‘Whole different world’: Outgoing Rock Hill ROC leader reflects on helping homeless

Each person who comes into Renew Our Community in Rock Hill has a unique story and challenges. They all want to be treated with dignity.

Those are lessons Bruce McKagan said he has taken to heart after more than seven years with ROC, a homeless day shelter and crisis assistance center in Rock Hill.

“All of us, we have an impression of what a homeless person is,” he said. “Each one of them, just like you and me, they have their own stories, their own characters. You can’t put them in a box.”

McKagan also is on the board of directors for Pathways, a Christian-based nonprofit with a mission to create one location for multiple agencies and services for people in crisis. Pathways will open its Cherry Road facility in Rock Hill later this year.

“We could not have made this dream of Pathways come about without Bruce McKagan,” said Manning Kimmel, a Pathways board member. “He’s got a heart for helping people and he’s opened up so many doors for us. We’re going to miss him.”

McKagan, 69, is retiring. His last day with Renew Our Community and Pathways will be July 12. McKagan and his wife will move back to Seattle to be with family.

“She said we need to go home to our kids, to our grandkids. She was absolutely right,” McKagan said.

McKagan came to York County from Seattle, where he wrote and produced music for decades. He opened the Fort Mill location of Muzak, now the in-store media solutions provider Mood Media, in 1998. He left the company in 2011. Mood Media produces items such as signs, music and on-hold messaging and sound systems for various industries, according to the company.

During that transition, McKagan found his new passion.

“All of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I was faced with the fact of ‘what am I going to do when I grew up,’” said McKagan, who was 60 when he left the music business. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

That’s when McKagan met the founder of Renew Our Community.

“It was Dale Dove that really changed the course of my life,” McKagan said. “He was a passionate lawyer that was making a difference in our community.”

Having grown up Catholic, McKagan considered himself a Christian but “didn’t do anything about it,” he said.

That changed when Dove took him to see a group of homeless people.

“(The homeless) were within a block of Muzak, that I was responsible for building, and I didn’t know this tent city was right in my backyard,” McKagan said. “I will never forget driving home that night and saying to myself ‘oh so that’s what being a Christian is about. You’ve got to do something about it.’”

McKagan started working with ROC.

“I didn’t know anything about the homeless, it was just kind of a calling,” he said.

McKagan used his talent for securing entertainment to help ROC raise funds.

McKagan’s brother Duff is a founding member of Guns N’ Roses. The band joined Hootie and the Blowfish in January for the ROC n Roll benefit concert.

“It was a wonderful night for the ROC,” McKagan said.

McKagan said he has enjoyed using his skills for a worthwhile cause.

“Nobody really believes in the homeless ... but these are people that need us and they want us,” McKagan said. “They don’t want somebody just punching a clock.”

A visit to ROC will help people understand those who are down on their luck, McKagan said. He said getting them a job is not a simple solution because many struggle with substance abuse, mental illness, a lack of skills and other barriers.

“See Pathways yourself. See for yourself what’s really going on down here and see how the different agencies are working together,” McKagan said. “It will turn you around just like it did with me.”

McKagan is leaving as Pathways gets ready to open its doors, a reality he said is the result of a dream people like Dove had for Rock Hill.

“Dale had a vision that there would be this community of agencies that would be working together,” McKagan said. “We all dream of that. It’s really tough because different agencies have different values and philosophies.”

Pathways is bringing those agencies under one roof, McKagan said.

“We call it continuum of care,” he said. “I’m at a point right now where that dream is now a reality. I feel very excited and good.”

Iris Smalls-Hubbard, ROC’s director, will be take over for McKagan.

“I’ve learned a lot from Bruce. He will truly be missed here at the ROC,” Smalls-Hubbard said. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to stay at the ROC and do what I’ve been called to do.”

Smalls-Hubbard said ROC will focus on its mission to provide shelter during the day for the homeless and help them navigate crises.

“We’re going back to the basics of what ROC stands for. That’s to be a place within the York County community where those in need can go and be treated with respect,” Smalls-Hubbard said.

When it opened, Renew Our Community served about 15 people a day. That number is now 75-125 people, McKagan said.

“It’s a whole different world out there,” he said. “Rock Hill, York County is now ready to accept that and do something about it.”

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Amanda Harris covers issues related to children and families in York, Chester and Lancaster County for The Herald. Amanda works with local schools, parents and community members to address important topics such as school security, mental health and the opioid epidemic. She graduated from Winthrop University.
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