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Cup of Cool Water helps teens survive and change lives

By Janae Cepeda

Welcoming youth aged 22 and under with the “betterment-to-development” model of Christian social service, Cup of Cool Water (CCW) helps youth on the streets or at its downtown Spokane center with survival and basic needs before helping them change their lives.

Many youth who drop in are homeless and on the streets, said founder Mark Terrell.

“They are human beings created in the image of God, people deserving respect, love and honor,” he said.

He said that the “betterment to development” model comes from Christian community developer Robert Lupton of Focused Community Strategies Urban Ministries in Atlanta, Ga.

To clarify the model, Mark said the center may welcome youth by “giving a fish”—food, clothing, laundry, showers or shelter—but then “teaching them to fish”—through workshops, Bible study and mentoring relationships. 

Noah Sutherland at CCW
Through the Cool Water Bikes job-training program, Noah Sutherland, right, helps Andrew Jackson Palmer repair a bike.

The next part of Cup of Cool Water’s vision includes an education center, alcohol and drug recovery, its new Cool Water Bikes and other small business and job opportunities. 

The final goal would be for youth to be able to “buy a pond,” meaning that they would live independent lives away from the streets, perhaps coming back to volunteer or serve on staff.

The Cup of Cool Water’s bike ministry provides youth who come an opportunity to learn skills so they can move into the job market sooner rather than later, he said.

Through “Earn a Bike,” each young person works for 10 hours learning mechanics and then receives a bike, helmet and lock.

Noah Sutherland, who began as a volunteer 10 years ago and has been on staff seven years, took a three-week training in Oregon on professional bike repair before becoming coordinator for the program.

“We have set it up as an official business so we can sell bikes,” said Noah, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1996 at the University of Idaho.

He and two volunteers work with one to five young people at a time.

“In this work, I can be free to be who God created me to be, to have relationships,” he said.

CCW hopes to further develop the program with job training and life skills, as well as one-on-one relationships.

Because some who come through their doors have criminal backgrounds, it is difficult for them to find employment or housing.  If they have work for the program on their resumes, it gives them an edge, Mark said.

In the spring of 1995, he kept thinking about and praying for two homeless youth he met while he was a psychology student at Whitworth University. 

Soon, praying for them didn’t seem to be enough, and he knew they needed something more tangible.  The idea emerged to share the love and hope of Christ with street youth through developing healthy relationships and providing services. 

The Cup of Cool Water ministry started out of the back of his car and transitioned through partnerships with several churches, moving into the building at 1106 W. Second Ave. in 2002.

He initially drew the name from the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 25, in which Jesus says, “When I was thirsty, you gave me a drink.”

Now the ministry refers to Psalm 107:35 to define its ministry as “turning the desert into pools of water and the parched land into springs of water.”

The CCW wants the teens to come away “having their shame lifted, replaced with truth and hope,” said Mark, who believes shame is the primary issue facing teens in Spokane today.

“Youth embody shame from head to toe, not like we feel it when we make a mistake.  It kills them inside and in turn causes the other issues,” Mark said.

During drop-in hours from noon to 2 p.m., Monday and from 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, with dinners 7 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, teens from many backgrounds come together to connect and develop their lives.

The youth have a place to hang out, eat food donated by individuals and groups, work on hobbies, have haircuts, do laundry, find clothing in a clothing bank and visit with other teens.

A young woman involved in prostitution once commented that when she comes to Cup of Cool Water, it’s the only time in her day when she feels peace.

Program leaders relate to the youth by offering listening ears to hear their personal struggles.

“Ministry is not “something you do to someone.  It’s not negative or asset based,” Mark said. “We are not here to home in on someone’s flaws and hurriedly convert someone to our way of thinking.  We gain nothing except the joy of seeing them grow and the assurance they are in God’s hands.”

The Cup of Cool Water website,, describes the philosophy of ministry as one of grace over law, relationship over program, empowering over enabling, long term commitment over short-term, community over isolation, equipping over hindering, acceptance over discrimination, unconditional love over rejection.

Mark gave two examples to ponder on the power of listening.

“The first is of a man on the street who is an alcoholic with one arm.  One response can be to refer to him as the one-armed drunk.  Another response is to ask questions to learn about his life, understand him and love him without bias,” Mark said.

“The second story is one from a few years back where I met a homeless man on a street corner.  The man proceeded to enlighten me on his life for the next 45 minutes.  Afterward, the man thanked me for listening and said I was the first Christian that has given him the time of day and listened in nearly five years,” he said.

Jesus’ ministry, Mark said, was one of caring about people, releasing them from shame so they can “be alive.”

“This is what the Cup of Cool Water ministry hopes to do,” he said.

Mark said that the volunteer and staff leaders have learned about themselves as a result of working there, finding that the teens often teach them and that their own faith has grown.

He believes that their ministry makes Jesus real to youth—more loving, caring and gentle. 

Staff and volunteers, he said, can see through the youths’ feelings of being “slime balls,” helping them become aware that “Jesus sees the better parts of us and draws those out, so that we can experience him together,” he explained.

Cup of Cool Water continually seeks volunteers and offers training.

The nine staff members attend Vintage Faith Community, New Community Church, Manito Presbyterian Church, Valley Calvary Chapel and a Catholic church.

Each week 20 to 30 volunteers, who come from a variety of churches, help during the afternoons.

The ministry served more than 500 in 2009, up from 429 in 2007.

For information, call 747-6686 or visit