Posts

Home Foreclosure Leads Mother and Daughter to The Salvation Army

Jacquela and her daughter became homeless at the beginning of 2020 after a home foreclosure. She turned to live with a church member but could not continue those arrangements after a month, so she had to find a new temporary home. She was referred to The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama Area Command’s Family Haven Emergency Shelter and immediately moved in. A month later, the pandemic hit, and she lost her job. The Salvation Army continued to encourage her through months of interviews and bouts of depression. Her stay at the shelter was extended due to the pandemic, and her social workers continued to provide hope and resources. Jacquela also had outstanding utilities that she needed to pay off before moving forward with the housing process to ensure she didn’t end up in a similar situation after finding a new home, so the additional time helped her catch up with financial planning. Although thankful for The Salvation Army, Jacquela found herself ashamed of her living conditions.

“Staying in a shelter was embarrassing and shameful to me. At one point, I was looking for extended stay places, but things like that would have put me in a worse situation because I’d constantly spend money on top of money,” Jacquela shared.

“My family still doesn’t know I’ve gone through this. Whenever I would face time, I’d make sure my background was discreet so no one would know,” she added.

Her daughter was in a car accident that totaled their only form of transportation, so Jacquela had to use the money she was saving to replace the vehicle. Her caseworker was understanding and extended her stay even more. Jacquela eventually found employment again as a family engagement coordinator for a nonprofit organization and began saving for a new home.

“They saw that I was trying to do the right thing. The Salvation Army was there as a support system. They gave me time to do what I needed to do and didn’t just kick me out because my three months were up,” Jacquela shared.

“My biggest dilemma was finding housing because I wasn’t able to do the traditional thing of finding an apartment because I was under bankruptcy, so whenever a landlord would look at me on paper, I was financially destitute. I wasn’t able to rent normally, so I was forced to try to find an individual landlord to try to work with them. The same situations I try to help families out of with my job, I now found myself in,” Jacquela added.

A Salvation Army employee learned of her troubles finding housing and connected Jacquela with an individual landlord who had properties. She met with the landlord and explained her situation, and they were willing to give her a chance. Jacquela moved into her new home in June 2020. The Salvation Army helped with the first month’s rent to allow time for Jacquela to get ahead with her other finances.

One of the hardest parts of living in the shelter was watching her daughter deal with high school senior year stressors during a pandemic, without the comfort of permanent housing. The entire situation was difficult for Jacquela’s daughter; All senior year celebrations were canceled, including prom, and on top of the stressors of not having her own home, she had to prepare for college. Thankfully, Jacquela was able to plan a graduation party at the shelter to create some type of normalcy for her daughter.

Forming tears, Jacquela shared, “When I lost my house in foreclosure, I lost everything. Not just my house. We literally only had some suitcases. We were vacating the house, but someone broke into our home while we were moving out. We basically left our home with the clothes that we could put in one or two bins. When we left the shelter, we had to start completely over. We lived here for about two months without furniture. We had nothing six months ago. My daughter has been a trooper with me. We go in and are making our house a home—just part of my testimony.

“It is only by God’s grace and mercy. Anything that anyone did is because he put His hands on it, and I believe that He did open doors for us and continues to open doors for us. That is how we survived. I’m thankful.

Jacquela in her new home.

I want people who may be in the same situation that I was in to know that it is nothing to be ashamed of. I thank God for the fact that I was able to live in the shelter and save money.”

Birmingham Woman Left At Salvation Army As An Infant Returns As Adult to Escape Domestic Violence

Dominique and her three children came to The Salvation Army Birmingham Area Command in 2018 to seek refuge from a verbally and physically abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend. Because she had witnessed her mother being killed by her stepfather early in life, Dominique knew she had to do something to prevent repeating the cycle. Determined to keep her kids safe, she formed a plan to start a new life.

“Believe it or not, some of the best sleep I’ve ever had was at The Salvation Army. I had peace.”

Dominique and her children were living with her father, stepmother, and sister when an altercation occurred between herself and her youngest son’s father. When presented with the chance to leave, she took it. Dominique found out about the women’s Center of Hope shelter at the Salvation Army in Birmingham. She and her children moved in and began preparing for their new lifestyles.

“Being in a shelter was different. My kids didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what to expect,” Dominique stated. “Believe it or not, some of the best sleep I’ve ever had was at The Salvation Army. I had peace,” she added.

Dominique stayed at the Center of Hope for four months before finding permanent housing. During that time, she joined The Salvation Army’s Education and Workplace Development program. The program helps individuals sustain employment through job readiness as well as life and educational training.

“My teacher was constructive. She had us write down our goals. My goal was to go back to school for real estate, and that’s what I did. I had help along the way, and whatever I asked for to better myself, The Salvation Army helped me. They offered assistance with school, my children, and extracurricular,” Dominique shared.

“It took me longer to finish the program because of being in and out of court concerning my domestic abuse case, but my counselors were patient and encouraged me. Kudos to my caseworkers. They tag teamed and helped me get everything I needed with going back to school. They were there for me all the way,” Dominique added.

“To come back with my kids I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ It’s crazy how things circle back around.”

