Welcome, and thank you for expressing an interest in our vision. The “interior vessels” section allows you to view the core of our organization ‘from the inside out.’  Feel free to browse through our Board of Directors list and view a list of esteemed Advisors to the Board.  In addition, be sure to review our Purpose Statement and take a fresh look at our current goals.

Brief Background: how it all began, at a snail’s pace…

Vessels International began as a call to global humanitarian service and long-term community development in the hearts of each founding member.  After living in the United States and Middle East for many years, its founders agreed to begin a non-profit organization—using resources, expertise, and valuable contacts gained while in the U.S. and abroad. The founders held fast to a belief that genuine compassion would eventually call others to become involved with this vibrant vision. We hope that you agree.

Although young and small, Vessels International has grown at a steady and solid pace. It has taken patience, resolve, and tenacity. We like to call this type of growth “low and slow,” as we have painstakingly invested our personal resources, energy, and time–while enlisting community volunteers, mentors with wisdom to share, and fellow peers in service (who share needs and collaborate with us to accomplish like-minded goals).  Since 2007, we have also relied upon unpaid volunteers and Missouri-based consultants to see this work come to fruition.  It has been worth it to take our time, learn the best way to build this organization for the long-haul, and listen to the advice of local experts.  We believe in doing a job well and establishing something rooted in Columbia, Missouri.  We understand the limits of our organization and humbly acknowledge that we are not one of those huge NGOs with a whole lot of money to throw at a problem.  Rather, we are an evolving, social, entrepreneurial organization looking to be of use, over the long-term, while remaining sustainable and relevant. For this reason, we have taken an approach that emphasizes capacity-building, reciprocal organizational mentorship, leadership, and community cohesion.

Current Status: homegrown and loving the “local” label

We have been incorporated as local, non-profit organization, in Columbia, Missouri since 2007. One of our co-founders, Renée Reed-Miller, likes to call all of us social entrepreneurs.  Perhaps it’s true.  We carry a sense of true pride in being called a “local, homegrown” organization, and we feel it is a great privilege to have a nurturing environment in which to do this work.   If you can’t tell, we’re proud of our Midwestern roots; they run deep and keep our feet on solid ground, encouraging us to exercise a practical “Show-Me State” attitude when it comes to vetting and initiating projects, maintaining our values, perspective, accountability, partnerships, and fundraising.

Community Matters: a vision that values collaboration and cohesion.

As an organization, we invest in people, not places; this is why we use the term “community.” It is so much more than a place to us.  However, we understand that a place remains integral to the culture of a community or people group.  We celebrate the context and revere the heritage of community, while focusing on the citizens that make up community.

The fabric of our organization is an emerging tapestry, and each volunteer, each director, each advisor remains a valued and beautiful thread contributing to our evolving organizational design and development.As individuals in service, we value engagement and seek out mentorship–no matter our respective ages–from one another; we want to remain teachable, and relevant, in each locale. We want to listen and learn.  We want to teach and pour out what we have learned.  We want to help others develop and grow into service.  We are an organization of people who care about what it means to share space and exercise kindness, as human beings.

Imagine an organization that seeks to build up, not tear down or compete, with other organizations. Meet Vessels.

Yes, it’s a utopian ideal; we know, but we believe it is possible to form coalitions for a common cause.  There is no need to fight over resources.  We’d rather see people give to another organization, if they feel strongly that is the only way the work will get done.  However, if that organization is doing something right, we want to know…and we may even send them a thank-you for doing it well.  You see, we tend to prioritize collaboration and affirmation on all levels, through promotion of a network of local businesses, fellow non-profit organizations, and churches–right here in the Midwest.  Like the old song says, “Let’s work together, yeah, yeah, yeah…”

Check out our “Friends of Vessels” page for more information on local businesses that care about what we’re doing, a network of non-profits we are proud to call peers and mentor organizations, and churches around the Midwest that enlist their congregations to help us fundraise.) If you are a burgeoning social entrepreneur, if you are part of a local non-profit organization, if you own a local start-up or small business, or if you simply enjoy investing in similar community-building efforts, we want to meet you and share a cup of coffee downtown, in The District.  Feel free to contact us anytime, to set up a time to meet.

Got Space? We do…finally!

We now have an office space, right in the heart of our city, Columbia, Missouri.  Located across from Stephens Park, our suite is just big enough to house two donated desks and a nice big window to the world. The future looks great from our view on the second floor.  At present, we staff the office through unpaid interns and volunteers. We hope that will soon change, as we would like to generate jobs for local mid-Missourians and contribute to our local economy.

How we get the work done and keep the lights on:

Our operating Board of Directors currently consists of four members, ensuring a “check and balance” system for the organization. We all work together and make decisions based on consensus, and we regularly seek advice from our local and regional experts, Advisors to the Board. These individuals provide wisdom in key areas of non-profit management, organizational leadership and development, and troubleshooting on sustainable approaches. Our advisors review proposals when asked, to strengthen the program approach and avoid unintended consequences.  They also augment our interaction with the public and support us in finding fund-raising opportunities.

