The basics: Kurt Salierno, 53, is employed as shelter director at Visalia Rescue Mission.
What he does: By day, he manages Visalia Rescue Mission's programs for homeless men to get them off the street. Twice weekly, he sleeps on the street overnight, even in wet and cold weather, to minister directly to the homeless.
Why he does it: "I love working with homeless people in the street, seeing people and giving people hope," he said. "In school, I was shy with poor self-esteem with a severe speech impediment. You get picked on a lot. The homeless men related to someone who wasn't perfect."
The turning point: In Portland, Ore., while in Bible college, he started going to Skid Row to offer assistance to homeless people and has been ministering to the down and out for 35 years.
Details, details: Salierno grew up in Visalia. In Portland, he started his first "Church on the Street" offering physical aid and spiritual counseling. Because of his stutter, he would write notes to communicate. He has taken his church to every city he has lived in, including Seattle, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Chicago and Atlanta. "I've been shot at and assaulted," he said. For 17 years, he ran the "Church on the Street" homeless program in Atlanta, serving meals to 1,000 people nightly and conducting "parking lot church services" seven days a week. Several years ago, he broke his stutter and now speaks normally most of the time. He drives an old jeep with no windows or doors and passes out blankets, caps and toiletries for homeless people as he sees them on the street. " 'Creature in the blue jeep,' they call me," he said. In September, he moved back to Visalia and started working at the Visalia Rescue Mission.
What others say: "He's truly a pastor to the homeless," said Danny Little, executive director of Visalia Rescue Mission. "I knew he'd be effective, but I didn't know he'd be as strong an influence on the Rescue Mission and this population. I've never met anyone like him."
-- Lewis Griswold