Headshot of Dominique

Dominique was able to realize her dream and obtain her Real Estate license in 2020. However, as soon as she began to build her client base to start a new career, the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on hold. Even with two jobs, she struggled to pay her rent. Thankfully, she was eligible for The Salvation Army’s COVID-19 financial assistance program, which has helped pay her rent and utilities throughout the pandemic.

“It’s been a big adjustment, being a mother of three during the pandemic. My middle son started having more behavioral problems, and we’ve been going to the doctor and therapy all year. He was diagnosed with ADHD, and learning this during the pandemic is tough,” Dominique shared.

Having to turn to The Salvation Army for assistance again, Dominique reflected on previous times when The Salvation Army helped her. Staying at the Center of Hope in 2018 wasn’t her first encounter with the Army. Her mother abandoned her at The Salvation Army when she was an infant. Dominique was entered into the foster care system where her grandfather was able to locate and adopt her.

“To come back with my kids I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ It’s crazy how things circle back around,” Dominique stated.

“I just want to give God full credit because He’s the one who did everything for me and turned my whole life around. I didn’t do anything. There’s nobody but God who has brought me through this,” Dominique added.

Louisiana Grandmother and Her Three Grandchildren Sleeping In Graveyard Turn to Salvation Army

The Salvation Army of Shreveport has provided a second chance for a homeless woman and her three granddaughters. They turned to live in a graveyard when faced with homelessness at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They now live at The Salvation Army Merkle Center of Hope, where they’ve celebrated Christmas and are being assisted in building a safe, independent lifestyle.

Twyla was living in Arizona when her daughters contacted her, saying that they could no longer care for their children and wanted her to take custody. She quickly made arrangements to move to Shreveport, Louisiana, to care for her three grandchildren.

“Their mamas weren’t acting right. They told me I better come get them, or they’re gonna just walk out,” Twyla shared.

Twyla immediately filed for full custody of her three grandchildren, ages nine, eight, and five, when she arrived in Shreveport. She was told that she could stay in one of her daughter’s homes to care for the children, and her daughter would move in with a boyfriend. After getting settled, Twyla’s daughter changed her mind and stated that she and the boyfriend would be living in the house, so Twyla and the children would have to find elsewhere to live.

The family ended up sleeping in the woods and abandoned houses, but Twyla couldn’t find comfort in those situations.

“I have no family here [ in Shreveport] except two daughters who are only about drugs and thugs. We had no place to go, so I started thinking about the safest places for us to live,” Twyla shared.

“I thought to stay in a graveyard because we’d slept in abandoned houses with no windows, mostly in bad areas. I didn’t get any rest. I’d sit up because I was scared. One time we slept in the woods, and it was the same thing because there are so many drug addicts and alcoholics out here roaming all night, hunting people to prey on. I knew this graveyard was over here, and I thought, ‘You know, most people are scared to walk through a graveyard at nighttime.’ That’s where we went, and that’s where we felt the safest. We never saw anybody except the groundskeeper and we didn’t let him know we were staying there. We left in the daytime with our backpacks and came back at night. Most of the time, we’d go to the gas station across the street and just sit on the curb at the side of the building,” Twyla added.

Twyla used her food stamps and to grab food from the gas station. She added herself to the waiting list for a suite for her and the girls at The Salvation Army. When she received the call that there was a vacancy, she immediately headed over to secure her space.

“It was hard, but my grandbabies are my life. I have to speak for them. I don’t want my babies in the system. Once they get in the system, it’s hard to get them back. I live for them. I’m going to take care of them until I have my last breath. Regardless of what I have to do,” Twyla stated.

Twyla and her grandchildren have been living in transitional housing since March 2019. She’s working with Hope Connection to set up permanent housing. Everything is in place but moving slowly since COVID-19 cases are increasing.

“As long as my babies have a warm bed and aren’t relying on gas station food, I have all of the time in the world to wait. We do not lack anything here,” Twyla stated.

“If it wasn’t for The Salvation Army, I really couldn’t tell you where we’d be. This place has really blessed us. This place is a blessing. People need to keep doing what they’re doing. Keep donating. If you’ve never been homeless or walked in my shoes, then you don’t really know what it’s about,” Twyla added.

Mobile Mother and Newborn Living In Car Find Hope With The Salvation Army

Ms. J and her seven-month-old baby came to The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama’s Family Haven after spending a week sleeping in her car. Although she had been homeless on one other occasion as a child, she was reluctant to be living in a shelter. She and her infant son were newly homeless and were not aware of the social services available in the community. Ms. J was relieved after visiting the Family Haven, and she gladly moved into the shelter.

In addition to homelessness, Ms. J had many needs. Her vehicle was undependable and uninsured, she and her son were battling numerous chronic health issues, and she had no earned income and was in debt, including delinquent gas and electric bills, which would become extreme barriers to future housing options. Ms. J was diligent about developing and implementing a savings plan based on her TANF allotment until she could find gainful employment.

The Family Haven connected Ms. J with Housing First and helped her complete applications for several privately owned homes and income-based apartments. At first, it was a frustrating process. Many properties had an extensive waiting list. Ms. J continued her stay at the Family Haven past the standard three months. Although her physician recommended that she not work and apply for disability, Ms. J was determined to become self-sufficient and care for her family. Finally, she was able to secure employment and stable childcare.

