'I've been where they are': Longview, Texas veteran discovers help, hope to overcome depression, PTSD

For five years, Dani Castillo-Rios devoted her life to her country through the U.S. Army. She served two tours of duty in Iraq and made closer friends than she ever imagined. 

But when it ended in 2010, she was hurting. She suffered from depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She couldn’t hold a steady job. Healthy relationships were a struggle. She became chronically homeless for years, ending up in a Longview, Texas, shelter with an infant son and no support system. The staff there introduced her to Buckner in Longview as well as the East Texas Veterans Resource Center.

“Buckner saved my life,” Dani said. “My caseworker was my fairy godmother, glitter included. There was never a time I didn’t feel like I didn’t have back up. When you’re in an area where you don’t know anyone, you don’t have a lot of options. 

“They were absolutely amazing. There were plenty of times I was in tears because I couldn’t see this big plan God had for me. I couldn’t see what I was doing in East Texas."

The East Texas Resource Center helped Dani find a place to live, while Buckner helped get her life on track. The ministry equipped her to raise her son through Buckner Project HOPES, empowered her with classes and efforts for job preparation and provided continuous support in between.

“Buckner has the best prayer warriors,” Dani said. “My running joke is that I’m pretty sure God just got tired of hearing them talk about me.”

With a new support network, some practical skills and counseling, Dani’s life began to change. She embraced hope for a better future.

“Everyone who knew me before said sorry, we can’t help,” she said. “Absolute strangers gave me grace, compassion and caring. This is where I found religion. God and I weren’t really on speaking terms. This is where I found him.”

She also found a purpose in the form of her dream job at the East Texas Veterans Resource Center – helping veterans who are where she once was by connecting them with housing opportunities.

“I know what it’s like to be where they are,” Dani said. “I had children. I was homeless. I tell them I’m hope. I’m living proof there’s hope. It is an amazing feeling to be helping people who are in a similar situation. It’s incredibly gratifying. But really it’s my way of giving back.”

Cheryl Hall, Dani’s parent educator through Project HOPES, said Dani’s transformation is a result of determination and hard work. When Buckner connected her with a resource, Dani took advantage of it. She took the necessary steps to make her more employable as well as a better parent.

“The story about Dani is about her tenacity. She wanted to get out of the hole she was in mentally and emotionally. She wanted to get back to where she was. She wanted to take care of her son,” Hall said. “She is such an amazing mom. Her gift of silliness and singing is amazing. She’s very much an entertainer for little Niko. She always has that joy in her heart.”

Dani’s enjoying life more now than ever before. She has a close group of friends and is growing as a person. She sees a bright future ahead.

“Everyone I’ve been put into contact with in East Texas has helped me. I could write 1,000 thank you letters and cards and it wouldn’t be enough. They saw good in me when I couldn’t see it in myself. They have blessed my family immensely.” 

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