“It’s been a long time coming, but I’m thankful!” Darius says.

“It” is a three-bedroom house, blue-gray with white shutters, a fireplace, and a yard overlooking mature trees in his hometown of Florence, S.C. Despite the shake in his hands, Darius signed his mortgage papers and moved into his very own home in late December. He says it’s a dream come true.

But just three and a half years ago, his longtime dream seemed to disappear. Darius had been an industrial pipefitter, crisscrossing the country to work at power plants, paper mills, and even The Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks. He’d always planned to return home to Florence, but when he saw an ad that Virginia’s shipyards needed skilled tradesmen, he moved to Norfolk, “and I’ve been here ever since.”

Working full-time, he was making good money and had been working toward purchasing his own home. He already had saved enough for the down payment, but Darius increasingly felt sick. He had tremors in his right hand and muscle weakness that worsened. One night while he was working overtime to help get one of the Navy’s newest ships into commission, he could not braze a pipe in the overhead. “Every time I tried to get my hands up over my head, torch in one hand, metal in the other, I’d just lose it. I felt myself going down.”

And his physical condition continued to worsen.

“I was constantly seizing. It was just like being seasick. I couldn’t get a glass of water up to my mouth. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t do nothin’ right.”

One day Darius passed out. “The next thing I knew I was going across a bridge and an ambulance attendant was saying, ‘Turn the lights on. He’s back with us.’” In and out of consciousness, he woke up in Norfolk General Hospital. The man standing over him explained that Darius had undergone emergency brain surgery. “The surgeon said that so much fluid had built up on my brain that it was way past the threshold. He couldn’t believe I was still alive!”

But his disability meant he could no longer safely work at the shipyard, and his living situation with a former co-worker grew contentious after his truck was stolen by so-called friends, so Darius moved out. He was able to stay in hotels for a while, but “when my FMLA ran out, I had no income whatsoever. I was living off of my bank account, and all my savings didn’t last long living totally out of pocket.”

And though the surgery had saved his life, Darius was still not back to normal yet. “I really never lived on the streets, not for long” Darius says. “The Norfolk Police Department brought me over here.”

“I was at the end of my rope when The Union Mission took me in. I was homeless. I didn’t have an income. All I had was the clothes on my back.”

He spent 20 days in emergency shelter, then as part of a former spiritual enrichment program, Darius found a special friend in Rev. Adrian Wyrick. “He took me on in and adopted me. I guess he’s my mentor.” Though he was hospitalized again for three days, the neurosurgeon adjusted his medications and his health improved. Darius’ doctors told him if he survived the next year, he was likely to live a fairly normal life. “Well, that was a long year!” Darius says. Though he still suffers some right-side disabilities, their prediction was right. “A few years ago, what you see me doing right now, I could not do.”

Though his doctors put no restrictions on his work, with persistent impairments and without the fine motor skills he once took for granted, a return to pipefitting seemed ill-advised. Instead, Darius found a part-time job in the meat market at a local Food Lion. The position allowed him to start to rebuild his savings.

Darius also became part of Reclaim, the Mission’s transitional housing and life-recovery program. Working with Director Michael Marshall, he reset his goal of home ownership in South Carolina. For years he looked on Realtor.com for the property he wanted to purchase, and in fall 2022, he found it and made an offer that was accepted.

“This is truly an indescribable goal that Darius set for himself, and it’s a blessing to see him accomplish this personal dream. We had been discussing home ownership since the first day he came to Reclaim, and he has done a great job working with his Realtor. I’m thankful to see this process come to fruition!” Marshall says.

Darius recognizes how different his life could have been.

“In three years I went from purchasing a hole in the ground to purchasing a home!”

And he’s grateful to the Mission for helping to make his future possible. “Without this place I don’t know what would have happened to me. The Mission has been so good to me, I can’t say it all. They clothed me. They fed me. They gave me shelter. Everything… my counseling, my disability. The spiritual side is out of this world! The prayers, the conversations, all the support. With my stay here, I have things in my life now that will stay with me from now on. The Union Mission gave me a new birth, a new life, starting all over again… with a fresh start to a bright future.”

“We here at The Union Mission did our part,” Wyrick says, “but it was Mr. B who did the heavy lifting. He desired to have better. He trusted in the power of God!”

Darius’ brothers and his daughters are delighted that he has moved home, and already he is spending time with his grandbabies. He has transferred to a Food Lion near his house in Florence, and the Mission got his home set-up started off right with a bed, a mattress, and a Home Tote full of useful household items.

“I know everything comes from the donors, so they get a ‘Woot! Woot!’ from me!” he says with a smile.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Darius says, but he holds on to something he heard in a sermon by Joel Osteen: too many folks going through tough times are waiting to celebrate, waiting to celebrate. “Why not enjoy your life as it is? Even in the trials and in the tribulations, you can find joy!”

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