Category Archives: Alton

Homelessness Survivor Remains Positive About Life

By: Becky Kreienkamp, Midland Division

Despite her mother passing away, losing her home and living with strangers in a homeless shelter, Ruth Ann Bonnell is endearing and positive above all else. Ruth moved into the Alton Salvation Army Homeless Shelter on April 7, 2011.

“I came in on a Friday night, and I was so scared I just cried all night,” admits Ruth Ann. But if Ruth Ann has one strength, it’s the ability to pick herself up and look toward better days.

She took advantage of the shelter’s life skills and job skills classes in which she learned how to eat healthy and how to find a job. Ruth Ann made it clear The Salvation Army not only taught her how to find a job, but also how to pursue one. She explained the process.

“Fill out the online application. Fill out the paper application. Go into the establishment and find an HR Representative and say, ‘Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I want to work here.’”

This exactly is how Ruth Ann obtained her job at Schnucks.

“I nagged them, that’s how I got my job,” she claims. “Be persistent. Stay the course. Be annoying!”

Ruth Ann has loved her job at Schnucks ever since she was hired. She has been trained in almost every department, starting out at the food bar, then to fruit cutting, produce, liquor, cashier training and she now is working in the deli. Ruth Ann’s diverse training goes to show her dedication and hard work since leaving the shelter.

“Is it a perfect job? No. But it’s a job! I like the people I work with. I like what I do,” says Ruth Ann, which proves she can spin any situation to appear positive.

She is especially proud to claim she recently celebrated her one-year anniversary of working at Schnucks on June 7. She declares she wants to continue working at Schnucks, “because the longer you work here, the better it gets!” she says with an upbeat voice.

Ruth Ann not only chooses to view her situation in a positive light, but also uses it as a learning experience. Her time in the homeless shelter made her realize how much she, as well as the rest of America, takes for granted.

“Everything we think is important in this world is really not,” says Ruth Ann. “How many wooden spoons do you need in your life?”

Anyone who has ever witnessed poverty would say Ruth Ann is correct. Homelessness takes away more than a home, but diminishes every day pleasures as well. Living in the shelter also taught Ruth Ann to appreciate simple satisfactions such as privacy and a space to call your own.

“If you sleep in a room with four people you don’t know, it’s a waking experience,” says Ruth Ann. “It builds tolerance. You learn their quirks.”

After being back in the real world, Ruth Ann has a new admiration for every aspect of her life.

“It totally reevaluated my life,” she explains. “For the past six to eight months I had a stove. I could bake a chicken! It’s the little things. You got a blanket, you got pillows, you got food in the fridge. It’s all good!”

If there was only one thing Ruth Ann could tell the public regarding homelessness, she would remind the world to not criticize homeless people. In this trying economy, everyone is at risk for poverty. Homeless people are not always brought down by drugs and addiction, which is the general stereotype.

Ruth Ann explains it simply.

“A lot of Americans out there are one or two paychecks away from being homeless. You are hanging on by a thread. You can’t judge them.”

Ruth Ann might have received these hypercritical stares or disapproving remarks, which is a shame since her personality and optimistic demeanor do not fit the stereotype to which she is being subjected.

“I was a normal person,” says Ruth Ann. “I made a couple bad decisions that affected my whole entire life. It just happens.”

She hopes the public views her the way she views herself, as a hard working woman who is recreating a solid life for herself.

“I’m a very positive person. It will all get better,” she says affirmatively.

One thing is for certain: our society needs more personalities like Ruth Ann Bonnell’s.

Overcoming Temptations and Hardships

A Woman’s Journey to follow the Straight and Narrow Path

By: Bethany Williams, Midland Division

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

From a young age, Ashley Berigan (pictured right) has endured many hardships that have influenced who she is today. Her father died when she was only 14, and by the time she was 17, Ashley was surrounded with negative influences.

Partying constantly and abusing drugs and alcohol, Ashley found herself pregnant and homeless when she was just 19 years old. After her mother kicked her out of their house, Ashley was terrified and alone. She ended up finding comfort and shelter at The Salvation Army in Alton, Illinois.

