After spending 10 years as in the film industry, Hayden is settling in on staff at Renewed Hope with a deep sense of fulfillment. “It’s been amazing,” he said. “I love coming to work every day.”
Hayden grew up in a small farm town in Ohio. After getting the acting bug, he went out to New York for a bit before coming to Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute. He got his master’s in film production and worked in the field for a decade. “I worked all over the city as an independent producer, until one day, I just felt this strong sense of calling,” he said. “I felt that ministry was where God was calling me.
“Faith as always been a foundational part of my life,” he added. Hayden’s parents, brother and sister all live in different places across the country. “Our shared faith is what keeps us connected to one another.”
Hayden’s calling didn’t quiet, and his producing jobs weren’t fulfilling him any longer. “I fell out of love with what I was doing, and it’s something you really have to be in love with because it is so demanding,” he said.
Hayden took a sabbatical six years ago. “I started volunteering every morning at Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row,” he said. “I felt like God was calling me to start over. There’s a verse that says you have to lose your life to find it. It didn’t make sense to me. I’m a practical learner, so I just thought, ‘I’ll lose my life.’ I got re-baptized. I decided to make big, giant life changes.”
Hayden said he sent out 100 job applications and got one reply: a position as a director at a kid’s beach camp in Santa Monica. “It’s actually where I met my wife—she teaches pre-k in Pacific Palisades. I met families from there and started taking care of some of the kids, working at schools—I became the youth pastor at a church for a couple of years. I started going to Fuller (Seminary) to work on getting my masters in theology and ministry.”
Hayden’s next gig turned out to be a tough one. He started a one-year chaplaincy at UCLA Hospital—and then COVID hit. “It was very challenging,” he said. “I was with nurses, staff, families when these monumental losses were happening. I’m a happy-go-lucky person, so to be in that space was really difficult for me.”
When his post ended in August, Hayden knew he wanted to be a part of a Christian organization. “My heart has always been set on working with our unhoused neighbors. I just kept feeling like God wasn’t opening that door. Until this.”
Hayden started at the beginning of August as Renewed Hope’s assistant program manager. “I already see how things I learned during my chaplaincy are so vital here, and are being put into place in this field. God has been molding me and shaping me for this position.”
Hayden runs the shower program every morning, and already two men he’s met there have entered the program. “Every day I get to witness God’s love and mercy and grace,” he said. “Every day I see how a shower and some loving conversation can mean so much. I might be the first to talk to that person in a week.”
In the Life Recovery Program, Hayden said they are a tight-knit group. “At the core of everything we do is our faith in God,” he said. “We are always looking to have ‘What would Jesus do?’ in the conversation. Everything is always being built on this foundation of faith.
“We have these Bible study groups. The fact that we are always in the word together—I grow in that as much as the guys might. There’s a real brotherhood. Everybody knows that everybody else has their back. You’ve got to learn to trust people in this place.”
Hayden said the group is planning on taking a hike together soon, a suggestion from a client. “Another guy used to love playing baseball, so we went and got some mitts from thrift,” Hayden said. “He hadn’t played baseball in 15 years. It was really emotional for him.”
Part of the program is a focus on humility and vulnerability. “We are doing reshaping work,” he said. “The men come from these worlds where you have to be tough and you have to rough. That is being broken down here. There’s a gentleness. We are laughing together, cooking dinner together. Everyone but one of our clients has kids, and you can see how important it is for them to be good fathers again.”
Hayden and Program Manager Rick Chamness cook for the guys every Friday, and have a family-style lunch together. “We talk about highs and lows—it’s a new tradition we started,” he said.
Renewed Hope is in the area where Hayden, now 38, attended grad school for film 15 years ago. “Talk about literally coming full circle,” he said, laughing. “I came here for one thing, and now I’m back in this place in an entirely different service and field. I have a lot of old memories here. God has brought me here, and it’s amazing to be able to see everything he’s been able to do in my life.”