This is the woman determined to change lives, reputations at Louis Manor Trust Apartments

Published 12:50 am Saturday, March 4, 2023

A resident of Louis Manor Trust Apartments is working to make a difference in the lives of the people who live there while hoping to change the public’s perception of the complex.

Shanderay Aitkens has undertaken the Manor: 1 initiative, where she brings in speakers, has open discussions, provides life skills coaching and listens to the needs of the residents. She is in the process of turning Manor: 1 into a nonprofit.

Louis Manor Trust apartments, located at 1300 Joe Louis Avenue, is on the West Side of Port Arthur and has been the location of past and recent acts of violence, including a shooting earlier this week.

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Aitkens was spurred to action by guilt, she said. It was after the May 2022 shooting death of Arneshia Carter that another resident asked Aitkens for a ride to buy balloons for a release in Carter’s memory.

Aitkens was having car problems and wasn’t able to help. She later learned how Carter tried to make a positive change at the apartments before she was killed while trying to break up a fight and disarm an individual who was in a disturbance with another person.

Aitkens later initiated four balloon releases in the city in honor of Carter and others who died in gun violence.

The beginning

She began with the children last summer offering activities such as pizza parties while giving them a safe haven to be children.

She connected with representatives of the Port Arthur Fire Department, who came out and brought a fire truck to show the children.

With permission from the ownership, Aitkens is able to use the property’s community room, which is now themed, “The Executive Boardroom.”

She later spent several weeks working with the women of the complex and learned all have some sort of pain, whether mental, emotional or physical.

She heard their testimonies and said she can now understand their trust issues. And those with trust issues sometimes become untrustworthy.

“I would say 95 percent of the people here are dealing with some sort of pain,” Aitkens said.

She was finally able to move on to help the men and is working to connect them with job opportunities, educational opportunities and, for some, drug recovery.

Johnny Hulin with Willie Carter Outreach Center is impressed with the work Aitkens is doing.

“She is able to pull together a group of men and women and engage them in seven- and eight-week programs,” Hulin said.

Hulin has offered his services with drug education classes and is able to help residents get identification, bus passes and into recovery programs.

He said Aitkens has been able to get people to try new things.

But there is something that sets Aitkens apart from others.

“She has this certain, I guess, way with herself that individuals have bought into the program,” he said. “I was really surprised she was able to get 15 young men to come, sit down and listen to a couple of motivational speakers from the community. She’s working there, cooking them a nice meal and they sit and listen to everything she has to throw out. A lot of it is getting to the point of being self-sufficient.”

Some, he said, have families they need to step up to the plate to help.

Aitkens’ work has also helped some women get back into compliance with Child Protective Services cases and is mentoring some in the drug court system.

Resident Dornett Jackson enjoys the activities because they give her and others something to do.

When the women’s group gets together they have fun.

“She talks to us and explains what she’s talking about,” Jackson said. “There are a lot of things I didn’t know about that she’s letting me know what’s going on. It’s a good thing.”

One such activity was an art contest at the Museum of the Gulf Coast. Jackson entered a piece of abstract art and it’s on display with other works of art.

Jackson has lived at Louis Manor for nine years. The apartment complex is gated but open and people from other areas go to the apartments, and that often leads to crime and violence.

“My kids are grown,” Jackson said. “I feel if they come to visit me they may get a stray bullet from something they don’t understand, and are not a part of. They’re scared to come out here.”

Jackson wants to see Louis Manor be a peaceful place to live.

“What I want for Louis Manor? I can sit on my porch and not have to worry about anything, nobody fighting, arguing,” Jackson said. “In the older days we would say hello, how are you doing? We don’t have that here, and all I can say is she’s (Aitkens), a brave woman.”

Jackson said she is enjoying herself with the events that Aitkens is offering.

Vision for the future

Aitkens has a vision for the future of Louis Manor. An electrician by trade, she wants to see a bunch of hard hats when she looks out at the men and women of the manor — people with good paying jobs and careers.

“My approach is… I know you understand what a drug dealer does, but you can make the same money in a legit way,” Aitkens said.

She also wants to partner with the Port Arthur Independent School District to help graduating seniors from the complex get into a career such as construction.

“All it will take is the first paycheck. They will understand what the value is,“ she said.