The mission was to glean ideas to combat homelessness elsewhere, but rock star Jon Bon Jovi walked away with something more after his surprise visit Thursday to a downtown Minneapolis shelter.
In his jeans pocket was a rock painted like an alligator head -- a gift from a 4-year-old girl whose mother also shared the family's story about a recent job loss and eviction with the New Jersey rocker.
The visit with Bon Jovi occurred away from the cameras at People Serving People, 614 S. 3rd St. But speaking with reporters afterward, he referred to Larissa Thelmon, 28, a personal care assistant laid off just before Christmas, as an example of how "the face of the homeless has changed."
Of the shelter, he said, the scope of services "blows my mind" and offers a model "that can and should be duplicated."
Bon Jovi, who was between Xcel Center concerts on Wednesday and Thursday night, was on a fact-finding mission for the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which has worked to tackle homelessness by building affordable housing, establishing community kitchens and cleaning up vacant lots in blighted neighborhoods.
Touring in support of his band's latest release, "The Circle," the singer also recently visited a shelter for alcoholics in Seattle and toured Skid Row in Los Angeles. He identified People Serving People as a possible stop after driving by it during a previous concert date in the Twin Cities.
Mimi Box, executive director of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, who accompanied the rock star during Thursday's visit, said the foundation uses such stops to find out what has worked in some cities and can, in turn, be promoted elsewhere when awarding its grants.
At People Serving People, Box said, she was impressed by the large number of service providers under one roof.
Jim Minor, president of People Serving People, said Bon Jovi asked "a lot of good questions ... and knew what he was talking about." Asked whether the shelter might someday benefit from a grant, Minor added: "They haven't said a word. And we haven't said a word."
But taking a cue from the band's latest album, Minor said he thanked the rock star for "really increasing the size of our 'circle,' the people who know our story."
During the 10-minute visit in Thelmon's room, Bon Jovi asked about her layoff and the services she's received, she said. Child care and clothing vouchers were among them.
Before leaving, he pulled out his freshly painted gift, waved it at Thelmon's daughter, Kaileigh, and said, "Thanks for the rock," the mother said. Left behind was an autograph on the back page of the book "Scooby Doo Dinosaur Dig."
Staff Writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109