by Jon Kalahar
Raising a child on your own is hard enough. Imagine you’re 20 years old. Sometimes you need a little motivation or, in Rene Hill’s case, a push. After signing up for assistance with the state, she was sent to The Salvation Army of Columbus, Mississippi. That’s where she met Lieutenants Damon and Jennifer Graham.
Lieutenant Jennifer has become Rene’s motivator.
“She’s not forcing me, but she is strongly on me to go to college,” Hill said.
As officers of The Salvation Army, the Grahams see the hardships local residents face after losing their jobs, overcoming addictions, or even trying to piece life back together following jail time. That’s why they are working with the United Way and the Mississippi Department of Human Services to give young adults a boost to get ahead in life through the I.T.T. (In This Together) program.
“We hear a need and see a place where we can help in a person’s life, if they allow it,” Lieutenant Damon said.
“Many of these single mothers grew up in single-parent households,” said Lieutenant Jennifer. “They need that extra motivation to overcome the generational cycle of poverty. There are a lot of barriers in their way, from lack of family support to limited education to their lack of self-worth.”
The program was started to show young men and women their value and worth in the community while working in a supportive, Christian environment. The goal is for each person who works through the program to become self-sufficient, not another statistic.
“Receiving assistance from the state is a temporary tool,” Lieutenant Jennifer said. “We are challenging them to dream beyond a temporary fix. This is their first stop, followed hopefully by college or technical training.”
Cherrell Murray, like Hill, has found a new outlook on her future since starting at The Salvation Army.
“It teaches me to love people, care for people,” Murray said.
Now Salvation Army volunteers, both Hill and Murray perform administrative duties while also stocking the food pantry and preparing groceries for people in need. They will soon take a placement exam to find entry level professions suited for their skills. From there, they will begin college level classes. Both women hope to follow in their mentors’ footsteps and become social workers.
“Basically, they both just encourage us to follow our dreams, try to keep on the right path, go to college. They inspire us a lot to make us want to do more,” Hill said.
Jon Kalahar is the Communications Director for the Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Division.