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Couple who received help gives back to South Mississippi homeless shelter

VICKSBURG —When Justin and Brandi Aldridge needed help in 2014, they reached out to Lifting Live Ministries director Joel Dimmette.

Four years later, they’re returning the favor, serving as volunteer on-site, live-in managers at Lifting Lives’ shelter on U.S. 80.

Lifting Lives is a shelter to help homeless families get back on their feet. It’s a situation the Aldridges are familiar with.

“Back in April 2014, we moved back to the area,” Justin said. “I was recovering from a heart attack and we needed help. We reached out to Joel and he helped us. We were staying at a local hotel and he helped us out. Basically from there, as I climbed back up, he reached out to us and asked us if we would like to work with the ministry and join the team and help with the shelter.

“We were running a local motel, and he saw how we were running it and helped keep it running orderly. He wanted to use that experience.”

The couple lives on the property and are on call “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Justin said.

“We don’t have days off; we are here all the time for everyone and their needs. We stay very busy.”

The reason they volunteered, he said, was because when he and Brandi came to Lifting Lives, “We were treated with dignity and we were looked at as a human and not as a charity case. We were treated human. All humans have ups and downs, and we were allowed to keep our dignity. That’s why we do what we do — to give back.”

Working at the shelter, Brandi said, is fun.

“It’s a learning experience as well with us learning to help families get back on their feet. Everything we do on the shelter property is volunteer-based.”

Justin said he and Brandi, as well as the other volunteers “are part of a team that emphasizes that notion that we are here for the people, and it’s that team effort that utilizes our skills as well as the other skills of the board, the director. We all have unique skills that we bring to the table.”

He said families coming to the shelter first meet with Dimmette, who determines if the family meets the qualifications and the criteria necessary for assistance.

If they do, Justin said, the family comes to him and Brandi, and they do the intake process that puts them in a room. They explain the program, get the family set up and helps them with their daily needs.

“We pass out food once a day and have other programs that we offer through the ministry. As a whole, we can provide them the ways to help them to get to the place they want to be — to reach their goal,” he said.

Having gone through the process themselves, Brandi said, helps them work with the families.

“We’re able to see where they’re coming (from) a little closer. They’re able to reach out to us; they feel comfortable reaching out to us, knowing that we were once recipients of help from here, too, so we understand, too,” she said.

“They feel more comfortable because it’s not an outside perspective that’s looking into a situation,” Justin said.

“We can directly relate, because we’ve have seen that hard time and empathize with them, and it brings a unique tool and a unique strength to our team as a whole to provide everyone with the services that they need. It’s long hours, but we love what we do,” Brandi said.

She added she also works as the assistant manager at The Warehouse, Lifting Lives’ thrift store, and the shelter’s food bank. Justin works with a local company. The best part of their work, Brandi said, “Is watching a family gain their goal; get back on their feet, provide for themselves.”

“It’s watching them coming in, and initially they’re afraid, they’re nervous; but after their time here in the program, they’re standing tall, smiles on their faces and they have their smile back; they’re no longer frowning; that’s the best part of this job,” Justin said.

“We help those that are in need. When we needed it, we received it, and there’s so many people who need that, and we want to help them.”

The toughest part of their job, he said, “Is the fact that there’s only so much we can do. We can’t solve every problem, and that can be frustrating to me, because I can’t fix everything for everybody.

“Some things you can’t fix. It’s not so much the people themselves, it’s the situation. If someone is having a hard time with an issue and you don’t have the immediate solution, that bothers me, because I want to just make it better for everybody and sometimes it’s not so cut and dried.”

He said the couple will remain with the ministry “for as long as this ministry is around. We will be here.

“We feel strongly about what we do. It is very rare to find an organization that does not have an ulterior motive, in my opinion,” he said.

“These people have a very pure heart. That’s my incentive — the purity of the project.”