Tag Archives: booth house

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.

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.”

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