Prince William News
Thu., Dec. 13 - Like two United States Marine Corps veterans profiled in this paper last week, the 25-year-old Stafford resident who works in Manassas received a hand up from Casey Downer of Haymarket and her Calling All Souls group that she runs with her husband and others.
Calling All Souls incorporates ministry into helping the homeless
© Gainesville TimesThis is the second part of a multi-part series about homelessness and the ministry of Calling All Souls.
You probably know why Santa Claus is famous.
If you don't, spend about 5 minutes driving through Manassas this month. You'll figure it out pretty quickly.
How about Saint Nicholas though, the man from the third and fourth century who lived in modern-day Turkey?
Stories abound about his gift giving as a way to bring hope to the downtrodden, like the golden dowries he left for the father of impoverished girls so they would not be sold into slavery.
That generosity inspired global sleigh rides long before any Black Friday sale or wrapped up widget left under a tree.
Talk to Kerneisha McClelland and she'll explain what that true spirit of giving means today.
Like two United States Marine Corps veterans profiled in this paper last week, the 25-year-old Stafford resident who works in Manassas received a hand up from Casey Downer of Haymarket and her Calling All Souls group that she runs with her husband and others.
The non-profit is dedicated to helping homeless people transition into normal housing situations, having served scores of people in the county since starting in 2011.
On her son's first birthday in April 2011, McClelland received notice that she, her son and her mother were being evicted.
During the next year, while her mother went to live with a church friend, McClelland stayed at five shelters before ending up at SERVE in Manassas.
Hotels and the homes of friends also kept her out of the autumn cold before a federal grant secured her housing in Stafford.
"We had nothing. We had just our clothes," said McClelland about when she finally arrived at her new place in Stafford County.
That's when the Downers arrived.
Today, the reunited family-of-three owns three beds, two couches, an entertainment system, television, dishes, blankets, towels, curtains, toys and even hygiene products after a donation drive from Calling All Souls.
"So they gave us everything in our house," she said.
Donations like that came as the Downers and the Calling of Souls board of directors asked for help in the community and received items they could store at a facility in Manassas and deliver to those in need.
"It makes you feel complete. You barely have the bag of clothes you came with," said McClelland. "They're very church-going people and positive. There's nothing else that we have to ask for."
McClelland worked at McDonald's but could only pull in $7.50 an hour while studying to become a nurse.
She recalled how she gave her son to her mother because she didn't want him living in the car with her.
"It's almost like you're neglecting your child," she said.
For Casey Downer, McClelland's situation was all-too relatable.
"One of the hardest things I have been through is to not have your child with you because you have no ways to provide for him," said Downer, a former single mother who is only four years older than McClelland.
At the same time, she knew what it was like to lose her home and to have her career goal (dentistry) crushed in the face of poverty.
More importantly though, Downer knew what it meant to bounce back.
After meeting Casey Downer, McClelland recalled how they "talked about religion but she's not forceful" about it.
It's similar to what the USMC veteran Mike B. mentioned on Dec. 2.
When asked how Downer incorporated religion into what she did, Mike said, "We said a prayer with her or whatever."
That's about it though.
"She doesn't make you take the soup," added Mike, referencing an Irish saying about forcing someone to convert his or her believes.
Downer is up-front about her beliefs. Her silver necklace with a crucifix dangling from the center has a small, metallic heart hanging right next to it to Downer's left side.
"It's really, my heart is right on the cross with God and Jesus and I'm here as his hands and his feet," said Downer, explaining the symbolism of the two medallions.
Living out their faith is the central tenant to why Casey and Doug Downer do with their non-profit organization.
"This isn't just something to provide relief," explained Doug. "This is to provide the beginnings of a sustainable faith."
Doug specifically referenced the Christian Bible as a guide for "how we can get through a lot of difficulties in life."
"When you're down for a really long period of time, sometimes it's really hard to see light at the end of the tunnel," he added.
"The biggest thing is, we're not, we aren't there to necessary to judge other people based on the faith that they have. We're there to spread the love of Christ," said Doug.
He later added, "When they open the door to us, they've opened the door to Christ."
Of course, opening the door to strangers comes with liabilities, so Casey asks the people she helps to sign a waiver releasing their information to her, include where they live, so she and her husband can legally protect themselves.
After that, "I just roll up my sleeves and go and Doug is basically the person who coordinates the background information," she said.
Dust to dust
Part of rolling up her sleeves means just listening and talking. Downer could empathize with someone like McClelland, who took on six months of counseling for depression and anxiety.
Meanwhile, her 50-year-old mother tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide at one point too, she said.
However, that saying, "This too shall pass" ultimately manifested itself for her and her family.
With help from Calling All Souls, SERVE, and federal grants covering her short-term housing costs, McClelland is now refocused on her work and schooling.
She is employed full time as a private home care phlebotomist. The 25-year-old also attends classes so she can train to become a registered nurse.
Ultimately, she'd like to transfer those skills into a career with the Navy, she said.
What the experience of homelessness and recover means to her is "just to be giving to others, that no matter what your circumstances are, you should give back."
"You can just be covered in dirt, (but) somewhere under that dirt is duty," McClelland added. "Just dust yourself off."