WARNER ROBINS -- Most afternoons, if you call the Community Outreach Service Center, Louise Styles will answer the phone.
Styles is administrative assistant at the Duke Street homeless shelter that was started in 1999 by the Rev. John Thomas and his wife, Isadora.
If you're a man or woman, or a woman with children who is looking for help, she's probably who you will talk to first.
And if you do talk to her, you'll have her full attention and a sympathetic ear.
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"I came here myself, homeless and not knowing what in the world I was going to do back last June -- June of 2015," she said.
In her first week, the Thomases say they saw something special about Styles.
In that first week, they made her house mom. The next week they made her administrative assistant.
"We did see something," John Thomas said. "What we saw was a work ethic, a seriousness about what she did and that she was particular about everything she put her hand to. We decided to hire her because she was just who we needed. You don't always see that in everybody who comes here, but she was that way. She wanted to take care of the place, keep it clean, keep it straightened out. She had real ethics."
Today Styles not only works afternoons at the shelter, she's become established in her own modest apartment and is in her second semester at Central Georgia Technical College. She plans to transfer to Georgia Military College's Warner Robins campus next semester, where she'll pursue a business administration degree.
The GMC campus is only a couple of blocks from the shelter.
"God worked miracles for me, I can tell you that," Styles said, also expressing thanks for the Thomases and their ministry at the service center. "I'm from Crisp County and moved here with my son and his kids. They moved away and left me stranded. I had absolutely nowhere to go. I didn't know anybody and I was so scared. I was literally out the door and it was like, 'What do I do now?'''
Styles said she walked to the Goodwill Job Connection Center and received a listening ear and was directed to the Thomases' homeless shelter.
"I went from having nothing -- I mean nothing -- to having so much joy and such a wonderful future," she said. "I give all the glory and praise to God. Look at me, I'm 51 and have six adult children and 16 grand children, and he did all this for me when I was alone and scared and didn't know what to do."
Styles said it's not just homelessness she has in common with many who come to the shelter. She said for decades she was physically and emotionally abused by her husband, who eventually went to jail for his behavior. That's what led to her coming to Warner Robins.
"I love our clients, I love our people so much," she said. "I know what it feels like, and I know what God can do. And I'm so thankful for this place and Rev. and Mrs. Thomas. I tell people who come here you're not homeless, you're temporarily displaced while God works to do good things in your life. I love this place."
Styles said she's fruit of God's work using the long-term commitment of the Thomases and those who have partnered with the shelter to keep it operating for 16 years, even if on a shoestring budget.
"Not everybody who comes in ends up like Louise," John Thomas said. "But some do. We're here for all kinds, trying to help them and love them in Jesus' name."
It's the need he sees -- and God's work in people's lives like Louise -- that keeps Thomas hard at work at the shelter. A pastor and Air Force retiree, he said he'd like to retire from running the ministry if the right person comes along to take over. Until then, he forges ahead helping provide housing and connections to training and work via the shelter's 30-day-plus program.
"We have some good partners and people who've helped through the years, but could always use more," he said. "The city has been a blessing, individuals have given time and support and church groups like the Rehoboth Baptist Association, Green Acres Baptist, Sacred Heart Church, New Piney Grove Baptist. We're grateful for everybody that lends a hand. The Flint Energies Foundation gave us $5,000, and there's a group of Korean women who give regularly. We're grateful for those who just buy an extra bottle of cleaning mixture at the store and drop it by for us. I believe God blesses every gift large and small."
Thomas said the shelter has set up a PayPal account to make giving easier. It's through john@ccenterout reach.mgacoxmail.com.
Styles said since the first of the year the shelter has housed nine women, 14 children and about two dozen men.
She said more than half the men are veterans.
"How do you say no to a veteran," she said. "That's hard."
John Thomas said many of the veterans are there at the request of the VA while waiting for VA-provided housing. He said some are there short-term and some for months.
He said though done at the VA's request, the VA doesn't pay the shelter to keep them. Thomas said he wishes they would.
"But God put us here to help," he said. "We'll keep helping as much as we can as long as we can however we can. I sure hate to see a veteran out on the street. I hate to see anybody there."
Thomas said a current project at the shelter involves finishing a building they're using as a storage facility for donated items to be sold to raise funds at an outdoor thrift market at the shelter. One day he hopes it may be an indoor store.
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 404 Duke Ave., Warner Robins
Leadership: The Rev. John Thomas and Isadora Thomas