Many Hands Make Lighter Loads

Text by Jessica Strickland/
Photos by Jessica Strickland

Debbie Booher is an advocate for the homeless in Austin, Texas. Along with working a full-time job, Booher has dedicated her life and free time to serving those in need. Booher has felt a calling to help others since she was a child. When she was six years old, she asked her parents if she could give her McDonalds Happy Meal to a homeless man on the street. Today, she still purchases extra food and supplies and donates it to people on the street. As she watched the homeless population grow, she wanted to do more. In 2018, she teamed up with two friends to launch Lighter Loads.

Booher wanted to help Austin’s homeless by providing fresh clothes, a hot shower, a hot meal, toiletries, chiropractic treatments, haircuts, and most importantly, community support. She also wanted to make sure they had fun doing it, so she hosted block parties with music and a festive atmosphere.

Homeless in Austin, TexasJessica Strickland: Two women, who are Debbie and Laura, are under a large white tarp wearing black clothes and aprons hugging each other behind a table of food in pots .
Debbie Booher (right) hugs co-founder Laura Ritchie in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jessica Strickland

She proposed early on to her co-founders that she wanted to ask a few of their regulars if they wanted to volunteer to help run the block parties. 

Booher said she is a “big proponent of serving and what it can do for the human spirit,” so she lines up side-by-side with the volunteers to help out. 

“They genuinely enjoy contributing to the community and helping others. It gives them purpose;  everyone wants to feel needed,” she said.  

Homeless in Austin, Texas: Woman wearing a black shirt, red baseball cap and blue earring placing food from a larger container into a plastic plate
Debbie Booher (right) and volunteers serve meals to houseless individuals in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jessica Strickland

The volunteers don’t have the typical wall between them. They volunteer together, pray together, eat a meal together and socialize as friends. Some are homeless, but they have a home community.

“Many homeless feel invisible, and we want them to know that they matter here with us, they need to hear that from someone,” said Booher.

She knows most of her clients by name. She asks for updates on their job interviews, where they are staying and how they are doing. She listens. She sees herself as a mother figure to those who don’t have family in their life.

Booher said passers-by often avoid making eye contact or talking to people living on the street, which can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.  Something as simple as acknowledging them and smiling can have a profound positive impact on their day.

“Roll down your window, smile at them and tell them you don’t have any money to spare but you hope they have a good day,” she said. 

Homeless in Austin, Texas: Black wWoman in yellow coat and face mask giving a haircut to a Black man with pink barber chair cloth on
Man receives a free haircut to prepare for a job interview in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jessica Strickland

Booher said helping someone move into permanent housing fuels her mission. 

“So many people can’t get a job interview because they don’t have any clean clothes or a shower. We have had many people get a job because of our services which leads them to getting into permanent housing,” she said.

Booher attributes her success and ability to serve to her deep relationship with God. 

“If Jesus were still alive today, he would be working side by side with me serving the homeless.”

Student Biography: Jessica Strickland is a senior at Kennesaw State University studying political science. She plans to attend law school after graduating. She is passionate about women’s issues, climate change and serving her community. She would like to use her degree to leave the world a little better than she found it.

Women’s Leadership through Virtual Exchange: Youth Sharing Digital Stories (WLVE) is a project engaging 100 undergraduate and graduate students from Hassan II University Casablanca with 100 undergraduate students from Kennesaw State University in a unique cross-cultural virtual exchange experience focused on better understanding women’s leadership through research, analysis, and digital storytelling. This virtual classroom-based project will collect biographical stories of successful women leaders in both countries written by the students and publish them online on Bokeh Focus. 

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