We currently have an Executive Director who is one of the founding members.  She reports to the board and administers the operations of the organization, fuels the organizational vision, manages the office, and works with a service coordinator to train our volunteer staff and design new internship opportunities for students.
Next, our Program Director prioritizes projects according to a community-driven, grassroots development agenda and with the insights of the ED. In other words, we ask communities what they need, and allow communities to articulate the need to our program director who then reports the need to the board, and works with the ED to secure funding and grants for the project.  The program and executive directors tag-team it a lot. They also design and complete all site assessments and institute launches of all projects, with the approval of the board.

Where we work, and why the whole world?

As a start-up organization, we have an international vision, with intentions to pursue work in several communities. At present, we are working in the Unites States of America, the Middle East, and Africa. In past years, we have worked in southeast Asia and the Caribbean. No matter the nation or region, we focus on the community.

We continue to maintain additional links with communities and organizations in various regions, because we know that communities the world over are becoming more and more connected within a global community. We will consider working in the U.S. and its territories, beginning within the Midwestern states of Missouri and Illinois; North, East and West Africa; Asia; Eastern Europe; the Middle East and Gulf regions; the Caribbean, primarily in Haiti; Central and South America. In future, we may pursue projects in any of these areas, if the community meets our requirements for collaboration through a licensed, local NGO, with full adherence to respective national and international laws.

Structural Model: a holistic set of programs under one umbrella.

Services provided by Vessels International adhere to a holistic approach—encouraging health and restoration in community. We understand that societies and cultures differ, but many of the issues we—as human beings— face, are similar and always interrelated. Therefore, the organization has formed seven central programs which work together synergistically and remain interconnected throughout the duration of our interaction with community in each local context. Vessels International programs harmonize under a holistic vision, driven by grassroots community action, to ensure relevancy, respectful engagement, sustainability, and accountability. Ours is a unified mission, seeking to incorporate the main pillars of sustainable development into all that we do: economic resilience, social equity, and environmental stewardship.

In viewing a menu selection of holistic Vessels programming, communities readily understand (without our input) which program or program(s) best suit their priorities. Therefore, programs are designed to work in a synergistic fashion, as one blends into the next, and into another, as a community grows toward greater independence.  Our motto is to start small in a community until we grow in knowledge of their long-term goals.  In choosing one project that is measurable, we find that trust builds over time and allows us to add more projects as a community shows the promise of greater self-sufficiency, initiative, innovation, and independence.  This means, of course, that we do not ascribe to the traditional charitable model of long-term aid, without a cut-off point.  At some point, the faucet must be turned off, if a community or partner organization feels that we are a cash cow for eternity.  Not happening.  We will not enable dependence.  In fact, we have been known to say that we can no longer fund a project if we find that a community views our support as a long-term crutch.  We slowly, but surely, shift gears and respectfully decline the opportunity to work with such entities again.  Why?  Because we cannot, and will not, enable a community to become dependent upon our organization forever.  It isn’t right, it isn’t ethical, and it isn’t just.  We know that communities have what it takes to thrive, and we measure success by the fact that they begin to need less and less of our assistance, not more and more.

Interior Vessels: examining our inner motivations for service, then pouring ourselves out.

“Service” is a buzzword so often used to make the one serving feel better about themselves, while the “other,” (in this case often called derogatory terms such as “needy” or “vulnerable”) may be viewed with pity and through the eyes of condescension.  Well, we see things a bit differently. To us, service must be a reciprocal affair, one that entails building community, strengthening capacity of all involved, creating opportunity for growth, and investing in a more sustainable way of life.  We admit that serving strengthens the giver, in so many ways.  Yes, we are on the receiving end, as we learn from communities with whom we work.  Our organization stands not at arm’s length from, but in solidarity with–communities.  We do not see ourselves as superior, and we do not accept being placed on a pedestal with a savior complex. Indeed, we certainly understand that we do hail from a place of privilege, responsibility, and freedom.  We have much, so we are compelled to give.  Nevertheless, we have much to learn, so very much to learn.  This is our motivation. We want to remain humble in the offering and acknowledge that we are too often on the receiving end.

Next, we believe that throwing money at a problem that is endemic, such as poverty, will never solve the core, interrelated issues causing economic or other types of distress.  Sometimes giving helps the giver but actually hurts the receiver, and we cannot justify following that sort of model.  For this reason, we give strategically and often with some sense of reticence, caution, reverence, and reservation.  Giving is a great responsibility to us, as the act of giving can be injurious if not weighed carefully, with some sense of the underlying need and understanding the context of long-term problems endemic to an area.  This means we are only–ever–going to be one piece of a larger effort.  We can only hope to augment the work of many hands, many organizations, and many communities, in seeking to boost a sense of resilience and nurture sustainability in each locale.

We cannot save the world and won’t try to; we can only hope to work together–on a global level–in unity with communities who are already making it a better place.  With accountability and respect for the whole system of interwoven challenges, we have engineered a method of “giving” that puts the ownership and onus upon grassroots community; therefore, the credit goes to the people on the ground, for accomplishing the goals.  We aren’t here to steal their limelight, only to make them shine brighter in reaching greater self-sufficiency and resilience for years to come.