Ms. J was accepted at one of the housing complexes of her choice but could not sign her lease until her delinquent utilities were paid and established in her name. Fortunately, The Salvation Army was able to assist her with the outstanding bill. After four months of staying at the Family Haven, Ms. J and her child moved into permanent housing with a subsidy.

Ms. J used her time at the Family Haven wisely by applying for housing, saving money, and finding ways to eliminate her debt. Her diligence made her a perfect candidate for The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative. Since participating in this program, Ms. J has gained more stable employment, established mainstream banking, and purchased a new vehicle. The program will follow Ms. J for the next two years helping her to eradicate generational poverty.

From New York To New Orleans: Carla’s Story

 

Carla turned to The Salvation Army New Orleans Command in early 2020 after being evicted from her Miami apartment. She lost her job due to a periodic reduction in force and was living on a fixed income. One month Carla ended up being $1.43 short on her rent. She was evicted and decided to leave Miami to return to New Orleans, a place she’d lived many years ago.

“That’s how you become homeless in the first place. You just don’t have enough money for your basic needs. At least there’s a place like The Salvation Army where people can go. At the end of the day, you have a roof over your head, and you have a meal,” Carla shared.

“It must’ve been God.”

 

Carla didn’t qualify for Medicaid after losing her job despite having diabetes. She entered The Salvation Army as a low-income senior. Many seniors are left in similar situations as Carla and don’t know where to turn. Thankfully, Carla turned to The Salvation Army.

“It must’ve been God because I didn’t choose any other place. I immediately turned to The Salvation Army. Looking back, it was the best decision I could’ve made,” Carla shared.

Carla worked as an artist in New York, doing restoration and embellishment for Mark West Gallery for over 20 years. After settling into her new life of living in a shelter, she walked out on faith and began working with a social worker to find employment. Carla came across a flier on the receptionist’s desk concerning a virtual job fair. She applied to a position with Volunteers of America, where she’d assist with packing lunches for school-aged kids during Covid-19 school shutdowns. She got the job and prepared meals for children until the position ended once schools reopened for the fall semester. Thankfully, an opening for a new cook at The Salvation Army New Orleans Command opened.

Carla enjoys baking pastries, so she applied for the job and was offered the position and will work with The Salvation Army until she retires next year.

“I worked in the art industry for 22 years and somehow ended up a cook at The Salvation Army,” Carla laughed. “I don’t question things, and I don’t believe anything is by coincidence,” she added.

“The Volunteers of America job ended up preparing me for my current position as a cook with The Salvation Army. Isn’t it funny how things work out?” Carla stated.

 

“The Salvation Army bolsters you if you’re smart enough to see it.”

 

Carla feels that she sometimes serves as a therapist to those who enter her kitchen. She ensures that everyone has a relaxing experience during their meals. Residents often linger to tell her about jobs that they’ve found or what’s going on in their lives. She also gets to interact with children who are staying at the shelter during meal times.

“I understand the people come through the line because I’ve lived with them. Not only am I a kitchen assistant, but I’m also a therapist. My job is to make dinner a pleasant experience for these people. They have to live outside all day in harsh conditions. I try to relay that if you’re still standing at the end of the day, you’re good. You’re stronger than the average person because you’ve learned how to survive under harsher conditions. It’s the truth. The Salvation Army bolsters you if you’re smart enough to see it. Sometimes you have to look outside of yourself,” Carla shared.

“There was one little girl who wanted an extra piece of cake at dinner, but I wasn’t able to give her one. Sometimes there’s enough food for seconds, and sometimes there isn’t. I saw the disappointment on her face and told her that I’d be sure to give her an extra slice the next day. She’d forgotten by dinner the next night, so I reminded her, and her face lit up so bright! It was adorable. I hope that if I do things now to touch these children who are in the shelter, maybe 10-15 years from now, they’ll remember and be kind to others. That’s how life works,” Carla added.

 

Majors Hull both told me not to worry. They would find me help, and everything would be okay.”

 

Carla says the most influential part of her short journey of living at The Salvation Army were her interactions with Corps Officers Majors Ernest and Debbie Hull.

“The greatest thing I got out of The Salvation Army was Major Debra Hull,” Carla shared.

“Major Debbie had a brand of discipline that I grew up with, and I give her all the credit for my sanity while living in the shelter. I just love her. Majors Hull both told me not to worry. They would find me help, and everything would be okay. That’s what kept me going. Those two are incredible people,” Carla added.

Carla and Majors Hull both share New York as their hometown and bonded over their shared culture.

“Both Major Debra Hull and I love Carla. She’s a wonderful person. We’re so proud of the effort she put in while in the shelter. She did everything she needed to do for her success. We were in COVID-19 isolation lock-down with her for 54 days in the shelter, so we became close. Carla became like a sister to us,” stated Major Ernest Hull, former New Orleans Commanding Officer, currently serving at the Armarillo, Texas Corps.

 

 “I’m happy to be able to spread a message of faith and strength to the people of The Salvation Army.”

