Haven Men’s Shelter’s new director says her whole life led to new role

jself@heraldonline.comNovember 15, 2012 

— When Derrick Davis heard there was an opening at The Haven Men’s Shelter, he went to see about a bed.

Davis, a 34-year-old Rock Hill man, had been spending the occasional night outside until October when he went to see Wendy Adams, 43, The Haven’s new executive director.

Sitting with Davis at the shelter Thursday, Adams, who graduated from Winthrop University this year, recalled the story.

She asked him, “What are your goals? What do you want to do?”

Davis grew up in the Hagins-Fewell neighborhood of Rock Hill. He’s faced trouble and was given a second chance by authorities.

After meeting Adams and entering the program at The Haven, Davis earned his GED and is starting York Technical College in January. He’ll be studying welding.

“All I needed was someone to back me,” said Davis, who spent the day at the York County Library looking for work.

Adams said she’ll always have his back as long as he stays out of trouble.

Adams became the executive director at The Haven in August, replacing Jessica Lynn, who took another job.

She graduated from Winthrop University this year with a master’s degree in social work.

The shelter can house about 12 men each night and provides a hot meal prepared and served by an “army of volunteers.” The shelter has a budget of about $189,000, Adams said.

The men who stay there must participate in a program of seeking help and bettering themselves.

“It’s about the rebuilding of lives,” Adams said.

The Haven works with area agencies, both the state employment office and nonprofits such as the United Way and The ROC, which bills itself as a hub connecting those in need to the services that can help them.

Lora Holladay, with the United Way of York County, said The Haven serves a vital role in York County as the only men’s shelter in Rock Hill.

“It’s not just a place to sleep,” Holladay said. “They’re actually trying to better” clients by providing “that whole transition back to not being homeless anymore ... ending the cycle of homelessness.”

A good fit

Adams says she didn’t foresee working with homeless men, but now it makes sense because her life has been leading her there, she said.

She worked as a police officer in Summerville for 15 years, eventually moving into child advocacy as a certified forensics interviewer.

Eventually she came to Rock Hill where she continued working as a child advocate before deciding to go back to school.

At 36 she decided to go to college at Winthrop, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2011 and a master’s in 2012.

Adams says she’s a good fit for The Haven because she can identify with what her clients are going through to some degree. She spent time in foster care as a youth, which isn’t the same as being homeless but feels similar because “it’s not your home.”

She’s also a first-generation college student.

“Going to college was never programmed with me as a kid,” she said. “Those were conversations that Derrick and I never had in our families.”

In that way, she already feels “invested” in working with clients.

She’s looking forward to taking on the challenge of helping homeless people in York County, where she sees a tremendous need, illustrated in the 28 names on The Haven’s waiting list.

This being National Homeless and Hunger Week, Adams is eager to get the word out.

“Food, clothing and shelter – if you have those basic necessities, you can build from it,” she said, challenging the community to “step up” and help.

“There’s not a single person in this world who’s not a paycheck or one major illness away from homelessness.”

Jamie Self 803-329-4062

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