Since getting help from Alpha Daughters of Zion, Shalinda Austin says her life is amazing.
“I never thought I’d be here,” said Austin of LaPlace. “Never.”
The turning point came in 2013 when she brought a friend to the nonprofit organization for help and came to realize she needed help, too.
“I was in a very unhealthy relationship,” she said. “I didn’t realize I was and went to Alpha Daughters to help a friend out and to help her get housing.”
The friend got help, but Shirley Parram-Sims, the organization’s founder and executive director, told Austin that she needed assistance, too. Although she’d later admit that Parram-Sims had read her like a book, she denied what she heard initially.
A couple of weeks later, Austin decided it was time to make the “right choices” and got counseling, which was a timely move considering her situation worsened.
“There were times I called at 2 a.m. in the morning,” Austin said of calling Parram-Sims. “She gave spiritual counseling, real counseling and then motherly counseling – woman to woman.”
Austin wound up getting a divorce, which was tough with having three school-age children. But she pressed on knowing the situation was about them, too. But Parram-Sims helped her get a job at W.R. Grace and Co. (then Dow Chemical) in Norco.
“Talk about doors opening,” she said of the opportunity. “I was able to keep my home, get everything paid for and the kids ended up in private school.”
This was substantially different than when this single mother recalled having to tell her children they couldn’t afford Christmas presents because she had to pay bills first.
But “Mother” Parram-Sims intervened again.
Austin’s children got toys when she connected her to the St. Charles Parish Toy and Gift Fund, and she also found them clothing.
“That was what they really needed,” Austin said.
She also came to understand that her difficulties were rooted in repeating the same issues from her past over and over again.
With help from Parram-Sims, she broke the cycle.
Austin recently graduated from Logos University in Jacksonville, Fla., with a degree in theology. She also completed an entrepreneur course for people who want to start a business in the River Parish, as well her daughter being crowned Miss Greater New Orleans and in the running for Miss Black Louisiana.
“My life is amazing now,” she said.
On July 1, Alpha Daughters moved into the C.A.R.E. Center, 171 Keller St. in Hahnville.
“The new location works out real good because our clients have access to the lawyers here two days a week to get legal advice,” she said.
Parram-Sims said they also have a woman’s advocate available five days a week on domestic issues.
Alpha Daughters, a partner agency of the United Way of St. Charles, are also seeking board members. For more information or to join the board, call (985) 308-0819.