 

A corps social worker reached out to Carla one day and told her that it was time to start working on an exit plan. Carla asked her to help look for a new home because she wasn’t familiar with New Orleans well enough to understand the best neighborhoods for her to live in.

“New Orleans is providential and backward to me! I don’t understand it, but that’s part of its charm. The people don’t move fast; everything is fluid,” Carla shared.

She found an apartment within a day and began the process of moving in.

“I love the city. I’ve been here before. I worked for Blain Kern in the ’90s. I left and went back home to New York for a while, but I’m back now,” Carla shared.

“I live near the French Quarter. Everything is within walking distance. It’s so convenient. I like being near the river. The Mississippi River and I have an amicable relationship,” she added.

Although she has returned to living independently, Carla enjoys returning to the shelter daily to positively contribute to people’s lives as a cook who can share a message of perseverance.

“You can lose your mind. You can literally lose your mind when you are homeless. I went from living in an apartment by myself for 15 years to living in a dorm room with 32 women who have all kinds of problems. I don’t get ruffled by a lot of things. I’m a New Yorker. I’m a progressive thinker. I see where people in the shelters are dealing with a lot. Multiple personality disorder, drug addiction, women who have dealt with abuse, or have dealt with the death of a child. I can see these people struggling to overcome their past. You see how some of them are so strong,” Carla shared.

“It’s important for everyone to know that you can make a situation as good or as bad as you want, and I’m happy to be able to spread a message of faith and strength to the people of The Salvation Army,” Carla added.

 

 

 

Elvis Mujic, The Traveling Stand-Up Comedian Who Loves Performing at Shelters

Traditionally, homeless shelters serve as temporary residences for individuals and families. They exist to provide residents with safety and protection from the harsh conditions of living outdoors. Now, thanks to Elvis Mujic, a 30-year-old, stand-up comedian, people view shelters as a place to laugh and converse with their local community. While shelters aren’t commonplace for stand-up sets, Mujic says he finds joy performing in untraditional settings.

Mujic speaking at The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Program in Sarasota, FL

“Entertaining feels a bit selfish to me, possibly because it’s standing in front of a crowd to hold their attention. However, this [performing at shelters and collecting goods for the underprivileged] feels a lot better,” Mujic said.

Mujic contributes more than just comedic relief during his performances. Sometimes things don’t go as planned and shows can serve as an outlet for those in the audience who want to share their stories and perspectives.

“I performed at The Salvation Army chapel in Jackson, MS a few weeks ago. I do my best to plan out a show, but sometimes things happen that I can’t control, and sometimes it turns into a speaking event or a debate. I have experience living in a van. Not necessarily living in poverty, but I’ve faced inconveniences, so I can relate to some of the issues that people in shelters face. I created a moment to be encouraging to the residents and we ended up discussing whether they can get past their hardship. It was great and everyone was friendly after the show,” Mujic said. “Sometimes it’s hard to tell if people are enjoying themselves because it’s not your average comedy show and you’re in an area where there are lots of distractions and interruptions. For example, sometimes people will poke in their head and say, ‘Okay, hey it’s time to eat,’ or phones will ring and I’ll have to answer them and deliver a message,” he added.

Mujic was born in Bosnia, then known as Yugoslavia. His parents decided to give him a western name so that he would not have an Islamic name during a time of Islamic religious intolerance in Yugoslavia. His family moved to the United States when Mujic was seven years old and settled in Detroit, Michigan. He briefly studied philosophy at Amherst College in Massachusetts but left to pursue a career in comedy once he discovered joy in lifting others’ spirits. He lived in a minivan between 2013 and 2016 and traveled to 47 states, practicing his brand of guerrilla comedy.

“I don’t know what made me go into comedy, but I tried it, and I loved it. It felt natural. I performed at one shelter in Mississippi years ago, to try something different, and I always remembered how it felt. I thought to myself, ‘Well, who knows what life will bring? I have the chance to do this now, and I want to make sure that I can say that I’ve done something positive with stand-up comedy,'” Mujic said.

The first shelter Mujic performed in was in 2015 at The Salvation Army’s Tupelo, Mississippi location. While performing at a venue in Memphis, Mujic decided to visit Graceland, a suggestion from his father who is a devoted Elvis Presley fan. There were severe tornado warnings during his visit, so Mujic headed south and took shelter at The Salvation Army’s Tupelo, Mississippi location. He decided to do a set while waiting for the warning to end and found that he enjoyed performing for the people at the shelter.

“I was purposefully performing in places where you wouldn’t have stand-up comedy, and that was interesting for a while. I would go to Waffle House or Denny’s or other bizarre venues to perform. And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m taking cover at a shelter during a tornado warning. This will be interesting.’ Doing these things that I found weird had a pretty profound effect on me,” Mujic said.

“I didn’t begin regularly performing in shelters until a few years later, but I’ve always vividly remembered that performance. It’s still my favorite set,” Mujic added.

One of Mujic’s Donation Bins, including quotes residents of shelters he’s visited.

Mujic has reached over 80 shelters since December 2018 and is currently touring the Southeastern United States, visiting as many facilities as he can fit into his schedule. He just wrapped up his performances in Louisiana and Mississippi and is currently in Alabama. He likes to focus his travels to low-income areas, where he performs at the local shelters first and later performs at a local venue. He often hosts “socks and undies shows,” where people may bring socks, underwear, and personal hygiene products as admission to the show. Mujic also puts donation bins throughout the town at various businesses.

