Wilsonian retires from helping Raleigh homeless

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It was God who brought Lynn Daniell’s family to Wilson, and it was the 67-year-old man’s faith that led him to trade in his career in textiles for an apron at Raleigh Rescue Mission.

He stepped down from that post in June and was honored for 24 years of hard work and devotion during a Friday celebration.

“I feel like when I took over, my predecessors had set good foundations that I could build on,” Daniell said. “I’m still healthy and really enjoy it, but I feel like I’m at that stage in my life to focus on my family and the mission could use someone new. Just like I brought certain skills to the position, I think the leader will bring their own attributes to the mission going forward.”

Daniell notified the mission’s board of directors in early 2016 about his desires to retire and after months of searching, John Luckett was appointed as Daniell’s successor. And after 44 years in the workforce, Daniell said he is eager to shift his focus.

“I want to enjoy the time with my grandkids and see if my gray-haired self can help somewhere,” he said. “I may end up working in a soup line. I don’t know.”

Daniell’s parents graduated from Atlantic Christian College around World War II and his father brought the family back to Wilson in the 1950s when he was hired as the director of admissions. Daniell and sister Angela and brother Alan were raised on Grove Street before the family moved to Canal Drive.

An athletic teenager, he played quarterback and shortstop for the championship football and baseball teams at Fike High School in the 1960s. He attended N.C. State University on a football scholarship and studied textiles before taking a job in Georgia. He returned to Raleigh to work in specialized textiles, then took a position for an electric company.

His wife, Margaret, passed away after battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma for almost eight years. As a single father with a daughter, Daniell relied on his faith to get him through the grief.

“Some time after her death, I decided 20 hard years working in a tough industry was enough, and I wanted to see where God would lead me,” he said. “When I was hired as the staff director, it was a small staff, so I did whatever needed to be done. I found real joy working with the individuals every day.”

As the mission grew, so did his responsibilities until he was named the executive director in 2004. And at home, he found happiness, too, when he married a fellow widow named Sarah, and the duo raised three daughters.

“If it weren’t for God’s grace, I think when I went through that tragic and painful time, I could have ended up on the street,” he said. “Instead, I listened to God and the doors opened for me to help others who didn’t have the chances I did. For me, it was important to share the love of Christ and what he can do in our lives because he worked miracles when I was going through a desperate time.”

With an emphasis on the mental, physical and spiritual health of the individual, Daniell focused on building self-worth and fostering hope among the homeless.

“Some people have made bad choices and they are paying the consequences, but there is always forgiveness and second chances,” he said. “I have seen people change.”

One such case happened nearly two decades ago with a man who would come for a few days before disappearing.

“He was kind of a tough guy and hard to get along with, but I just connected with him,” he said. “We saw him four or five times before something clicked with him and he realized he was doing the same thing over and over and over again and that if he didn’t change, he would end up six feet under. The other reality that dawned on him is that when he spent time at the mission, he saw how much people cared about him and how that made him feel.”

Through the mission, the man learned a trade and developed a career. He got married and eventually became a volunteer at the mission.

“When people are moving toward being healthy, their desire to help other people grows,” Daniell said. “What was so dynamic about the programs at the mission was that we guided and led things, but so much of the healing was initiated between the residents. That was a great thing to see.”

And while Daniell spent his career in the Triangle area, the Wilson native said the problem of homelessness and hunger is in every community.

“At some point, you have to realize life is not just all about me. When you do that, you go from striving for success to seeking significance,” he said. “To do that, you need to take your God-given talents and the resources you have to help someone else.

“Your struggles might be appointments by God to help others do what they can’t do on their own.”