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Rev. Bill Roscoe: On a rescue mission

Rev. Bill Roscoe, CEO of the Boise Rescue Mission. Photo by Pete Grady.

Rev. Bill Roscoe, CEO of the Boise Rescue Mission. Photo by Pete Grady.

Most of us have struggled with the all-too-familiar situation.

You’re leaving the grocery store in your car, and there’s a homeless person holding up a sign asking for money.

What do you do?

If you’re the Rev. Bill Roscoe you hand that person a meal ticket to the Boise Rescue Mission.

Roscoe has been the president and CEO of the mission for about 14 years, and his mission is to offer people real help when they need it – and when they’re willing to accept it.

“It’s a matter of philosophy,” Roscoe says. “My philosophy is that I can give that guy a few bucks and he’ll do what he will with it, or I can give my money to the Rescue Mission and I know that if he comes to our door he’s going to get a lot more than three dollars is going to get him.

“My friend in California says, ‘We offer real change, not spare change.’”

For decades, that is what Roscoe has tried to do: offer real change.

It’s not always easy, but it can be rewarding, Roscoe says.

And his work has not gone unnoticed.

“The time and energy I have seen him devote to his efforts is incredible, and it comes from a genuine desire to transform the lives of those in need,” Lori Otter, Idaho’s first lady, wrote in a letter recommending Roscoe for a CEO of Influence award. “Bill is an angel among us and a true example of a life well lived.”

Finding His Way

Roscoe grew up in New England, the eighth of nine children. When he was 10 years old his parents moved to California, and he spent the rest of his school years in northern California.

“Then I joined the service right out of high school,” Roscoe says. “I joined the Army and a year later I was in Vietnam. I served as a combat engineer and an infantryman and did the tour of duty.” When he got out of the Army he went to the carpenters’ apprenticeship program through the local union, where his dad was a member. “My dad was a carpenter his whole life. So I became a carpenter and worked in the trade for almost 20 years.”

Unlike his father, however, Roscoe wasn’t cut out to be a carpenter his whole life.

He had another calling.

“In 1976, I was certainly dealing with (post-traumatic stress disorder) from the Vietnam experience,” he says. “I was drinking, excessive drinking, maybe an alcoholic, smoking marijuana, just a very messed up young guy. And on the one hand I had bought a house on the GI Bill. I had a beautiful wife and I had two babies. I was a carpenter and was making really good money. But on the other hand I was walking around the house at night with a .357, really just paranoid and anxious that someone was going to break in and hurt my family. And then I had some nightmare experiences related to the war. So I went through that process for four years before I became a Christian.”

Changing Course

Roscoe continued to work in construction. He spent time with his family: his wife, Sandra, their children, Bill and Cynthia … and later they became legal guardians of two great nephews, Mark and Matthew.

“I had a lot of fun with the kids,” Roscoe says. “I coached baseball for probably about 10 years, with the three sons I had playing baseball. I enjoyed that a lot.”

But as the 1980s came to a close and the 1990s began to bloom Roscoe felt something pulling him toward a career change.

“I was really wanting to be in full-time ministry,” he recalls. “I was an associate pastor … and I was working in construction and building apartment houses, but I really longed for an opportunity to serve God more directly with all of my time and all of my energy.”

Roscoe was on the board of directors of the rescue mission in Santa Rosa, Calif., and he helped conceive the idea of a program that would help the children living on the streets of Sonoma County.

“We designed this program and it occurred to me that I would love to be the program director,” he says. “And so I applied for the job, and lo and behold, they hired me.”

On Martin Luther King Day in 1991 Roscoe went to work full time as the director of youth ministries at Redwood Gospel Mission. He’s been in one role or another at different rescue missions ever since that day.

“It was quite a dramatic change, as you can imagine,” Roscoe says. “The salary was quite different than what I was making as a project superintendent. We had a big house overlooking the lake in Clear Lake, Calif., that we had to bail out of and get a smaller place. We lived in a single-wide (trailer) for a little while. But it was all according to God’s plan, as we know today. Looking back, that was the best decision we made.”

For the next decade Roscoe worked at a handful of different ministries, along the way moving from Colorado and then back to California.

In 2002, he received a call from the Boise Rescue Mission, inquiring whether he’d be interested in coming to Boise.

“Well, my wife’s office was next to mine, and we didn’t have very fancy phones,” Roscoe says. “So I went next door to my wife’s office and I asked her: Do you want to take a ride to Boise and talk about the job up there? And she said, ‘Why not? We’ve never been to Boise.’”

