Community Builder: Midlands woman gifts independence to homeless families

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Asking for help when they need it most can be a humbling moment for families who are struggling with homelessness. But in that moment of crisis, there's a woman in the Midlands who holds out her hand in offering - giving them something that cannot be bought.

Lila Anna Sauls is the President and CEO of Homeless No More, a nonprofit organization in the Midlands dedicated to supporting homeless and at-risk families during a time of crisis.

Through the organization's various services and programs, Sauls and her staff aim to bring the families out the other side, ensuring they never find themselves homeless again.

"My vision for the Midlands for at-risk and homeless families is to give the skills they need to fight their way out of poverty, to further their education, to further their life skills," Sauls said. "To give them the stability they need to never find themselves in this situation again."

The nonprofit recently took the Columbia Family Shelter under its umbrella. Homeless No more is the parent organization of St. Lawrence Place, which is transitional housing, and Live Oak Place, which is considered affordable housing.

With the acquisition of Family Shelter, Homeless No More doubled its capacity. Before they were serving thirty families and now serve sixty; they served fifty children and now have more than 100 kids on their various campuses.

"The coming year really is all about building on that capacity. We have a lot of capital needs," Sauls said. "Our buildings are old and we have holes in the floors. And our families deserve the best."

Sauls and her team work to serve these families from start to finish, which made her a clear choice and nominee for the Community Builder award, in partnership with Mungo Homes.

"The kids love her. The staff loves her. We all love her," said Amy Lowery, Homeless No More's Director of Development. "It's wonderful to work for somebody with that much compassion for wanting to make our community better."

Lowery nominated Sauls and told WIS Sauls just has a special quality that she can't put her finger on.

"She's just got a great heart. It's all about the families and all about the kids," Lowery said. "She just has 'it.' You just have 'it.' And she's got 'it.' The program that she has built here... the families come out at the end of the program shining."

Matt Mungo with Mungo Homes surprised Sauls as she read to children at St. Lawrence Place's activities center. Her board and family were all there to help her celebrate the moment and the honor.

"When Matt gave me the hard hat, one of my own 5-year-olds whispered in my ear and said 'momma tell him you build houses, you're in construction,'" Sauls said. "And I kept thinking, we are in construction. We build houses but we also build a foundation for these families."

Building foundations to last a lifetime, Sauls said she fights for these kids and their future, because their story is not written yet.

"These children are our future, and they're the ones we're going to look to in 10-20 years," Sauls said. "And they're going to be sitting right next to my 5 children. We would all be remiss to give up hope for the 100 children we have on our campuses right now. My job and the job of our community is to make sure they are safe every single night, whether it's at Family Shelter, St. Lawrence Place or Live Oak Place."

As a Community Builder, Sauls receives a $1,000 check to the cause of her choice. She said it will go right back into the infrastructure needs at Homeless No More campuses, and she couldn't be more excited to get started.

If you'd like to nominate someone making a difference in your community, just head to wistv.com/builder to submit.

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