“The bins are cool. They have my logos on them, but intertwined are messages from different people I’ve met at shelters and soup kitchens after the shows,” Mujic explained.

Mujic takes about 2-3 weeks in each area, getting to know homeless individuals. He collects the items from his donation bins and delivers them to the people that he’s met along the way. He delivers items directly to The Salvation Army and other shelters if he’s received a lot of donations.

“I’d love for my shows to be open to the community. My goal is to eventually get people who are not homeless to come to the shelter. I want to mix people who aren’t homeless and people who are homeless because it’s two different worlds that rarely interact. My goal is to try to mix everyone, erase any stigmas, and show that we’re all people,” Mujic added.

You can learn more about Mujic on his website, ElvisComedy.com

 

Stepping Out On Faith

Meet Steven Washington, a resident of The Salvation Army Center of Hope shelter in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Originally from Marrero, Louisiana, Steven moved to Lake Charles at a time in his life when he had the clothes on his back and not much else.

The way Steven remembers it, that was a time when addiction and some poor choices in his life had caught up with him. “Well, throughout my life I’ve lived a disobedient life to God. There’s always consequences to sin. I became homeless, alcoholic, and I came to Lake Charles to get a new start,” Steven says. “One day I just said I was sick and tired of it, I’m just going to step out on faith. I hopped out on a bus, came to Lake Charles. I had no idea where I was going to stay or what I was going to eat. I only had enough to get down here,” says Steven. His first days were rough, sleeping under an overpass and struggling with hard realities of that life. He finally found a way out when someone told him about The Salvation Army’s Center of Hope shelter.

“I had no idea where I was going to stay or what I was going to eat.”

Steven Washington

Thanks to a generous community, The Salvation Army in Lake Charles has a place for Steven to go, as well as some tools that he can use to make a new life for himself. “Year-round here in a Lake Charles we have a Center of Hope. It’s a 30-bed men’s shelter that includes a soup kitchen as well as our social service department,” says Lt. LeAnna Marion, Corps Officer of The Salvation Army of Lake Charles. While the Center of Hope can offer emergency support to those in need, they also have programs that can offer men and women like Steven a chance to set a new course in life. “Those residents who are interested can work with our housing manager to complete budget work sheets and connect them to resources in the community. They can get their IDs, TWIC cards for work, connect them to resources to help them get rides, to go to school, and to help them eventually move out,” Lt. Marion says.

One of the largest industries in Louisiana is the oil and gas industry, and the TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) card is an essential tool for those who seek work offshore. Steven, an offshore worker by trade, says that he intends to make use of his new opportunity to build some better plans for the future. With the help of The Salvation Army, Steven has been able to obtain his IDs, his TWIC card, and more to help him on his way to a better life. “It’s a struggle. I’m not going to be perfect. I still struggle with past thoughts. Through my addiction to alcohol, every time an opportunity came up I just couldn’t get it right. But now my plans for the future are to get back offshore, save some money, and try to give back to The Salvation Army, to maybe help some people,” says Steven.

Finding A New Path

Stanly Cochren has found his path. He lost it for a while, but with a little help and a lot of work, he’s found what he calls his opportunity to get everything straight. “After I paroled out of prison my life was on a downward spiral. Before I came here, I didn’t have a job. I got on my drug of choice and that led me to be homeless,” says Stanly. Originally from Talladega, his circumstances led to his looking for a way out of a bad situation. He found that way at The Salvation Army shelter in Montgomery, AL.

That pathway out began with wanting more for his life. Lt. Bryan Farrington, Montgomery Salvation Army Corps Officer, says that meeting with those in need begins with finding out what those needs are. “We call it life on life. We ask how we can help you move forward in life,” says Lt. Farrington. “If a person may be in a bad situation but doesn’t want help, you can give them resources to help but chances are they will consume the resources and be right back in the same place.” So, when a person in Stanly’s situation arrives at the Corps office or shelter, they usually have a reason to seek out a better way to live their life. “I just got tired of being tired,” says Stanly. “Until you come to that realization that you got people out there that are genuinely trying to help you, you’re going to be complacent in the situation that you’re in.”

One of those people is Camille Gross, the social worker for The Salvation Army in Montgomery. “I interact with approximately 20 clients on a daily basis.” From food to clothing vouchers and assistance with bills, Camille is there to help clients in tough times find their way out. “I assist them with getting medicines. Steering them into the pathways for different services that we don’t provide. I can set up appoints for them. Provide transportation. We do everything that we can here for the residents on a daily basis,” Camille says.

Lt. Farrington says that his shelter is a place to find help, but for those willing to make a greater effort, it can be a place to find hope as well. “Right now what we have is an emergency shelter. That’s for a person who is homeless and doesn’t have a place to go. They can stay here, no questions asked for a period of two weeks. They can eat, take showers at night. It’s for someone who’s fallen on hard times.” Finding a temporary respite is, however, only the beginning. “This is not just that you’re here for a while and then you’re gone. (We can be) a partner in life to help you walk out of a trap, so that you have some means to keep your life stable,” Farrington says.

