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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.