Serving the poor has always been one of Rhonda Schmitz’s passions. Growing up, she spent time in soup kitchens getting to know the homeless — and their stories. Above all else, she saw their desire for relationships. For many years, Rhonda and her husband served alongside each other to provide meals and clothing to the homeless, and along the way, they began to understand their needs. “It all started with a deliberate decision to step outside of our comfort zone and make a commitment to adjust our lifestyle to make that happen,” Rhonda says of her work within the community. In May of 2017, Rhonda and her husband started ShowerUp, which provides showers to the homeless community in Nashville. A visitor to ShowerUp receives a shower kit, a clean towel and a clean, air-conditioned “shower suite” with unlimited hot water.
Rhonda is passionate about her work and honored to create a community of people helping people. Although she pours her whole heart into this work, she also finds time to work full-time for Hattie Jane’s Creamery and raise a Goldendoodle and three little girls at home (plus the ones who have already left the nest). On most days, she can be found listening to “The Wally Show” in her minivan during her morning commute and wearing pink. But today, she is our FACE of Nashville!
What motivated the decision to start ShowerUp?
One day, my husband came to me and told me that he felt we were supposed to start a mobile shower organization for the homeless. We had been talking with our homeless friends over and over about how some of them had labor jobs. They would work hard, get sweaty and dirty and have no way to shower. Some would have job interviews, but no way to get clean for it. We heard this over and over.
We didn’t know how to go about starting it, so in the following weeks, we researched the options and services available to the homeless here and discovered that there was a real need for shower and hygiene services. In fact, at that time there were 4,000-6,000 homeless men, women and children in the Nashville area and fewer than a dozen showerheads available to them. That cinched it for us, and we knew we had to do something. Then, we had to figure out how to do it.
We had been fundraising for a couple of months and raised enough money to buy a box truck. We contacted the Lee Company to see if they could help outfit and convert the truck for us. When the day of our meeting came, one of their leaders shared something surprising with us. He said that right after we made our appointment, another person on their leadership team, who didn’t know anything about us, came to him and said that he had a dream the night before. He said that he dreamed that Lee Company got a box truck, converted it with showers and took it downtown to provide showers for the homeless! They did everything and within a matter of weeks, we had our first mobile shower truck!
What impact does a shower have on members of the homeless community?
The impact has been tremendous! We have had people who have gone weeks and maybe even months without a shower, and the transformation is astonishing. But it’s not just in how they look — you can see it in their eyes and in their smile! On a larger scale, we have been able to develop deeper relationships and help to restore hope and dignity in people’s lives. One lady said it best: “You helped me feel human again.”
We have also seen people get jobs, and eventually get housing, because they were able to count on getting clean. Having the ability to shower means they can work in job sectors where the most opportunity exists, such as hospitality, restaurants and retail.
As the homeless population continues to grow at a rapid pace, more and more people are coming to us and allowing us to be a part of their story. More and more people are volunteering, too, which is creating a community of people helping people.
What does a visit to ShowerUp look like?
If you are experiencing homelessness, a visit to ShowerUp is time spent with friends. While you wait for your turn to get a shower, you will probably get offered water, popsicles, goodie bags or other things that our awesome volunteers bring with them to share. When it’s your turn, a ShowerUp volunteer will give you a shower kit with shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc., and a clean towel and shower pouf. When you walk into your clean, air-conditioned “shower suite,” you can lock the door behind you and take your time enjoying unlimited hot water and a comfortable place to get cleaned up.
If you are a volunteer, your visit to ShowerUp may be a brand new experience for you. And we like that! It’s our hope that people who have never served the poor or the homeless will find it easy to join in and be a part of ShowerUp. Most of the things that our volunteers help out with require no experience and no special skills. When you come, you will be greeted by one of our team leaders, and you will get to choose what you would like to do. We have opportunities to clean, hand out shower kits, pass out towels, work the table for socks and underwear, or just hang out and see what everything is all about. People tell us all the time that one of the best things is just getting a chance to spend a few minutes talking with new friends who may be experiencing homelessness right now.
What has been the greatest reward since you began your work?
One of the greatest rewards has been seeing lives transformed and seeing hope, trust and dignity come back into people’s lives. But honestly, one of my greatest rewards is the volunteers who come to us. Some of them have never done anything like this, and I love seeing their perspective change and seeing how it impacts their lives. They have the most amazing stories of how their hearts have grown and how fulfilled they feel! It’s great to see families come with their kids and see how much kids step up to help. We have seen so many businesses, schools, community groups and others join in to help, as well. It’s really become a great way to have the whole community partner together to make a difference.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learned since starting ShowerUp?
The biggest lesson has been that what we do isn’t about making dirty people clean. It’s about giving hopeless people hope. And hope is a powerful thing. It’s about getting to know people. We all have our stories. I’ve also learned that so many people want to help and make a difference, but often they just don’t know where to begin, and ShowerUp seems to be able to connect with them and make it easy to get involved.
What makes Nashville the perfect place to call home?
Nashville is awesome! I love it so much! The people are so friendly and generous with their time and resources. One of the things we have seen through ShowerUp is how much Nashville cares and supports efforts like ours.
We love the live music, the food, THE PREDS and all the things we can do with our family!
What books are on your bedside table?
Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People by Bob Goff; Kind Is The New Classy: The Power of Living Graciously by Candace Cameron Bure; Fail Until You Don’t: Fight, Grind, Repeat by Bobby Bones; and, of course, my bible.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received, and who gave it to you?
I don’t know who said it (I found it on Pinterest, probably!), but it’s this: “Leave a little bit of sparkle wherever you go!” Again, you never know everyone’s story, so leave someone with a smile no matter what you are doing.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Diet Coke, my sparkly accessories (something sparkly is worn every day) and dry shampoo
ShowerUp is currently in need of sleeping bags and blankets to distribute on cold nights. They are also working towards a third trailer, and will need something to pull it with! If you are interested in donating, click here.
Thank you to Rhonda Schmitz for being such a wonderful addition to our community! And a special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful photos!
It was a radiation oncology class during his junior year of college that pointed Dyra Harris toward his life’s work. Today, this director of the oncology service line with Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at TriStar Skyline is fulfilling that passion — and inspiring both patients and employees alike. Click HERE to meet our newest FACE of TriStar!