The outside of Pilgrims' Inn on Rock Hill's Main Street remains a place where so many of those among us without enough to eat, or money to keep the lights on, gather each day to seek assistance. The apartments behind it still house the formerly homeless, and the emergency shelter still has a few families in it each night. For 27 years, Pilgrims' Inn has helped as many as its resources will allow.
But inside Pilgrim's Inn, major renovations, pushed by Executive Director Susan Dean and the charity's board of directors, have transformed the non-profit into a center for people to get help to make wholesale changes in their lives.
Construction is almost finished on the second floor that will house a computer room and life skills center that will bring together the programs the center offers. A learning center, called CITEE for Creating Independence Through Education and Employment, will focus on giving people who are on the fringes a chance to learn what they need to not need Pilgrims' Inn.
"We are one place that tries to put ourselves out of business," said Dean, the executive director. "The goal is simple: Give people what they need, the skills, to make it on their own."
The kicker for a place such as Pilgrims' Inn that depends so much on donations from the community, is that the renovations and labor was donated. Some non-profits donated money for materials and HVAC, and several churches and groups - especially Church180 - have done much of the work, from painting to drywall to floors and ceilings.
"Pilgrims' Inn has a culture of respect and optimism - it is a place where people believe in success and help others succeed," said Paul Peterson, Church180 pastor. "We believe in what they do there and our people have been engaged, excited, to help."
The donations come in so many forms. One former client of Pilgrims' Inn, formerly homeless, donated tiles and labor after finding construction work.
None of the grants that are used for client services had to be used for the renovations.
Those client services beyond emergency assistance, food, and other day-to-day survival programs are crucial to Pilgrims' Inn becoming even more effective in helping people reach self-sufficiency, said Stephen Cox, board chairman.
"We want to offer a full spectrum of services, provide the things that people need to make it on their own, because those clients who leave Pilgrims' Inn and find their way in life afterward are our success stories," Cox said. "We will always have our emergency services."
In the programs soon to be housed in the second-floor center social workers such as Ashley Garrick and Jennifer Greene will assist clients trying to become self-sufficient.
"Our goal is to help people find independence," said Greene, who runs the CITEE program that focuses on the most important words at Pilgrims' Inn - teaching skills so clients can find a job.
Pilgrims' Inn does not provide houses for people. It does not rent houses for people.
But it does run a program, paid for by federal grant dollars, of rapid re-housing that tries to help people learn the skills to keep from homelessness. More than 60 people are in that program now, run by social worker Nicole Cauthen.
"All of them were about to be evicted or homeless," said Dean, the executive director. "We do not 'get people a house.' What we do is help them learn about what they have to do to get housing and keep it."
For Dean, the executive director in her fifth year at Pilgrims' Inn, the tough economy that has Rock Hill dealing with near-record unemployment and more than 20 percent poverty means the non-profit's services are more vital than ever.
On Christmas Eve for example, the board of directors gave out food, and toys, and more, to more than 100 families desperate before the holiday.
That was done as renovations by volunteers continued upstairs to try and help those same needy people, long-term.
"We want to help people with the skills each needs to live a life without Pilgrims' Inn," Dean said.
"I wish we could say there is no need for us. But there is - and we will help all we can."