Some of those partners are people in the community who have given their time and resources to offer help to those in need. Camille does double duty as the Volunteer Coordinator for the Montgomery Corps. From ringing bells for the Red Kettle campaign to donations of food and clothing, local volunteers are a key part of what The Salvation Army has to offer. “We always need volunteers at our soup kitchen. We also utilize the volunteers at our donation center to help with sorting the donations that come in.” Camille says.

As for Stanly, he says that he has further to go. He has completed classes and now works two jobs, seven days a week. “It’s a lot of work, but being out in my old life, it was a lot harder.” Now, on his new path, Stanly hopes that those in need of help can find the same chance he did. “You’ve got to want it. I just want to say that if you’re out there and you’re looking for a turnaround in your life, give this program, The Salvation Army, a chance to just help you get it right.”

New officer, community volunteer working to make the most of Monroe Corps

The path to Monroe, Louisiana for New Yorker and Salvation Army officer, Sergeant Jerome Casey was a long and winding road to say the least. Addiction put him in jail with rehabilitation through The Salvation Army his last hope. It worked. The three years prior to his arrival in Monroe he ran the shelter in Gulfport, Mississippi and led several men down the same path to recovery he chose.

Casey has the same frame of mind when facing the challenge of restoring The Salvation Army on Hart Street. He’s honest and meets it head on.

“We were kind of a mess, to be honest with you. We’ve cleaned it up dramatically,” said Casey.

Casey arrived just after The Salvation Army was forced to close its shelter’s doors late last summer due to lack of funding. With only one remaining employee, Casey needed to make friends fast, but the closing of Monroe’s only overnight shelter didn’t make things easy for the first-time officer. That’s when Casey met Larry Joe Head.

“Larry welcomed me with open arms. He’s someone who came to volunteer, and he’s turned into quite a good friend, him and his wife,” said Casey.

The lifelong Monroe native, Head became the Sergeant’s connection to the community. Both men have turned the shelter project into a labor of love for this community. Each very complimentary of the other’s willingness to get things done.

“The Sarg is like no other, I guess you can say,” said Head. “It’s really interesting, when he starts talking, people just gravitate towards him.”

“Larry’s always doing something,” said Casey. “I’ll walk into a room where there was nothing and there’s lights and paint, and I don’t know how he does it. He keeps moving forward. He’s wonderful.”

With Larry Joe’s connections, 140 volunteers have worked nearly one thousand hours to get The Salvation Army’s shelter back open. Unfortunately, this is no overnight project. The Salvation Army first opened in Monroe in 1927. Its current location and building was established in 1961.

“There’s a lot of things been done over the years. Most of it has been adding on top of what was already there,” said Head.  “So, some of the things we did, we went all the way down to the original and took it out and replaced it with new stuff. But there’s been a good bit of fix up.”

Still, Casey remains positive.

He plans to create a whole new way of caring for the homeless including opening what he calls the courtyard of hope at 2pm. That means no lining up outside the building or sitting on the street curb waiting. He wants to bring in mobile medical facilities and extend the shelter hours in the morning till 10am, allowing Casey to have one on one time with each person to find out their needs. Casey says all of this with one thing in mind.

“It’s about instilling an ounce of hope. A little bit of hope goes along way.”

With remodeling nearing completion, the next challenge is securing enough funding to hire new employees for cooking, laundry, and overnight monitoring.

“The generosity of Monroe has been tremendous since I walked in this building, and I know they will support us as we help those who need it the most,” said Casey.

Giving Veterans a Hand up in Shreveport

Perouz Farokhkish is proud of his service in the United States Army. Growing up Christian in Lake Charles, Louisiana to a Middle Eastern father and American mother, he saw no signs of prejudice or hatred. When he returned home after two tours supporting the war in Iraq, he couldn’t help but notice something was different.

“The best I can describe it is like a Vietnam veteran, it was very difficult,” said Farokhkish. “For me, I was a man just like anyone else.”

Following the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11, Farokhkish says his Middle Eastern decent made him stand out. He isolated himself, not leaving home very much. Looking back now he says he didn’t trust people especially the Veterans Administration Hospitals he needed to get help. For fifteen years, Farokhkish kept to himself, kept his thoughts and feelings locked inside.

“When you get out, there was nothing there to help you re-balance, so you get out and all you know is to run, and if you can’t run, if something trips you, you are a complete and total failure.”

Then a referral to The Salvation Army in Shreveport changed his life. Perouz says the compassion showed by the staff in the Veteran’s shelter and by the officers helped him open up.

“I always needed to talk but didn’t know who would allow me to let it out,” said Farokhkish. “Being able to talk to other veterans was greatly helpful. For me to be able to help the elderly veterans to navigate simple things like a cell phone, it was therapeutic to think even here I could give back.”

Perouz stayed in the veterans’ shelter for five months. He now is enrolled at Louisiana State University-Shreveport studying Psychology. He is grateful to those who helped him at The Salvation Army and volunteers to this day.

“Finding other veterans who experienced similar situations was really comforting,” said Farokhkish. “And gave me a lot of solace to know that you can come out of that. It doesn’t have to stay that way forever.”

