One by one, Joe Berry began carefully crafting wooden crosses for employees at The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama. One for the office assistant… one for the development director… one for the PR director… But his heart was too big to choose favorites. So it wasn’t long before he had made a cross for every employee in the Dauphin Street building and for our Corps churches.

Berry is a resident with The Salvation Army CSRC work therapy program for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. He works with the facility laundry services, but during his free time, you will always find him in the wood shop. Berry is the first to tell you that he has a troubled past, but he’s found a new life and a new family at The Salvation Army.

Berry grew up in Mobile and joined the Marines at age 17. He was married for 15 years and worked as a meat cutter at Greer’s grocery store. But in the years following his divorce, he began getting into trouble with the law.

After a number of arrests, Berry was sentenced to 20 years in prison for receiving stolen goods. He was released on parole, but soon began drinking heavily and quit reporting to his officer. A few years went by, and Berry finally realized he needed help.

“Sometimes you’ve got to reach out and ask for help. I knew I needed some kind of program, because I was out there drinking and didn’t care. So I came to The Salvation Army,” explains Berry.

Several months into the program, he had a crisis of conscience – Berry knew he had to set things right.

“I enjoyed it here, but they didn’t know I was on parole violation at the time. I told Larry and Major Morris that I wanted to turn myself in and get it all over with. I wound up going back to prison for 19 months.”

When he completed his sentence, Berry came back to The Salvation Army.

“It felt like family when I was here before, and it feels like family even more now.”

Berry is now finishing the CSRC rehabilitation he began years ago.

“They instill us with pride for yourself and teach us to help others. We’re going to church, we’re going to meetings. It instills in us that we’re doing this not just for ourselves, but for our families and friends. It makes me proud to say I’ve been at The Salvation Army.”

Berry has made more than 100 of his wooden crosses for Salvation Army employees and church members. He makes each one unique – sanding, staining and even using a wood burner to give it texture. Berry learned his woodworking skills in prison, as a way to pass the time. Now he uses those skills to restore donated furniture for our thrift stores, and creating or fixing things around our building.

“The Salvation Army has made a better person out of me. It’s made me realize that giving is better than receiving. I’ve always been the type of person to help out, but most of the time I wanted something in return. Now I do things without people even knowing, and I feel good about it.”

Berry’s latest project was making crosses for The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama to sell to the advisory board. More than $200 were raised to help purchase Easter eggs and Easter baskets for our youth programs.

“The more it benefits The Salvation Army, the more pleasure I get!”