By Polly Keary, Editor
Editors Note: With this story, we continue our annual Featured Non-profit series, in which each week through the holiday season we highlight the work of a local non-profit, including ways to help in this season of giving. We encourage support for these worthy charities.
When her storage-unit-buying business failed, her truck was stolen along with her dog, and her cat died all within a matter of days, Taylor Masters gave up. For the next three years she was homeless, either couch surfing or living in her car, sometimes even sleeping outside.
But when she showed up at Monroe’s Take the Next Step, a drop-in center where, three days a week, many struggling and homeless people can find a cup of coffee and a place to rest, she got more than just a snack.
She learned about resources she hadn’t known existed, and one piece at a time, she rebuilt her life.
Now she once again has a place of her own, but she still comes back to Take the Next Step to help out and to find out what she can do for others.
Her story reflects the role that Take the Next Step plays in the community, as a place where people in crisis can find everything from coffee and a donut to jobs, housing, education, emergency financial assistance and medical help.
Take the Next Step was founded by the Monroe Covenant Church in 2005 as a place for people to go to find help when they needed it.
Finding services can be difficult without help. There are many organizations and resources for people facing all sorts of issues, but they aren’t of any use to people who don’t know they are there.
Now, four part-time employees and numerous volunteers involved with TTNS help people find the assistance they need.
For example, when Masters first started coming to TTNS, she didn’t know there was a women’s shelter in town. The Monroe Gospel Women’s Mission has some transitional housing on Short Columbia Street, and Masters moved in.
Then she found several more organizations, including Bridgeways, Evergreen Manor, the YWCA and the Shelter Plus Program, and through them she was able to get assistance to get her own apartment, although she lives on a small disability check each month.
At Take the Next Step’s two-story Sams Street home, there is an upstairs room with 10 computers where people can look for jobs, as well as bulletin boards with frequently updated information about housing opportunities and services.
There is more to building a stable life than just getting a job or an apartment, though.
Many people are in need of basic life skills, such as how to manage a savings account, or how to control one’s temper, and at TTNS, many area experts come in to teach such skills for free.
Masters has a robin’s egg blue folder full of notes from those classes, as well as certificates that show she completed them.
Although TTNS is more a place to go to find resources rather than a resource in and of itself, the non-profit does offer some basic services, said Janos Kendall, director of Take the Next Step.
“We do have some rent and utility assistance or financial aid with classes, and can help with license tabs and renewals and some transportation assistance,” she said.
Street-involved and homeless teens, as well as teen parents, also can find teen parenting classes, mentoring, and movie nights at TTNS, or can come in just to hang out, play games and do homework.
And Kidz Club, an afterschool tutoring program for elementary school kids, now draws about 40 kids a day.
Other non-profits work closely with TTNS. Each Tuesday night, various organizations take turns providing a dinner for as many as 150 people. And others provide sack lunches on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, each day the center is open.
People living in Housing Hope homes come to take the life skills classes. Volunteers of America works together with TTNS to address chronic homelessness. And TTNS has been involved with the creation of a new cold weather shelter that will provide a warm place to stay on sub-freezing winter nights.
And about 140 volunteers give their time teaching classes, serving meals and helping out.
Of all the help TTNS provides to the people who pay about 5,000 visits a year to the place, it is perhaps the mentoring and classes that do the most good, said Kendall.
“People give up, and having support has been life changing for a lot of people,” she said.
Masters concurs. As gregarious as she is, it’s hard to imagine her as she describes herself upon arriving there for the first time.
“I was very antisocial,” she said. “Everyone was scared of me.”
Now, accompanied by Bosco, the little terrier she rescued from an unstable home, she shows up at TTNS to see what she can do for others.
“She comes here and visits with other guests, provides sack launches, and she is now going to different stores in the area and getting donations for cold weather gear and handing them out to the homeless who come in here,” Kendall said.
The organization is funded almost entirely by local churches and individual donors, said Kendall. And they are always looking for donations of things that homeless people need, like small flashlights, batteries, coats, pre-paid laundry cards, 30-gallon garbage bags, tarps, duct tape, rope, hats and gloves.
To learn how to donate or volunteer, visit www.thenextstepmonroe.org, call (360) 794-1022, or drop in at 202 S. Sams St. between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday or Friday.