Tag Archives: East St. Louis Salvation Army Corps

Redefining Dedication

By: Bethany Williams, Midland Division

At 72 years old, Margie Duff (pictured left) definitely does not look her age as she gleams with dedication in her eyes and love in her heart. Her relationship with The Salvation Army goes back roughly 25 years, starting as a patron of her local Salvation Army store in East St. Louis. Purchasing clothes and toys, Margie was able to provide her large family with basic needs. Finding refuge and faith in The Salvation Army, she decided to send each of her seven children to Sunday Bible School at the center.

“My children would not have turned out to do the amazing things they do today without the Christian upbringing they received from The Salvation Army,” says Margie.

In 2008, Margie believed that a spirit led her to serve at The Salvation Army. She felt an urge to make a difference within her community and give back to the place that assisted her family through hard times. To her surprise, Wanda Carson (pictured right) opened the door the first day she came into volunteer. Wanda, a caseworker at the East St. Louis center, has known Margie her entire life and regards Margie as a mother figure. Because they had not seen each other in 15 years, both women believe that the Lord led them back to each other to share their time and talents through The Salvation Army.

During the past several years, Margie has come to consider The Salvation Army her second home. Wanda considers Margie as a “superwoman” as she dedicates herself in a variety of tasks from teaching nutrition and health classes, and cleaning the kitchen and play areas to supervising summer programs and tutoring children after school. Margie primarily works with the Women’s Ministry in the areas of planning and preparing lunch and serving as a speaker at meetings.

“Margie has been an asset to the center,” says Wanda. “She is talented in many areas and never has a problem taking on more responsibilities. She is concerned about the people here. You can feel it. You can see it through her works.”

When Margie’s husband of 50 years passed away from cancer a few years ago, she turned to The Salvation Army as a place where she could always go to if she ever needed anything or simply to have someone to talk to. Although Margie is an active member at another church, she dedicates her spare time to serving others.

“I always remind my grandchildren that it is better to give than to receive,” says Margie. “I always feel the need to help someone because you never know what situation you might need help with in the future. God blessed me, so I keep blessing other folks.”

While Margie is known for her dedication to volunteering, she also is famous for her cooking, especially her mostacholi dish and carrot cake. In her free time, Margie loves to travel to see her children and she has visited 38 states.

If you’d like to make a difference, see how on The Salvation Army website.

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 .

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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