Raleigh Rescue Mission, click here.
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