“That was the first time I’ve ever been homeless,” says Ashley. “It was scary.” Living at the shelter, she went to counseling once a month and received hope from the people at The Salvation Army. Ashley soon realized that she personally was not in a good position to take care of a child, and ultimately decided to give her son up for adoption after he was born. After making this tough decision, Ashley realized that she needed to change.

“Life can get pretty scary,” says Ashley, “so I wanted to follow the straight and narrow path.”

Today, Ashley is 26 and has a variety of new positive interests that include watching scary movies, listening to music, taking pictures and creating artwork for her family. Ashley has completed an art course at Lewis and Clark Community College and will be taking a photography class in the fall. One of her favorite paintings she has created is featured on the left.

Staying sober and away from drugs, Ashley looks toward the future in hopes of getting married and starting a family.

“God is trying to tell me something. All of the people who have helped me have come into my life for a reason.”

Because of this, Ashley has found a desire to give back and help others by sharing the importance of surrounding themselves with positive people.

“I am grateful for what I have, ” says Ashley, “and I thank God everyday because I am lucky to be alive.”

To make a donation to The Salvation Army and support people like Ashley, please visit

Shelter Director Awarded For Efforts

By: Becky Kreienkamp, Midland Division

Shocked, emotional and finally humbled – Toni Wells experienced all the following emotions and so much more when presented with an award for her work at the Booth House. Her selfless dedication has not gone unnoticed by her co-workers and the veterans who find refuge in Toni at the Booth House. This is why she received the award from the Veterans Assistance Commission of Madison County for her hard work in providing emergency shelter services.

Bradley Lavite, Superintendent of the Veterans Assistance Commission of Madison County, awarded her this honor April 19 at the Madison County Continuum of Care annual meeting.

“She was very excited and a little caught off guard that she was actually thought of,” says Lavite. “Her husband was a service member, so that brought it home for her that someone would recognize her as well. I think it pulled some heart strings for her.”

Toni says she responded exactly how Lavite described.

“I was very, very shocked,” describes Toni. “I mean, totally taken aback. I had no idea that they would be honoring me in such a way,” she laughs as she finishes her thought. “They got me pretty good.”

Toni seemed to be so surprised because being partners with Lavite means she does not get singled out for her work.

“We’ve been working pretty close together,” says Toni of Lavite. “I’m always making room for somebody Brad’s got. It’s not all me, I really appreciate that he recognized me, but it’s a team effort.”

Toni Wells is the Shelter Director of the Booth House in Madison County of Alton, Ill., which provides shelter and support for homeless veterans. As shelter director of the Booth House, she acts as the link between veterans in need and the Salvation Army. When a homeless veteran seeks her out, Toni immediately gets them on a path back to success. She examines each case for whatever services the homeless veterans necessitate, and finds support from the community.

Lavite explained veterans have to go through a program that helps them find work and various other life key markers. When veterans enter the program they have to agree to hit milestones of success, and Toni makes sure they follow through with this commitment.

The Booth House is just like any other Salvation Army homeless shelter. It is used as a safe haven specifically for homeless veterans, and a place for them to get their lives back on track.

“We use The Salvation Army as a bridge to get them to immediate housing and get them to work in the community,” says Lavite. “And Toni is always very active in providing that.”

Toni Wells takes this job very seriously, and views it on a personal level. She takes it upon herself to find opportunities for success and more permanent housing for these homeless veterans.

Toni remarked on how the work of the Booth House is so touching.

“My father and my husband are both veterans,” explains Wells. “When the veterans have someone advocating on their behalf…they fought for this country, and now they get benefits that are due to them. It’s remarkable when you see the miracle happen. We make one or two phone calls and everything happens for them, and that’s the beauty of it all.”

Not only is she a hard worker, but she also achieves all of this with the utmost positivity.

“She has a very friendly, personal demeanor,” says Lavite. “She makes it a very easy process. She is very well liked in the veteran population. Toni always goes out of her way to those that are in need of housing.”

It seems these veterans in need could not have asked for a better person to direct them. This is the only kind of shelter that is available in Madison County, and so they work very hard to meet these lost veteran’s wishes. Because of the high demand of this shelter, the Booth House is very fortunate to have such a dedicated director as Toni Wells.

