Danielle Walters: Taking Lives in New Directions

By Leslie Moore

The following story was told by Danielle Walters, Case Manager/Shelter Manager of the New Directions Family Shelter in Myrtle Beach. It is one of hundreds of similar stories and contradicts the traditional face of homelessness. According to Kathy Jenkins, Executive Director of New Directions, “One in three people in the U.S. are within one to three paychecks of being homeless. Homelessness does not discriminate.”

Before coming to New Directions Family Shelter, Ms. A was married, a homeowner, a college graduate and healthy. She became ill, and her doctors were unable to give her a diagnosis. After missing a lot of work due to her illness, Ms. A eventually had to cut back her hours. Then Mr. A left her for another woman. Without his support, she had no money and a mortgage she could not afford – Ms. A’s home was soon foreclosed.

This young mother and her three small children were now homeless – and hopeless.

Ms. A’s family came to New Directions last winter, and worked closely with me to identify their specific needs, set manageable goals, and obtain services such as counseling, medical care, legal aid, employment training and childcare, just to name a few. Most importantly, we were able to give them hope.

Ms. A and her children lived in the Family Shelter for five months, and by the time they moved out the children were thriving in school and participating in positive after-school activities, Ms. A finally received a diagnosis and medical treatment that allowed her to function at full capacity again.

Today, Ms. A’s life is back on track – she works full-time for a local business, utilizing her college degree, and was referred to a housing program that allows the family to live in a condo they can afford. *

New Directions Family Shelter is one of four shelters managed by the non-profit – including a men’s shelter, women’s shelter and a shelter for women and children. Each provides safe housing, food, laundry facilities and access to an array of services designed to help clients become independent.

Danielle went on to tell me about life at the Family Shelter. “We do a lot here! Of course, the biggest thing is shelter for families with children under 18 – all types of families – single moms, single dads, married couples with children and even grandparents with custody of grandchildren.” Up to 55 people can be housed in this facility, and Danielle says it is usually full. Based on Federal guidelines, a family can live in the shelter for up to two years. “We want them to stay as long as they need to in order not to end up in the same situation.”

When someone finds themselves in the unimaginable situation of being homeless, how do they find people like Danielle to help them? “All they have to do is call,” Danielle said. “And we can help them or direct them toward resources that may be better suited for their particular situation.” People are referred to New Directions from a variety of places, from United Way’s 211 Hotline to the Myrtle Beach Police, who fully support the efforts of this remarkable non-profit. They need identification and birth certificates for the children to gain admission to the Family Shelter. If these documents are lost, Danielle will help out with that as well. To protect the children, a background check is also done to eliminate sex offenders and those with a history of violent crime. After everyone is safely sheltered and fed, each family is assessed to determine their needs. Case Managers are able to expedite programs that offer free childcare and get the kids back in school quickly. “We work closely with the schools. If a child was not attending the local Myrtle Beach School, we work with the Horry County School district to coordinate transportation to the child’s school of origin, giving the child a sense of normalcy in the face of their family’s disaster. This year, I think we put nearly 40 children on the bus on the first day of school.”

The help doesn’t end there, however. New Directions assists clients in finding employment and, most importantly, housing they can afford. Danielle shared another story of a young, single dad, who lost his home in a recent hurricane. After receiving help from the Red Cross and staying in emergency shelters, he came to the Family Shelter and now lives in housing with rent based on his salary – the children have stability and are doing well.

Grace Sandoz, Senior Case Manager, added that the Men’s and Women’s Shelter are a little different. “Some of our clients go to hotels in the winter when the rent is cheap. That’s just a band aid because when March comes, they’re out of a home again.” Grace and her co-workers are working hard to change this pattern with the help of a variety of special services, from mental health referrals to treatment for drug abuse.

