Hello! We are Austin and Nikki Williams, the keepers of Elijah’s Closet (EC). In 2017, we were made aware of the number of children in foster care within the county we live in and immediately felt led to become foster parents. While attending training, we realized the lack of resources for foster parents and decided to open a “closet” that would help supply them with necessary items for the children entering their home. Shortly after, we were introduced to another couple who, in 2015, had started a closet out of a storage unit and we became partners. Fast forward to 2018, when Elijah’s Closet became a 501(c)(3), adopted a board of like-hearted individuals, and grew from one, to two, to three storage units, into a building! In 2020, a second location was established in the Pine Belt! (A special warm thanks to everyone who has assisted with this growth.)
When we are not busy with EC, we both work full time and maintain our little Gulfport home. Nikki is an Auditor for the State of Mississippi and Austin is a Technical Writer for Triosim Corporation. We have a 2-year-old daughter, Mercy, and an 18-year-old son, Brayden, who are far wiser than us. Not pictured are our pups, Bella and Rocko. Bella is blind but you would never know it until you catch her staring at a wall. Rocko is a cuddly ball of fur unless you mess with his next meal. For fun we love to travel, grow our garden, expand our knowledge, and routinely question what we are going to have for dinner.
Hi! I’m Loree Gilman, the Vice President of Elijah’s Closet. Sitting down to write this is probably the hardest thing for me to do. I’m not one to talk about myself. I prefer to focus on my family, friends, and anyone else that crosses my path and needs help. Growing up, I was always told I had a servant’s heart. I didn’t know what that meant then, but I sure do now! After serving six years in the US Navy, I chose to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become a nurse. I guess helping sick people wasn’t enough because I initially learned about Elijah’s Closet in the spring of 2019, while my husband and I were going through education classes to become foster parents. Our President, Nikki Williams, and former vice president, Celeste Keeling, were present to talk about Elijah’s Closet and how they help the foster community. In my truest fashion, my initial thought was not centered on how they could help me. Instead, it was, “Oh this sounds great! I bet my daughter can volunteer with them for her required services hours for school!” And that is how my connection to EC started. As my daughter got more involved with volunteering, I also got more involved as she needed rides and mom is always the best taxi service! 😂 Nikki and I started having more conversations where she started encouraging me to think about joining the board, but as a new foster parent and with a full-time job, I wasn’t in a position to add more to my plate. After some soul searching, employment changes, and getting settled in a good routine with all the children I found myself with, I was finally in a position to get more involved and joined the board in 2021. I am so excited to help this organization grow and reach so many people from all walks of life!
I currently work for SMPDD as a Career Coach for the Career STEP program which is designed to provide tuition assistance, job placement, supportive services and access to community resources for families in need. Previously, I’ve worked with the State of MS in HR and Division of Medicaid, as well as counseling adolescence with behavioral and substance abuse disorders. I have also designed and implemented several successful programs from the ground up and I am looking forward to being a part of EC. Personally, I mentor individuals in recovery and those transitioning from active addiction into recovery. I am also an open ear for members of my community that may need assistance but don’t know how or where to start.
I am a single mother of two amazing children although, one is not-so-little anymore. My son is Kyle, he is 20 years old, a graduate of Long Beach High School and currently in his second year at USM on an honors scholarship, majoring in Computer Science. My daughter is Alex, she is 16 years old, a freshman at Long Beach High School, is in band and going for a band scholarship. When I say “single mother” I mean that in the truest sense of the word. I worked two jobs for the last 6 years until recently obtaining my current position and finally being able to afford to quit one.
My personal experiences have driven my professional paths in a way I could never have imagined. I have been the child in need, I have been the one recovering and I have been the mother whose children were in need. Having been the homeless child, then the single mother, in a community with very little or no access to “resources”, I have a unique perspective on unmet needs in our communities. What a blessing it is to be able to sit at the very table of the agencies & organizations offering services I so desperately needed and have a voice. My voice is heard by developing internal processes that allow these agencies to reach more families efficiently and by speaking up on behalf of those working families not able to meet needs. My goal is to prepare a more solid path to self-sufficiency for those behind me and I am prepared to do that in any way the Lord leads me both personally and professionally.
Please feel free to contact me at any time.
My name is Courtney Connell, Pine Belt Site Director for Elijah’s Closet Pinebelt location. I came to know Elijah’s Closet mission back in 2016 when I met our President, Nikki Williams while we were both working at the Department of Marine Resources. I knew she was a special individual when I met her, but I never dreamed God would bring us back together 4 years later to do such awesome things for the Foster Care Community! As a single lady with no children, I had prayed for God to show me how my time in this season of life should be spent. I never imagined all the ways he would touch my heart with this purpose. He has shown me how easy it is for ordinary people to accomplish grand things for the Kingdom of God when his hand is in the decisions being made and when you trust and obey.
In December 2020, we started the Pinebelt location with the largest storage unit we could find and within 3 years we had filled it up and already helped so many families. It has been one of my greatest blessings to be a part of Elijah’s Closet and the mission of reshaping foster care!
My regular day job consists of keeping my employees happy and keeping our culture fun as the HR Director for a company called Yak Access based out of Columbia, MS. I’m also blessed to have such a special organization and group of people I work with daily that also help us support the community needs and the missions of Elijah’s Closet! The Yak Pak has had a big part in helping us get organized and supplying donations!
I have a love for all God’s creations with a special attachment to my fur babies Rowdie, Roxie, and Maverick. Also, I love seeing and traveling to new places while I’m not sorting and organizing the EC donations!
My name is Susie Quina Baumunk, I moved to this area in 2010 for my current position with Ability Works, now Global Connections to Employment. I manage the custodial and grounds maintenance contracts at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, easily the best position I have ever had. The residents I get to work with, and my staff are by far the best. I am a mom and nana. I love working in my yard and sharing seeds with anyone who wants new plants.
I started volunteering with Elijah’s Closet after riding by here twice a day on my way to and from work. I was interested in what EC was, looked them up on Facebook, when they were looking for a secretary, I threw my name in the hat. It was rough at first, I wasn’t sure what my duties were, and my boundaries, with a little direction, I have found my spot in this wonderful organization. I have found this to be a great organization to work with. I love crafts and am always looking for ways to use my Cricut to make things for the office. I also volunteer with Friends of the Court working with guardianship cases.
I look forward to many years of service to Elijah’s Closet, they are a worthwhile organization and make helping kids the goal everyday…
My name is Dianna Jones. I grew up in the beautiful town of Vancleave, Mississippi. I have 3 wonderful children. I started with Elijah’s Closet when they first began, I was the original treasurer. I took a short break due to my career workload and now back as the fund-raising director. Elijah’s Closet is very dear to my heart because they were there for me when I needed them. Two of my children are foster/adoption, 10 years ago when they came to me, I was not prepared. I had 24 hours to come up with everything a 3- and 4-year-old would need. Between my family and Elijah’s Closet my new babies had everything they could want and need. Elijah’s Closet makes an unbelievable difference in so many lives. I’m so proud of Elijah’s Closet and will continue to support and help grow EC so that other children like my own can benefit and thrive!