Honor an Unsung Hero in Alton

Nominations being accepted for the Riverbend Unsung Hero Award

By: Laura Grainger

Every day there are people who serve the Alton Riverbend community and go unnoticed. You may live across the street from them. You see the hard work they give day in and day out. Here is your chance to give them some recognition. Nominate them for the Riverbend Unsung Hero Award.

The Unsung Hero Award will be given out at the upcoming Stand Up for Our Heroes event on April 27, 2012, at Lewis & Clark’s Hatheway Auditorium. This is going to be a night of clean comedy the entire family can enjoy. The Salvation Army Alton is partnering with Powerhouse Laughs to thank the unsung heroes of Alton and the Riverbend Area with the comedy of Rik Roberts, Darren Marlar and Dennis Tooley. Mark your calendar and plan to share the laughs and honor our local heroes! Several Awards will be given out during this event.

To nominate someone for the Riverbend Unsung Hero Award send their name and your explanation of why they deserve the award to The Salvation Army Alton, 525 Alby Street, Alton, IL 62002 or email your nomination to

The Salvation Army, an international organization, has been supporting those in need without discrimination for 130 years in the St. Louis region. Nearly 350,000 people throughout Missouri and Southern Illinois receive assistance from The Salvation Army each year through the broadest array of social services that range from providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless and opportunities for underprivileged children. 82 cents of every dollar spent is used to carry out those services throughout the region. For more information, go to

Too young to give up hope

By: Danni Eickenhorst, Midland Division, Content Specialist

During the course of a 20-minute interview, John Holt answers the telephone at The Salvation Army’s Alton homeless shelter five times, each time having to turn away potential residents. “I’m sorry,” he said, “We’re full right now, but if you call back tomorrow, I’ll let you know if anything opens up.” Each time he hangs up the phone, John seems genuinely sorrowful and full of regret that he can’t do more for the individual on the other end of the line reaching out to him.

John has a unique perspective on homelessness. Four years ago, John moved into The Salvation Army shelter in Alton shortly after his release from Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois. He arrived at the prison with nowhere else to go. “I’d broken into cars when I was a teenager and had three felonies by the time I was 17,” he recalls, “It was actually a blessing to get caught when I did, because I was paroled at 20 and still had time to start my life over and turn it around.”

It was at The Salvation Army shelter that John got his new start on life. Within the first weeks of moving in, John had already secured employment at the local McDonalds and became determined to pursue an education. Within 2 months, John moved out into an apartment with a co-worker.

Shortly after moving out on his own, John suffered a seizure. He was taken to the hospital, where he learned that he had a brain tumor that was cancerous. What followed was a nearly two-year battle with the disease. As he endured treatments and surgeries, he also reconnected with his family, and was able to have the support he needed to recover, and today he is cancer-free.

“It didn’t take the cancer to reunite us, necessarily, but it has been nice having them there when I need them,” he says, as he fiddles with a bracelet on his wrists that reads “Too Young for this Cancer,” an ode to an organization that helped him navigate the sometimes overwhelming world of cancer treatment.

Even as he underwent sometimes debilitating treatments, John continued working and has been working as a part-time monitor at The Salvation Army’s homeless shelter for over a year. “I love working here, because I understand what it is to be homeless. I’ve slept in the streets. I understand what they’re going through, more than most. In this position, I can connect people with the resources they need and do what I can to help out.”

Looking forward, the future seems to hold an abundance of possibilities, no small miracle for such a young man with such a tumultuous past. John attends Lewis and Clark College, with the aim of pursuing a career in radio. He hosts a radio show on the local college radio station three days each week. His backup plan? “I would like to pursue a career in social work, maybe work with the homeless that have severe mental disorders. Everywhere you walk, you see homeless people and they all deserve the chance to start over. I’d like to be a part of that.”

Feeling the Pain: One addict learns to experience life, good and bad

By: Danni Eickenhorst, MidlandDivision, Content Specialist

Phil George turned 18 in the Illinois Juvenile Correction System. He entered adulthood battling mental illness, addiction and ghosts from his early days. At 16, he was kicked out of his childhood home. Suffering from parental rejection and abuse, he turned to borderline behaviors and had been jailed for burning down a house in an insurance scheme.

Phil works to fill food orders at the Alton Salvation Army food pantry.

