knows the reality of life without a place to call home.
For nine months, the Columbia woman bunked in a Salvation Army shelter after a family death, depression and eventual drug addition cost her
a lucrative job in the University of South Carolina housing department.
But it was during those nine months she
learned the importance of staying connected, and today she's
working to do just that for others who now stand where she
Melani Miller gets a hug from long time friend Gene Luna while working at Salvation Army.
earned a lucrative salary in the University of South CarolinaÕs housing department before depression and eventual drug addiction cost her
that job and left her
without a place of her
Luna, who is an administrator at USC and a Salvation Army volunteer, worked with Miller 16 years ago at USC.
Miller is grants coordinator and special projects manager for the Salvation Army, where she is involved in outreach and intervention programs for the homeless.
But much of her
personal time and energies also are devoted to helping the homeless make their way off the streets.
"You don't realize what homelessness is until you've gone through it," Miller
learned that lesson firsthand during a nearly yearlong span starting in August 2006.
After being forced to leave her
own home, Miller
eventually moved to the Salvation Army
and was enrolled in the agency's alcohol and drug recovery program.
recalls the isolation she
initially felt from many in the community and even some family members.
"One thing homeless people experience every day is people not wanting to be around them.
They automatically have barriers put up," Miller
"When someone treats you with care and compassion, it gives you hope."
, that hope started with two Salvation Army case managers who regularly met with her
and supported her
One case worker arranged for Miller
to get eyeglasses and helped her
secure needed dental care.
was later assigned a Salvation Army volunteer, who offered transportation and other tangible assistance.
came and met with me weekly and encouraged me," Miller
"As I moved toward becoming self-sufficient, she
helped me move toward the next step."
During her stay at the Salvation Army, Miller was hired part time, and by the time she got her own place she had secured a full-time job there.
work within the agency typically extends beyond her
formal job requirements, often stretching well beyond 5 p.m. each day.
is actively involved in The Women at the Well, an outreach to homeless women.
Through that outreach and her
involvement in the Salvation Army church
helps homeless women connect with agencies and services that can provide assistance.
said one of her
biggest privileges is providing hope.
"There were people there when I was going through those critical stages of recovery that were there for me," she