Last year alone, New Directions shelters provided safety and hope for nearly 1,500 homeless men, women and children, with 67,000 bed nights at a cost of $12.17 per night. The family shelter alone housed 74 families in 2016 – 94 parents and 216 children. They operate 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. With ten full time and two part time employees, there is always someone available at each shelter. “We don’t take Federal funding,” Kathy said. “About 50% of our $800,000 budget comes from local foundation grants and a grant with the City of Myrtle Beach. The rest comes from local businesses, churches, community clubs and individual donors.”

I learned more about this caring organization during my tour of the Family Shelter. A well kept laundry room, with two washers and dryers, is available for residents, and a signup sheet on the door keeps everyone organized. Kathy said they typically do around 75 loads daily in all of the shelters. Rooms are assigned according to family size – most have bunk beds and cribs are brought in if needed. Shared bathrooms are the typical family bathroom with a sink, toilet and tub. Everything is clean and well maintained.

The day we visited, the large kitchen was a hub of activity with food delivery in progress. A restaurant-sized refrigerator holds all kinds of food from fresh vegetables to yogurt to juices, while the freezer stores mostly meats – all available for families to choose and cook themselves on the large gas range and grill. A large pantry is adjacent to the kitchen. “Families cook and eat together,” Danielle explained.

“We provided 55,000 meals in 2016 and overall food cost was a little over $300,” Kathy told me. “220,000 pounds of food was donated through our partnership with the Lowcountry Food Bank and by community members.” Annually, it costs New Directions $100,000 to provide heat, air, water, and other utilities and another $100,000 on insurance, repairs and maintenance to operate the shelters.

Safety is a priority at The Family Shelter. The facility is always locked and curfew is at 9 pm. After that time, anyone who goes in or out will cause an alarm to sound, bringing the Myrtle Beach Police.

Brenda Ryan, Assistant Director of New Directions, works with the shelter volunteers as a part of her long list of duties. “Last year we had over 4,000 hours donated by volunteers. There is no way we could do what we do without them,” she said. Brenda went on to say that the shelter welcomes the public to tour any of the four facilities. All they have to do is call the main number and schedule a time. “We want people in the community to see what we are doing here! It’s amazing.”

And it is amazing how much the non-profit is able to do. Christmas could be a time of great sadness for families living in shelters, but Danielle organizes community resources to make this season one of great joy. “Last year, we had so much fun,” she began. “Local churches and businesses helped us make every child’s wish come true.” The parents all receive a gift as well – as do all residents of the four New Directions shelters. “For the kids, December is an entire month of fun activities,” Danielle said excitedly.

After our tour, I asked Danielle about her life. Married with one 13 year old son, Danielle and her husband, Michael, are Navy veterans and came to the Myrtle Beach area after completing their service for Michael to attend the Golf Academy of America. Danielle graduated from Coastal Carolina University and interned with New Directions before accepting a full time position in January of 2016.

“I love what I do, and I feel like I’m good at it. When people first come in to talk to me there’s a look about them, very hopeless and broken. I love to see the transformation – they walk out of here on the way to success. I go to sleep at night knowing I’m doing something that matters.”

New Directions provides a wide range of tools for homeless men, women and children in crisis, helping them reach their full potential and live independently. To help change lives and bring hope, contact Brenda Ryan at 843-945-4902 for a tour and/or how you can volunteer or donate.

Want to Help?

New Directions Needs the Following Items:

Pillows, comforters, towels, washcloths, Shower liners, Laundry bags/baskets, Diapers-especially size 4, 5 and 6, Baby wipes, Children’s toothpaste, toothbrushes, Children’s soap, Children’s underwear- all sizes (in package), Adult toothpaste, toothbrushes, non-alcoholic mouthwash, Adult soap and shampoo, Cleaning products, bleach, Lysol, HE laundry detergent,dish soap, Pine-Sol, bathroom cleaner, sponges, Toilet paper, Paper towels, Plastic storage totes- 18-25 gallons

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore

    Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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One Response to “Danielle Walters: Taking Lives in New Directions”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Our world needs more places like New Directions. Thank God for the selfless people who operate the shelter and assist those in dire straits.

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