Putting Life Back on Track

The Salvation Army is a place where people find hope. For some people, it is the second chance they need to change their lives for the better. Larry Hamilton experienced great success at a young age but his life soon became shackled by addiction and eventually homelessness. With time to make the changes he needed, Larry became an example of the success that a person can find through the mission of The Salvation Army.

Larry’s life moved quickly in his younger days. It was a life on wheels, traveling from city to city on the Roller Derby circuit. Larry was originally from Los Angeles, California, and grew up in a happy home. “Coming up I had a very happy family. I was brought up with my mother, father, sister, and brother. We were active in church, also Cub Scouts and the YMCA. My mother kept me busy,” says Larry. It was an active childhood that led him into professional athletics, traveling for a number of years on the circuit.

Larry had always been close to his family. His father passed away after complications from heart surgery while Larry was still a teenager, but he found comfort with his mother, brother, and sister. When his success in roller derby allowed Larry to purchase his own home at the age of 19, his older brother moved in with him. Unfortunately, tragedy soon struck again. “My brother had just bought a motorcycle. And one day I came home, and my neighbors told me that my brother had just been killed in a motorcycle accident,” Larry says.

His understandable grief started him on a hard road. “I started doing a little drinking. And then, about 5 years later, my mother passed away. And that is what really hit me. Then about 4 years later, my sister passed away,” says Larry. Without his family, he moved from Los Angeles to Louisiana to work as a chef. But his substance addictions cost him his job, and he eventually found himself homeless. With nowhere else to turn, he found his way to The Salvation Army shelter in Shreveport, Louisiana.

There were some false starts and some struggles. He left for a time, still struggling with addiction, and eventually returned. “I told them that if they allowed me to come back, they would not have a problem with me. So, they give me a chance and I came back, went through the programs they had to offer. I volunteered, had a lot of counseling sessions with the Corps Officer. Eventually, I started working through the issues that I had,” says Larry.

It was a change that stuck with him, and it led to a life that was finally free of addictions. Today he is semi-retired but still speaks to the men in the shelter about the hope and change that he found at The Salvation Army. He shares his story with others, helping them find their own road to a new life. “I have 10 years of sobriety, thanks to The Salvation Army. I learned that I have to give back what was given to me. It’s just being clean and sober, life goes on. But how I deal with it all…with hope, I try to share that with others.”

Meridian Shelter Reopens

On August 16, 2019, the men’s shelter at The Salvation Army of Meridian, Mississippi, returned to operation after a four-month hiatus that was due to a severe staffing shortage. In the intervening time, the vacant facility fell into disrepair. Lt. Tamara Robb, the newly appointed Meridian Salvation Army Corps Officer, took over in June and immediately made it a top priority to get the shelter back up and running. “I had a man come to our door, sunburned and bitten by mosquitoes, who needed a place to stay. I knew with the summer being so hot that we had to get the shelter back open as quickly as possible,” says Lt. Robb.

It’s fair to say that while most people know homelessness exists, few see what it looks like on a daily basis. The Salvation Army works diligently every day to address the problems of homelessness and generational poverty by providing a new direction for people who have lost their way in life. Once again in Meridian, those with nowhere to go have a safe place to turn and the help of people who truly care.

Lt. Robb and her small staff have been working hard over the summer to get the shelter back up and running. With the help of “Love out Loud,” a cooperative ministry with the Baptist church, they began the process of clearing out overgrown landscaping, cleaning, and making small repairs. With the help of generous donations from the public and Habitat for Humanity, the shelter was made ready to serve those in need. It is that service that Lt. Robb is most eager to get back to. “We’re excited to reopen and to give these men a clean and safe place to stay,” says Lt. Robb. “Our goal is not just to give them a place to sleep and a meal, it is to feed them spiritually as well, and to help them find permanent housing,” she says. With the support of the public, The Salvation Army can continue to provide a meal, a clean place to sleep, and the opportunity these men need to make a lasting and positive change in their life.

Back to School!

Children from families that can afford access to educational materials and supplies have a solid advantage over those who don’t. Which is why The Salvation Army works to address that inequality by providing the materials that can give children a leg up. The right supplies can be the tools they need to compete with those who have access and opportunities that many families cannot afford. The Salvation Army takes part in local partnerships to nationwide efforts that encourage communities to give back to those in need.

One of those local partnerships was in Birmingham, Alabama, where The Salvation Army placed a single truck outside of a local Staples. It was part of a small program, where over the course of the weekend customers were encouraged to donate supplies to local children. “Working with a local Staples in the Trussville community was part of our effort to help collect supplies those in need,” says Lori Cork, Public Relations Director for the Birmingham Salvation Army. “Those supplies will go to help serve students in the Birmingham City School District and Jefferson County schools,” she says.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, The Salvation Army had their 2019 Backpack Giveaway. It was an outdoor event where families could come to receive a backpack stuffed with supplies for their child. “It’s so important for the young people of our city to have school supplies so that they can have success and the tools they need to break the chains of poverty,” says Major Donald Tekautz, Corps Officer of the Baton Rouge Salvation Army. The event placed over 500 backpacks in the hands of young people, all while offering refreshments to those who came to the event.

In Jackson, Mississippi, the annual “Back to School Bash” provided school supplies as well as free health and dental screenings. Attendees were treated with fun and food, with jump houses for the children in attendance and food trucks to serve the party atmosphere. According to Michelle Hartfield, Director of Public Relations for the Jackson Salvation Army, “Successful early childhood education is so important in breaking the cycle of generational poverty. Without the necessary supplies for basic learning, students cannot be expected to thrive. Our goal is to set students up for success as young as possible to carry that success through the rest of their lives.” In the end, they gave out roughly 500 backpacks filled with supplies for local children getting ready for the school year.

Saturday, August 3rd, saw the “Stuff the Bus” event—a national partnership between The Salvation Army and Walmart—in thousands of Walmart stores across the country. Salvation Army volunteers greeted customers with an opportunity to fill a bin with supplies for local students. “There are thousands of children heading back to school soon, and many will need assistance to start the school year off right. By donating school supplies for a child in need, you’re easing the burden parents experience at the start of the school year and helping set the right tone for these kids as they head back to school,” says Major Kent Davis, Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division.

The terrible cycle of generational poverty affects far too many low-income families. Which is why The Salvation Army places an emphasis on education as a part of service. With the help of the community, The Salvation Army can continue to help those in need escape the cycle of poverty and set whatever path for themselves they set their minds on.