Category Archives: Redemption

A New Life Because of The Salvation Army

By: Elizabeth Koch, Midland Division and Wanda Carson, East St. Louis Salvation Army

When Kimberly Baker (pictured left) first started visiting the East
St. Louis Salvation Army almost daily, she claimed she lived in a home with heat and electricity. However, after further inquiry, Salvation Army employees discovered Baker’s harsh reality – living without running water in an uninhabitable home, and stealing from the community center. Now, four years later, Baker lives independently in a decent home and receives social security benefits – all possible through the help of The Salvation Army.

When Baker began frequenting the community center, Lieutenant Katie Harris-Smith took Baker under her wing and offered loving support and guidance despite Baker’s erratic behavior. Baker continued visiting The Salvation Army regularly, eventually becoming a part of the Women’s Ministry. The relationship between the employees and Baker began to blossom, building trust and companionship between them. Employees, especially Lt. Harris-Smith and caseworker Wanda Carson, devoted their time and efforts to seeking outside support to help Baker.

At first, employees were unsure of how to go about getting aid – she did not have identification, a birth certificate or a social security card. Luckily, she owned a medical card, which led employees to her physician. The clinic social worker informed them that an outside person was required to assist Baker in applying for disability. The Salvation Army employees took that role, making progress to help the woman they had come to know and care for.

Lt. Harris-Smith and Carson received the copy of Baker’s expired identification that was in her medical file. Even after acquiring the identification, employees were unsure of what steps to take next. Baker was grateful for their efforts, and the trust between her and the Salvation Army employees grew stronger, and in time, Baker stopped taking items that were not hers. The employees at the community center not only provided her with help to get back on her feet, but also with trustworthy people she could call friends.

Meanwhile, Baker’s dilapidated house was torn down, forcing her and her teenage children to move in with the children’s father. Baker’s pregnant daughter soon moved out of the apartment, and Baker took the role of caretaker for her sick husband. She was finally living in adequate shelter with running water and a sufficient food supply.

While Baker adjusted to her new role as caretaker, The Salvation Army community center employees continued to make progress in her case and found an agency willing to assist them obtain a birth certificate. After receiving the birth certificate, Baker could receive identification free of charge because of a document from her physician that explained her disability. Baker and the employees then went to the Social Security Administration to apply for a social security card and acquire an application to receive benefits. All phone calls and mail were intercepted through The Salvation Army East St. Louis community center, ensuring Baker responded to calls and mailings on time.

As time progressed, the father of Baker’s children grew sicker, and the community center provided Baker with in-home medical supplies to assist her as she took care of him. He eventually went to the hospital, and was diagnosed with cancer, dying just a few days later.

Kimberly found a beautiful dress in the community center pantry to wear to the funeral, and the center purchased panty hose and shoes to complete the outfit. Lt. Harris-Smith and caseworker Wanda Carson went to the funeral to offer their support for Baker, with whom they had developed a close relationship.

Mail from The Social Security Administration continued to be delivered to the community center office, though there was no word about whether Baker was eligible for benefits yet. Baker’s landlord was concerned of how she could stay in the apartment with no income. A week after the funeral, Baker moved in with her daughter and granddaughter, while her son moved in with other relatives.

Baker continued calling the East St. Louis community center to say hello and to inquire about her benefits. Recently, the center received a letter stating Baker needed to call the local social security office. When employees called on her behalf, they were informed Baker was approved to receive benefits. Employees were overjoyed, especially since the application was just submitted five months earlier. When Carson called Baker with the good news, Baker was elated. The process was finally at an end for The Salvation Army East St. Louis community center employees – not only because Baker was living independently and receiving benefits, but also because they created a bond that made a difference in someone’s life.

Those interested in supporting The Salvation Army East St. Louis s to help change lives of people such as Baker, contact caseworker Wanda Carson at 618-874-3139 or email wanda_carson@usc.salvationarmy.org .

Give me your love for humanity.

By: Danni Eickenhorst, Content Specialist, Midland Division

Today, we filmed a portion of a mini-documentary we are creating to memorialize our work in Joplin, following the May tornado. Captain Deb Osborne, who served nearly a week in Joplin delivering spiritual aid in the first days of the disaster was the subject of our interview. She sat in Forest Park with her little red wagon, recalling how she walked the streets of Joplin with a red wagon delivering water, food and prayer to those who needed it, as they gathered their things from the rubble, and stood at the sides of family members and homeowners, providing support as victims were pulled from the rubble.

At the end of filming, our videographer Michael Kilfoy said to her, “You did really well. You really radiate goodness when you speak,” and when she heard him say that, she said, “Oh good! I prayed all the way here that Jesus would shine through me when I spoke!”