Upon exiting the system, George found himself homeless and turned to using drugs. He entered into The Salvation Army’s Harbor Light facility in downtown St. Louis, where he stayed nearly four months. “I wasn’t ready to get help yet, but they showed me a lot of love,” he recalls.

Each time he would get sober, tragedy would strike, sending him into a tailspin that would jeopardize his sobriety. He suffered the loss of a best friend, and two girlfriends, and became haunted by the losses.  “Old Phil would show up. I would relapse, try to commit suicide, stop going to meetings and volunteering,” he said.

Today, Phil is sober and has been for almost five years. “I stay clean for my grandmother,” he says, choking up, “I stole from her when I was in my addiction, and I feel that staying clean is the only way I can make it up to her, now that she has passed away.” Phil attends 12-step meetings several times weekly and finds comfort in daily routines, such as volunteering three to four days each week at The Salvation Army’s food pantry inAlton. “Here I am surrounded by positive people. It’s been good for me. I have a support system,” says George, “I have learned to feel the pain, both good and bad, and to get through it, and having that support has made all the difference.”

Adopt-a-bed program launched to support local shelters

The Salvation Army announces the kick-off of their Adopt-A-Bed program, a sponsorship and donation program to support the work of the O’Fallon and Alton homeless shelters. The Salvation Army provides services to families in the St. Louis area, and seeks to help them break the cycle of poverty, by helping them to become stable and self-sufficient.

Adopt-a-Bed sponsorships are available at a variety of levels, and work to continue the work of The Salvation Army in O’Fallon and Alton, two of the most critically impoverished communities in the metro area. The Alton shelter provides services to more than 300 individuals annually, and operates at maximum capacity continuously. The O’Fallon shelter has seen a tenfold increase in need in their area from 2010 to 2011. Both shelters have seen reduced donations, and budget cuts from programs that previously supported their work.

“It is easy to overlook the need,” says Captain Paul Ferguson of the O’Fallon corps, “but people are now asking for help for the very first time. They live in nice houses and drive nice cars, but they’re suddenly struggling to pay for utilities and groceries and are at risk of losing their houses and cars. They never expected to experience this level of need.”

The Salvation Army asks those interested in adopting a bed to call the O’Fallon (636.240.4969) and Alton (314.465.7764) shelters directly to donate, or to donate online and specify “Alton Shelter” or “O’Fallon shelter” when making their donation.

Alton Salvation Army helps single mother find hope after layoff and divorce

“I had this great network of people that believed in me.”

By: Sacre Ntumba and Danni Eickenhorst, Midland Division

Only two years ago, Amanda McDonald felt as though she was battling for her life. She was on the verge of being homeless after a layoff, enduring the hardship of divorce and feeling rejected by many in her life. Amanda’s self esteem was at an all-time low. “I felt worthless,” McDonald says simply. Amanda recalls how she felt unable to meet the challenges put before her. She was going through a separation with her then-husband and enduring all of the legal and emotional turmoil that accompany such a separation.

As she struggled to overcome seemingly insurmountable difficulties, starting over in her family life and working to find a job, she became increasingly depressed and had difficulty taking the needed steps to improve her situation. When she felt she could no longer do it all on her own, she reached out for help to the Alton Salvation Army. The local community center assisted her in obtaining food and clothing for her kids, both boys who are currently five and ten years old.

To her surprise, a search for food and clothing turned into much more, because she began to receive assistance with her medical benefits, her unemployment, her kids’ activities, and a balm for her own soul as she found she had people in her corner, rooting for her success at the Alton Salvation Army. She found herself treated her with respect and love, things she had previously felt unworthy of. The support system at the Salvation Army motivated her to take the necessary steps to improve her situation, and the youth programs they had for her children helped them forget the hard times they were going through, providing them with a refuge.

The Salvation Army did more than just giving her a hand to rely on, it gave her hope; hope that would restore her spirit and make her feel like a brand new person who could achieve anything she wanted to through God. Soon after she became involved with The Salvation Army, Amanda started to look for a new job, found one, and was ultimately promoted to a managerial position. The seemingly endless blessings she saw in her life made her realize that “God never closes a door without opening another one for you,” she said, a huge smile beaming. As Amanda continued her involvement with The Salvation Army, she found herself coming alive again. “I had this great network of people that believed in me,” she recalls, and she began to take steps to address all areas of her life.

