Ask Darlene D. Robinson about housing the homeless, and the first thing she’ll tell you is that she’s been there: Out on the street. Lonely. In desperate need of a helping hand.

These days, Robinson is the one offering that helping hand, as the director of Bethany House in Fairmount, the very homeless shelter that once housed this single mother and her young children in their days of desperation.

“I was in college and working at the time,” says the shelter director, now in her mid-40s and a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph with a BS in social work. “I was on welfare getting $386 a month. We just needed a cheaper place until I could finish school.”

The Robinson family found that place at Bethany House Services Inc., a 14-room home located on a tree-shaded residential street. “We stayed longer here than most [other residents] because I was in school.”

Upon graduation, Robinson decided to give back, first as a Bethany volunteer, then as an outreach manager. A somewhat natural progression followed. Today, shelter director Robinson and Bethany House serve more than 2,000 homeless women and children per year, with a staff of 30 and more than 200 volunteers.

Little surprise, given her roots, that Robinson brought her own special spin to the program: Starting a unique adoption program where local companies “adopt” a bedroom at Bethany, then take on the task of remodeling and furnishing that room.

Even as Robinson improves on Bethany, she pays tribute to its long-standing mission and her years as a resident. “The face of homelessness at that time was a bad woman or an alcoholic. I was neither. Bethany was a blessing. I didn’t have to worry about where we would sleep, eat or get clean clothes."