Captain Deb is a shining example of all that The Salvation Army exemplifies – “Heart to God, Hand to Man.” She and her fellow officers know that actions speak louder than words and work to show the love of Christ through their outreach work. As I listened to her speak and thought of all of the many wonderful acts I’ve seen firsthand since coming to The Salvation Army, I was reminded of this song by Brandon Heath, especially this line…

“Give me your arms for the brokenhearted/For the ones beyond my reach/Give me your heart for the ones forgotten/Give me your eyes so I can see.”

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

Moving Forward: The Salvation Army Helps Frederick Davis Leave the Past Behind

By: Danni R. Eickenhorst, Content Specialist, Midland Division 

At first blush, Frederick Davis does not seem like a man once dodging bullets and strung out on crack, but on a sunny May afternoon, Fred recounts his past in the East St. Louis Salvation Army Corps chapel with candor, including two prison stints and many failed attempts at rehabilitation.

Davis stands near the van he drives for the East St. Louis Corps.

The former football star attended East St. LouisSenior High School and was recruited to play for the Universityof Wisconsin at Whitewater. He played two years in Wisconsin, when he was transferred to Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Upon arriving in Carbondale, Davis began to party as most college students do.  His addictions began with alcohol, and in time extended into narcotics.

As Davis’ substance abuse began to affect his life, he found himself on academic probation and eventually back in Wisconsin. By the late 1980’s, Davis dropped out of college and started working at a local rental center. In 1989, Davis was charged with possession of narcotics and sentenced to probation and treatment. The next 6 years of his life would be a series of rehab attempts, relapses and job losses.

In 1995, Davis recalls that he was deep in his addiction when he found himself convicted of aggravated robbery and robbery, a crime that came with a hefty 7 year sentence. Davis served 3 ½ years and was released on good behavior. He was rehired at a former employer and worked toward a new start, with the help of a 12-step addiction program. In time, without a support system, however, Davis relapsed once again.

In 2003, Davis was given what he is determined will be his final conviction. He was convicted of residential burglary and robbery and sentenced to 14 years in prison. The conviction and sentencing was a pivotal moment in Davis’s life. As he recalls the pivotal moment in the dimly lit chapel, a visible spark lights up his face.

“Along the way, I made some bad choices,” recalls Davis, “but today I don’t make bad choices, because being in the right state of mind allows me to make good decisions.”

The weight of the substantial conviction was the catalyst Davis needed to make real and lasting change. Instead of attending yet another 90 or 180 day rehab program, Davis chose to stay in treatment for the length of the 6 ½ years he served. At Southwestern Illinois Correction Center, Davis entered a state-run program designed to train and license inmates as technicians in the substance abuse field.

While in prison, Davis suffered devastating losses, including the deaths of two of his brothers, one from a drug overdose. While in prison, his mother fell ill with cancer and worried she wouldn’t see him paroled.

Davis was released from prison in April of 2009, and was able to spend a full 11 months with his mother prior to her passing. “I’m angry with the disease of addiction that it cost me so much time with my mother, but I’m thankful for the time I got to spend with her,” said Davis.

When he was released, one of his first stops was at the East St. Louis Salvation Army Corps. The corps was able to assist Fred in finding assistance, resources, clothing and food. When Fred was able to get on his feet, he decided to volunteer for the corps in an effort to give back.

“When I was born, I didn’t come out saying, ‘I want to be an addict,’ and I have created a lot of problems for a lot of people in this life. I want to do something to give back.”

The Corps was so impressed with Davis’s performance as a volunteer that they offered him a part time position when it became available.

“The Salvation Army opened the door and gave me an opportunity when no one else would and I truly appreciate it,” says Davis, adding that daily work in an environment that so strongly supports his sobriety has helped him to stay clean. Davis has been sober for more than 8 years.

Fred admits that sobriety is a struggle saying, “The disease of addiction is powerful, baffling and cunning,” but credits his involvement with Narcotics Anonymous and The Salvation Army with giving him the skills and support to remain sober in the face of devastating losses.

Fred holds an Associates degree in liberal arts, and is in the process of enrolling in a 4 year program through Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville in Psychology, and dreams of becoming a social worker, helping addicts attain sobriety.

Davis says that next step in his path is to serve an internship in order to complete his substance abuse counselor certificate, but that he is having difficulty finding a program that will accept him with a felony conviction. Still, Davis exudes an air of unassuming hopefulness.

“I’m not going backwards. I’m going forwards,” and despite the setback, Davis simply says, “I ask God and I am just being patient and humble, and hope that He opens the doors for me. I know if I could, you know, do good and be positive and productive, then I know that I could help somebody else to get there.”

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