Nearly two years after the darkest period she can recall in her life, Amanda has hope. She is going back to school and plans to keep her kids in the Salvation Army’s character building programs. She volunteers her time at the community center, doing whatever she can do to help others find hope in their situations. The lesson to learn from Amanda’s story is that one can always rely on God’s mysterious, but amazing help; and all one must do to receive it, is to ask for it and accept it.

“The Bible also teaches that even while bad things are happening, good things are also trying to happen to you.” Major John R. Cheydleur

Alton daycare mobilizes families to support Salvation Army food pantry

By: Danni Eickenhorst, Content Specialist, Midland Division

Toddle Towne, a local Alton daycare and preschool center has been in Alton since 1988, and having watched the residents of Alton battle economic hardships and flooding over that time period, the center believes strongly in supporting local non-profits such as The Salvation Army.  Sharon Velloff, the Beginners Program Coordinator for Toddle Towne of Alton, coordinates Toddle Towne’s annual summer food drive, and has found success this year by motivating and mobilizing families to participate.

Traditionally the school has not seen a great deal of success in their summer food drives, collecting 7 to 10 cans in a given drive, but after seeing a story on a local NBC-affiliate about the great number of people The Salvation Army serves, and its increased need for non-perishable canned goods, Velloff felt more determined than ever to see their summer food drive make an impact.

“I pushed it and made a competition out of it,” says Velloff, who had each age level compete against each other, with the winning group to be awarded an ice cream party. “I found that the adults were just as competitive as the children,” she recalls

This year, the school was able to collect more than 350 canned goods to be given to The Salvation Army’s Alton corps. Ultimately, it was the preschoolers who brought in the most canned goods and non-perishable food items to the drive, but Velloff and her team were so impressed with the generosity of the families that this year, all of the children at Toddle Towne participated in the party.

The Salvation Army’s Alton Worship and Community Center serves more than 250 families monthly with groceries, utility assistance and more, in addition to providing homeless services and children’s programming.

 “There are so many people out of work right now, and [The Salvation Army is] there to help them big time.”

”Ready for a new challenge”: The Alton Salvation Army prepares job seekers for success

By: Sacre Ntumba and Danni Eickenhorst, Midland Division

It’s Friday July 1 and today, we are visiting The Salvation Army’s Alton corps. As an intern, this is my first visit to a Salvation Army community center, and I am struck by how welcoming the place is. Here, visitors are greeted by a warm and welcoming staff, and even the clients being helped seem to be happy to be here.

The Alton Worship and Community Center is a social services hub for this blue collar community, and today one of the thrice-weekly job training classes is about to take place. From the looks on the faces of everyone in this room, one can tell that these people have felt downtrodden and that the job search has taken a toll on them, but it is clear that this is a place of refuge and that they are hopeful that this training will help them find the job that will turn their life around.

On this particular morning, fifteen people of various ethnicities, education levels and professional backgrounds, ranging in age from early 20’s to maybe 60 years of age, are all gathered in the room. One young mother has her young children playing at her feet, while another takes diligent notes. Some wear casual clothing, while others are dressed for success, as if they are ready to interview at any moment. The attendees listen carefully as Christine Pavlow, of Hoylton Youth and Family Services teaches them how to prepare for the interview process and coaches them with a question and answer session.

After the lesson, the attendees break out into smaller groups and act out an interview with their classmates. Some do well, while one woman tears up as she has her mock interview and turns to the class saying, “This is how nervous I get in an interview.” Those that struggle have Christine and their classmates to turn to. Overall, many of those in attendance all seem to understand and employ the principles that Pavlow taught them, and for those that struggle, Christine coaches them through. On difficult questions, the whole class works to suggest a better answer for their classmates. As I watch this, I am truly struck by the way it felt like these people were all a part of a big family working toward one common goal, and how determined they seem that no one be left behind.

In the beginning it all looked like just another job class, which are becoming so common place in this down economy, but towards the end, the true spirit of The Salvation Army shone through, as we watched people work to help each other rise above.


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