Thomas receives national award
by The Press and Standard | October 6, 2018 5:00 am
Last Updated: October 3, 2018 at 10:07 am
Finding employment does not immediately alleviate the conditions of poverty. Many require the assistance to remove barriers that continue to hinder their sustainability. Moreover, extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female-headed households. As a result of loss of benefits, low wages and unstable employment, many families struggle to get medical care, food and housing. Individuals with a documented disability also struggle to obtain and maintain stable housing. On a national average, monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment increased which can account for 113.1% of a person’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) monthly income.
Anna Thomas understands this scenario all too well, falling on hard times in the late 80’s as a single parent with two children. Thomas found herself and her children homeless and the family moved into Lowcountry Community Action Agency’s homeless shelter. She did not know about the agency services and was overwhelmed with appreciation at the opportunity afforded to her and her children. Thomas quickly set goals for her family, obtained employment and transitioned into permanent housing.
In 2012, the agency posted a vacancy for an emergency shelter director. Thomas inquired about the position and voiced her interest in leading the agency’s homeless shelter. She got the job.
One of her first projects entailed building community and financial support. Thomas told former Executive Director Arlene Dobison that before coming to the agency for assistance, she found it extremely difficult to gain access to mainstream benefits that could have assisted her in removing barriers. She has dedicated her time to ensuring those barriers have been removed, and shelter residents can gain the necessary skills to re-enter society and become self-sustaining.
A great number of circumstances — a missed paycheck, health problems or unpaid bills — can force individuals into homelessness. In 2017, over 80 families (37% with children) have obtained services such as case management, tutoring, job training, financial management, budgeting, etc. that have assisted families in recovering. Thomas has successfully found new houses for families, and most have retained that housing.
Partnerships with organizations such as the Dept. of Mental Health, Dept. of Social Services, Community Action Services, such as CSBG, LIHEAP, Head Start, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, realtors, adult education, Colleton County Public Works, faith-based institutions, employment agencies, community residents, Girl Scouts, Goodwill Industries, IHG, Heritage Trust Credit Union, Colleton County School District and others have been focal in the success of LCAA’s customers and the homeless population.
The shelter depends on the donations of the public to continue operating, including linens, clothing, food, monetary donations, and other items for its residents.
Willie Rabb said, “Ms. Anna is really a Godsend for the shelter.” Rabb stated that she’s witnessed Thomas take her personal money to purchase items that shelter clients needed, and it made her want to do more. Rabb also said that LCAA “has a piece of gold in Ms. Anna Thomas, and I hope that she will be at the shelter for many more years to come.”
On Aug. 30, Thomas was presented the Sargent Shriver Achievement Award at the Community Action Partnership’s 2018 convention in Denver, Colo. She said while she was honored to accept the National Award, she was also humbled because there are so many more in this nation who deserve it. “Being in this moment of time, I wasn’t going to shout out to all of those who are down and out, who are destitute and have no hope, no voice, no vision, no food on your table, no place to lay your head, who don’t have the basic necessities of life. Don’t give up or give in. Because there is something in your area called Community Action. It will allow you to look up, stand up, move up, speak up and reach out — because the meaning is carved in the name: Community Action. It works for us. If you utilize it, the mission that it symbolizes will ring true to those of us who are in need, and I promise that I will spend the rest of my life helping others to help themselves,” said Thomas.
Safe Haven Shelter tries to give its guests permanent housing options within 30 days of moving into the shelter. The goal is to transition people and help to ensure future stability, said Tara Glover, interim executive director. “Ms. Thomas works diligently with the families housed at Safe Haven, to ensure their needs are met. Ms. Thomas’ work ethics are enviable. Having someone like her as the shelter coordinator makes a huge difference in the community and for our agency,” said Glover.