This was Originally Intended to be an Article About Thanksgiving at the Samaritan Center in Vero Beach





But after visiting the Center we need to take a different path about the Center itself and how it is helping people by providing a “Road Back for Homeless Families.”

First, we want to share with you a story about a young woman; one of the Center’s residents.

Her name is Keely. To protect her privacy we are unable to provide her last name or a photo. But she is a beautiful young woman with an eight-year old son who lives with her at the Center.

Keely wanted us to “use her words and story” as her way to repay and thank the Center for providing the “opportunity to get my feet back on the ground and help me go back to school to get my B.S degree in Education. I want to tell donors that your donations are not going to waste.”

Keely found herself in a situation where she was “drowning.” Her husband left her and “took everything,” including all their money. “I found myself in a situation where I had no where to go.”

Although she worked at BestBuy, she was unable to pay her bills and eventually lost the job because “I had so much going on emotionally.”

“I had no money to live on.”

Keely had the good fortune of being directed to the Samaritan Center where she met the criterion for enrollment as a resident.


“Now I’m safe, have a roof over our head and food to eat. I don’t have to worry about that anymore. There are people here who help me know what to do. I am really grateful. If I have a bad day they help me. They are not intimidating. They are on your side.”

“They want you to succeed and help us be self-sufficient. They are teaching us a new way to live, how to help ourselves, how to be responsible, how to do chores and clean up after ourselves and be respectful of our neighbors.”

“How to be able to live.”

Keely is now back working at BestBuy and is required by the Samaritan Center to save 75% of earnings. Because she lives at the Center she’ll pay no tuition for her education. And while she is in school the Center will provide childcare for her son.

“At this point now I’ll be able to save and go to school and I’ll have a nest egg when I leave.”

Now to a little bit about the Samaritan Center for Homeless Families.

In 1991 ten Vero Beach churches, including St. Helen, Holy Cross and the Community Church came together to build a homeless family center, now the Samaritan Center, where nine adults and 15 children currently live.

(According to the Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council, Inc. website, as of January 2015, there were 812 homeless children and adults in Indian River County. In hindsight, perhaps the churches should have built a bigger facility.)

Since opening its doors in 1992, the Samaritan Center has served over 488 families and more than 1,545 individuals travel the road back from homelessness.

While nondenominational, and although the Center is a program of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach; it only receives 14% of its operating budget as one of their programs. The United Way helps out but 75% of its operating budget comes from fundraising, private donations and grants.

Catholic Charities Logo

That’s why Keely wanted to “tell donors that your donations are not going to waste.”

The Center serves those who come from dysfunctional families, those abandoned by breadwinners, or those who have experienced domestic violence.

There is a comprehensive eligibility process, including drug screening and background checks.

Residents are required to live at the Center for a minimum of one year. Should they choose to do so they are allowed to stay for two years. They live in individual family bedrooms in a dormitory-style setting, sharing a large kitchen, living and dining areas and an enclosed yard.


Enclosed Playground

Play area

Play Area Within the Center

A parent, who has custody, even if it is a grandparent, must always supervise their children.

With help from the Center adults must obtain and retain employment and as indicated above are required to save 75% of their earnings.

The Center provides structured programs designed to the individual needs of each resident. A case manager who is supervised by Vanessa McGriff, Assistant Program Administrator, tracks their progress. The goal is to get them back on their feet.

There is a staff of 11, including a Program Administrator, Renee Bireley, who oversees the Center’s operations, the Case Manager, a Children’s Coordinator and Michelle Bond, a Support Staff Specialist who helps with transporting residents, meal planning and shopping. Michelle has been with the Center for 13 years.

Additionally, there are 15 volunteers who assist with meals, workshops, grounds, maintenance and tutoring children.

Now, finally, to Thanksgiving Day.

At 7:00 a.m. volunteers arrive to prepare hot breakfasts for the families.

At 10:00 a.m. the Indian River Rescue League arrives with smoked turkeys and other side dishes for the families.


At 10:30 Bill Mead, Chad Elberson and their families, as well as Rose Brown; long-time participants arrive to help prepare the dinner. The families have been so blessed to have their special volunteers come in to prepare the dinner; as well as their planned activities such as face paintings and coloring book contests, Christmas decorating and story telling.


Tables for Thanksgiving Dinner


Here’s one of the turkeys!

As we mentioned earlier, Renee Bryerly oversees the Center’s operations. Although she has only been at the Center since August 2015, she has an extra special connection to the Center.


Renee Bryerly

Her father-in-law, Richard C. Bireley was a on the Advisory Board that envisioned and built the Center. Was that fate?

Previously, Renee was the Director of several award winning programs including the Links- up Mentoring for Camp Fire USA Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama where there promise is:

Our Promise

Young PEOPLE want to SHAPE the world.

Camp Fire provides the OPPORTUNITY to find their SPARK,

LIFT their voice, and DISCOVER who they are. 

In Camp Fire it begins now.

Light the fire within

Upon her families return to Vero Beach, where her husband grew up, Renee was a Career Coach with Henkels & McCoy the service provider for CareerSource Youth Connections Program. CareerSource is a not-for-profit chartered by the State of Florida to create and manage a workforce development service delivery system responsive to the needs of businesses and job seekers.

This background is perfect for the Samaritan Center, which her father-in-law as a member of the Advisory Board worked alongside the ecumenical movement to make the center a reality.


Renee says: ‘We provide our residents with the tools to get back on their feet, three good meals a day, a roof over their head, a safe environment to concentrate on re-building their lives preparing them to live independently.”

To find out more about Catholic Charities and The Samaritan Center please visit:

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