The Salvation Army of Shreveport has worked hand in hand with the Overton Brooks VA Hospital by providing transitional and emergency housing for homeless Veterans both male and female.

The veterans shelter offers 29 beds, 24 for men and five for women.

In 2016, The Salvation Army provided nearly 8,000 nights of lodging for veterans and over 20,000 meals serving 250 veterans overall.

To get more information on how The Salvation Army is helping veterans in Shreveport, please click here.

A Home of Their Own

A place to call home is all Michaela Bustamante wanted for her two children, and she was determined not to let anything get in her way…not an abusive relationship, not the lack of a job, or twice living homeless.

“I was in a domestic violence relationship,” said Bustamante. “We separated and things went downhill from there. I kept trying to get in school to make our life better for us, but it was hard.”

That’s when she heard about a program at her local Salvation Army.

“I needed help. It was hard on my own,” said Bustamante. “You might have someone say, ‘oh, you can come stay with me,’ and they take your money and put you out the next day, but The Salvation Army is not like that. They are actually there to help you.”

The Salvation Army provides solid ground for those looking for more out of life.

“Trying to find someone to keep my son while I go to school, trying to keep a job and once I got into the shelter, the shelter provided all these things I was looking for,” said Bustamante. “Not only just shelter but daycare, tokens to get on the bus to go look for a job.”

Each year, The Salvation Army in the Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Division is working to end homelessness and poverty and break the cycle that affects generation after generation. Not only did we provide over 350 thousand nights of shelter last year, but also, assistance to pay power bills, job training and counseling sessions as well as transportation to work and job interviews.

But the main thing we offer through these programs is something many who walk in The Salvation Army don’t know they need. Michaela has seen it in her children since moving in her new home.

“Once I got the stability I have now, their grades have gone up, their behavior has changed. They are more settled. They are not all over the place.”

Thirteen year old Adrian, can see the benefits in his mother too.

“She can sit down and help me with my homework and doesn’t have to be worried about everything else,” said Adrian.

Michaela earned her Certified Nursing Assistant’s degree while going through the program as well. She cherishes those who helped her along the way, her children running in after school, and most of all their own place to call home.

“It’s warming. It’s nice to have a place to stay and being able to come in and fix whatever you want to eat, and lay down in your own bed. I love it.”

Salvation Army Neediest Families supporters bring ‘smiles, joy and comfort’ to Coastal Alabama families in need

MOBILE, Alabama — As the 2014 Neediest Families Campaign draws to a close, your generous donations have once again raised more than $150,000 for The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama, Maj. Mark Brown, commander of the Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama, said. Already those dollars are hard at work helping all of the families featured in this year’s campaign — bringing smiles, joy and comfort to many.

The Salvation Army has provided assistance with rent, utilities, food, furniture, and more, as these families work through their challenges. For this final piece of the 2014 Neediest Families Campaign, here are updates from a few of the families who would love to say “Thank You!”

salvation army neediest logo 2013.jpg

Demetrius McConnell

Demetrius McConnell has started off the new year by landing a new job! Demetrius was working for the 9-1-1 call center in Mobile County, until the 12-hour shift work put a serious strain on the single mother’s ability to care for her 10-year-old son, LaDarrius. But last week, she was interviewed and offered a job with Mobile Infirmary Medical Center’s dispatch.

“I’m so excited! The benefits will be great, and I have dispatch experience, so I know it won’t be hard to learn their system,” explained Demetrius. “And they rotate your days off, so I’ll be able to spend time with my son even though I’ll be working the 2:30-11 p.m. shift.”

Demetrius had been out of work since September, and had to cash in her retirement just to pay the bills through November. The Salvation Army was able to help pay some bills, so she wouldn’t lose her car or have her utilities cut off.

“I’m really grateful. Just helping with one bill would have been enough, but that was so wonderful. It’s a blessing, and I’m so appreciative.”

The soft-spoken mother also smiled ear to ear as she thought back to Christmas Day. She originally wasn’t looking forward to the holiday, knowing she wouldn’t be able to provide anything for LaDarrius. But The Salvation Army made sure he had plenty to open on Christmas morning.

“Christmas was perfect. I put up a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree, and I would put the presents out one at a time. He would try to guess what they were. Then I put his bike out for Christmas morning. When I saw the look on his face, it was priceless. I wish I knew the donor so I could tell them thank you!”

Demetrius is looking forward to finishing her criminal justice degree and rebuilding her savings.

Therasa Todd

Therasa Todd had overcome a lifelong battle with drugs just a few years ago. She got clean, took care of all her legal issues, and even got her daughter back. But everything she worked hard for starting crumbling before her eyes just before the holidays. She lost her job, lost everything she owned in a house fire, and her car broke down.

The Salvation Army paid to have her car repaired, so that she could continue looking for work and taking her daughter, Kylee, to school.

“That meant a lot to me. If I didn’t have a car, I wouldn’t have anything right now. It’s been my home, and everything I own is in this car right now,” said Therasa.

She still needs a master electrician to pull a permit before they can move forward with the fire repairs. And although she did find a job with another dog-grooming service, the work was only seasonal and she has been let go.