A Love Affair

It didn’t take the Roscoes long to know that Boise was the place for them.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, it was a matter of minutes after we left the hotel and walked into downtown Boise that we were in love,” Roscoe says.

As the Roscoes drove back to California, they prayed and decided that if the job was offered they would accept it.

“Now, after 14 years, here we are,” Roscoe says.

It’s been a very fruitful 14 years for Roscoe and the Boise Rescue Mission, one of considerable growth.

“When I arrived here … our budget was right around $1 million,” Roscoe says. “Our budget for this fiscal year is almost $6 million.”

Roscoe is tasked with overseeing that budget and more than 130 employees. That’s not something he takes lightly.

“We really work hard to be transparent as an organization and we’re very careful stewards of the gifts we receive,” he says. “We’re accountable to our donors and we’re accountable to God, and we don’t want to disappoint either one.”

Talk to Roscoe for very long and the conversation inevitably turns toward his immense appreciation of the kindness that people across the Treasure Valley have shown the Boise Rescue Mission, which has seen revenue growth expand by more than 271 percent during Roscoe’s tenure.

“Here we are with four rescue missions, basically, with two in Boise and two in Nampa, a beautiful office space and warehouse in Boise for all of our storage goods,” he says. “We have transitional apartments in Nampa and Boise. We’ve got a wonderful transitional program for veterans. It’s an amazing thing, and that speaks to the community. This is the most generous community on the face of the earth. I’ve said that since I got here and I’ll say it when they plant me up in Veterans Cemetery.”

Lasting Impressions

Asked to name someone who has influenced his life, Roscoe begins checking off a long list of people. He starts with a doctor in Redding, Calif., who served in Africa for 25 years and taught Roscoe about the true meaning of compassion. He moves on to a rescue mission director who taught him about human resource management, and then bosses and friends in Colorado who also helped make him the man he is.

Finally, he becomes emotional as he talks about one of his current colleagues.

“Our chief operating officer, Jean Lockhart, is a brilliant woman,” Roscoe says. “She’s an MBA, and she is brilliant. Jean has love and compassion like I have never seen before. Here’s an example: She was called in one night in the middle of the night because one of our ladies was suicidal and talking about taking her own life. And Jean went to City Light and talked with the lady and counseled and comforted her and got her to go to bed. And then she slept on the floor of that lady’s room for the next two nights to make sure she couldn’t get up unaccounted. That’s compassion.

“I want to be like her,” Roscoe says while laughing through tears.

When he’s not putting in his time at the rescue mission he tries to find time to golf – “I can’t play golf, but I keep trying,” he says – or riding his motorcycle.

“A lot of people wouldn’t expect that, but I do ride a motorcycle. I’ve got a big, black Yamaha that is a fun, fun motorcycle.”

He also enjoys spending time with his family (he has six grandchildren), reading, and doing yard work.

“I love planting and I love watching things grow,” he says.

Giving and Receiving

Roscoe says he was a little taken aback when he learned that he was named a CEO of Influence.

“I think I work hard and do a pretty good job, I’ll give myself that,” he says. “But to be recognized like this is really quite an honor, especially with the recommendations that came in that I saw from people around the community; that just amazed me.”

He has Sarah Zimik to partially thank for that. Zimik is the chief development officer of the Boise Rescue Mission and she is the one who nominated Roscoe for recognition by the Idaho Business Review.

“I’ve worked with Bill for almost 14 years,” Zimik says. “So I’ve been able to watch him in action as the leader of our nonprofit. He’s just been able to take our program to another level.”

Zimik says she asked Roscoe if he had requested any letters of recommendation for his CEO of Influence nomination. He told her he had a couple.

“He’s a modest person, and that’s why I wanted to bump it up,” Zimik says.

And so she reached out to a few more leaders in the Treasure Valley. Needless to say, she didn’t have to twist many arms.

She received back a number of letters singing praise for Roscoe. Letters from Otter and Lockhart. From Bryan Taylor, the Canyon County prosecuting attorney. From Doug Armstrong, the president and general manager of KTVB News Group. From Vikki Chandler, Nampa’s finance director, and from Sandra Dalton, a senior vice president with UBS Financial Services.

“It’s OK for him to be modest,” Zimik says, “but I wanted the committee to know what a great leader he is.”

 

 

 

 

 

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