Staff Spotlight – Darlene Mims-Simpkins

It’s About Relationships

For Darlene Mims-Simpkins, relationships are what make work fulfilling. Darlene has been with PPCS since 2007, starting as the nurse of the Positive Directions (PD) program and now leading it. Her passion for building human connection started long before.

Finding Her Calling

Darlene began her nursing career 37 years ago as the Lead Nurse at a Detroit hospital’s locked psychiatric unit, where her patients were severely mentally ill and court ordered for treatment. “I loved that job. It was there that I learned that people with mental illness just wanted to be treated as humans,” Darlene said. “Here I had time to sit and talk to the patients and learn about them, their families, and their jobs. It was amazing to see the patients improve, return to their level of normalcy, and get to go home.”

“I love my job because of the people I get to serve, and I am grateful that they allow me to be a small part of their lives!”

Formed in 1996 in response to the AIDs epidemic, Positive Directions provides transitional housing and an array of support services to adults living with HIV. A 16-bed, 24-hour transitional housing program at two sites in Dutchtown, PD hosts clients up to two years, though currently, most successfully complete the program within 18 months.

From Detroit, Darlene moved to St. Louis to support extended family in need. She started working in a high-risk cardiology unit. It was fast paced, and the patient’s condition could turn on a dime. “There was little time to develop relationships,” Darlene said. “I felt disconnected, missing the relationship part of the job.” Making her way back to relationship-driven healthcare, Darlene has never looked back.

Now the long-time director of Positive Directions, Darlene supervises a team of 10 and manages the 16-bed, 24-hour transitional housing program at two sites in Dutchtown. The program has very low staff turnover and Darlene attributes that to the dedication of the team members. “They tell me what to do, and then I make tweaks,” said Darlene. “I’m grateful for the team that I have. I don’t think you could ask for a better team.”

Leading Positive Directions

It’s Darlene’s passion for getting close with clients has marked her long tenure with Positive Directions. Darlene walks with PD clients as they grow from homelessness, unaddressed medical issues, unemployment, and uncontrolled substance abuse, to managing their health, medications, employment, and finally living on their own. “Working together to resolve health issues builds relationships,” Darlene said. “That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I have here with the clients… relationships! Those connections remain beyond these walls. That’s why I stay.”

Aside from mentoring her team, Darlene helps with medical care, case management, and life skills training. “The work is super gratifying,” she says. Her emphasis on relationships also sustains strong connections with the program’s most frequent referral resources for clients as well. A big step for clients is finding safe, affordable, and permanent housing which Darlene also helps guide. “In the end, it’s their decision, but I do my best to stop a client from moving into an apartment where they won’t be successful.  Before we go look at a place, we review the rules, the rules are that we won’t decide on site. We will get back in the car and talk.” said Darlene. “They are so desperate for a place of their own sometimes, it’s hard for them to walk away from a rental that is unlivable. Sometimes they overrule me, but usually they will listen.”

Thank you to our incredible community partners providing key pieces of the puzzle in helping our PD clients find stability.

Special thanks to:

  • Places for People
  • Washington University’s Infectious Disease Clinic
  • Williams & Associates
  • Vivent

Unforgettable Clients

Not every client has a happy ending, which makes the ones who do even more special to Darlene. Here in Darlene’s own words, are two former clients who still make her smile.

Willie*: Years ago, Willie came into some money, and I told him, “Buy yourself a house, a move in ready, then all you have to worry about is upkeep, taxes and utilities.” And he did it. And to this day he is still in his house. He invites me over to see his updates. It just shows that sometimes clients are listening when you think they aren’t.

Martin*: Just before COVID started, I had a client Martin with a serious drinking problem. He was a college educated man. He didn’t believe how bad his drinking was. He gave us permission to videotape him the next time we witnessed him under the influence. When we showed him that recording, wow, he changed. He got sober, went back to school, and got a PhD. He calls and visits us letting us know how great he is doing.

*Name changed for client privacy.

Off the Clock, Still on a Mission

Darlene has now called St. Louis home for 20+ years with her husband of 30+ years. Their son and daughter are grown and flown, and Darlene has chosen a special way of spending her vacation time now: doing community health work on international mission trips.

Darlene has done mission work in South Africa, Haiti, Belize, and Guatemala. On these trips, Darlene spends her days providing medical care in some of the country’s most isolated, underserved villages and towns. “Every day I go out, and I’m not only a nurse, sometimes I’m the doctor too,” said Darlene. “We must do everything because there aren’t enough people to do it.”  After a day in the mobile clinic, Darlene’s work isn’t done. She goes home, makes bagged meals, then heads out into the evening to offer them to people living unhoused. “The gratefulness that they expressed was priceless,” Darlene reminisced. “Working with people who are homeless and otherwise underserved is my calling. I plan to continue to work with them for as long as I am able!”

Darlene and fellow volunteers on a recent mission trip.

Darlene works hard to clear up some of the stigmas related to being homeless. “People do not understand that every homeless person is not homeless by choice. Life happens! People may have a death in their family with whom they have shared living, and suddenly they are homeless. They lose their job, and now they are homeless. They have untreated mental health concerns that cause them to leave their home or job, and now they are homeless. Terrible things happen to good people that lead to homelessness. People think people who are homeless are never going to be anything or do anything for society, and that’s not true at all. They think that people who are homeless just want to lay up on society and collect benefits, and that’s not true at all either. Nobody says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be homeless.’ Nobody.”