“It feels like I take one step forward, and fall back ten.”

The Salvation Army recently helped her fill up her car tank with gas, and the gas station owner even came outside and handed her $40. The small gestures brought her to tears. She said even strangers have shown incredible compassion since being featured in the Neediest Families Campaign.

“The day I was shopping for Kylee’s Christmas gifts, a man came up to me at the Dollar Tree. He said he saw me in the newspaper. At first I was kind of embarrassed, but then he hugged me real tight. He said he knows it’s a struggle to stay clean. He let me pick out some stuff for Kylee, and even took me to Rue 21 to pick out some shirts for her.”

Therasa has continued to maintain her sobriety, and has even found a new church and a deeper faith.

“I am excited for the new year. I’m going to get a job, I want to get a house. Things are going to get better.”

Shelia McMillian

The last year and a half had been tough for Shelia McMillian. Her oldest son, Brandon, started getting into serious trouble, and she lost her job because of all the time she spent dealing with him. The as-needed PRN work she picked up was barely enough to put food on the table.

For the McMillians, The Salvation Army was able to catch up Shelia’s water bill and help catch up daycare tuition for her 4-year-old son, Bryson.

“I’m overjoyed. The daycare allows me to work, and it gives him a place where he can learn. Bryson has a speech impairment, so he’s working with the therapists and learning how to talk,” said Shelia.

Shelia’s PRN hours have since picked up, and she’s steadily working two days a week now. Some of her former co-workers have reached out since seeing the story, hoping to help her get a job back at Franklin Primary Health Center. Even a friend who saw the story helped her get her heater fixed just in time for the arctic weather.

Sheila was also brought to “tears of joy” when she received gifts and clothes for the boys from The Salvation Army. There had been nothing under the tree last Christmas, but she said this was a “great” Christmas.

“Just to see them happy made my day,” she said.

Brandon’s face lit up as he showed off his new skateboard, and he was even thrilled about his new clothes.

“The first time I wore my new clothes was to church. I looked really nice. I felt like a new man,” the troubled teen said with a proud smile.

Other neediest families

Many of the other Neediest Families share similar stories of help and gratitude. Sarita West received beds for her two boys, and assistance with bills. Shanita and Ernest Smith received the dressers and bedding they couldn’t afford after escaping the projects. And with the help of an AL.com/Press-Register reporter’s friends, Ashley Knight received a house full of furniture for her new home.

There will be many more needy families that turn to The Salvation Army for help. More families will face job loss, health problems, and tough times. Though the campaign runs prominently during the holiday season, need knows no season. The Salvation Army will continue accepting donations for the Neediest Families Program, as they continue to assist families in need throughout the year.

Neediest Families

  • Many families in Mobile and Baldwin counties struggle from day to day and throughout the year with health, financial, housing, employment and other concerns. When critical needs arise, The Salvation Army is ready to assist.
  • Now in its 18th year, the Neediest Families campaign has helped hundreds of families as a result of the generosity of the Gulf Coast community. Traditionally begun each Thanksgiving and continued through the Christmas holiday, the campaign’s goal each year is to raise awareness and funds for The Salvation Army’s major charity of the year. The Neediest Families campaign has raised almost $3 million since its inception in 1996.

    Families are screened and selected by The Salvation Army to receive help.

    Today’s contributions: $33,070. Grand total for 2014 campaign: $154,393.17. Grand total for 2013 campaign: $154,876.29.

    In memory of Katy & Al, $10,000; In memory of Ben May, $5,000; Tal & Julie Vickers, $5,000; Conwell’s Pharmacy, $1,000; Mr. & Mrs. Tom Rosandich, $1,000; In honor of Salvation Army employees, $1,000; Harold and Carlos Parkman, $1,000; Carol and Dave Norris, $750; J.E. McCarty, $600; In honor of our service men and women, $500; In Memory of C W Burtz, $500; Theobald Family Fund, $500; The David & Sue Vosloh Charitable Gift Fund, $500; Melanie Bunting, $400; In memory of Robert L. Newman, $300; Chris and Jody Conrad, $250; Fred Bauman, $250; Larry and Jan Thomas, $250; Dr. Randall Powell, $250; Marion and Pat Hamilton, $250; Virginia Walton, $200; James Hollon III, $200; Aubrey Stegall, $200; H.C. Schenkenberger, $200; Mobile Women’s Duplicate Bridge Club, $175; Dennis Williams, $150; Mr. & Mrs. Samuel Simpson, $125; Sunshine Trotters Bowling League, $105; In memory of Henry E. Reimer, $100; Anne & Leon Brown, $100; Mark Kraft, $100; Betty Beverly, $100; Robert Voorhees, $100; Patricia Roland, $100; Jane and Frank Feagin, $100; Julio Turrens, $100; Oliver Delchamps, $100; Deborah Hood, $100; and Anonymous, $1,415.

  • How to donateTo contribute to the Neediest Families campaign, go to NeediestFamilies.org to donate online; call 1-800-SAL ARMY (1-800-725-2769) to donate by credit card; or send your check or money order made out to The Salvation Army Neediest Families campaign, to 1009 Dauphin St., Mobile, AL 36604.