Meet Keith, A Salvation Army Star

Keith (right) poses with Captain Massango at a volunteer appreciation breakfast.

Nominated by his boss, Lynn Kallgren, as a Salvation Army employee deserving recognition for his character and achievements, Keith Butler has worked tirelessly as a Data Entry Specialist for The Salvation Army Divisional Headquarters in San Diego for 17 years, all the while volunteering his time when the hours allow for it.

“He’ll actually work after church on Sunday all day so that he can take Friday off to ring bells at our red kettles,” Lynn said.

Chatting with Keith on the phone is an easy task; he is chatty, warm and personable. One would never suspect that he’s endured a lifetime of numerous challenges. When he reflects on his tumultuous days of childhood and later, addiction, he says he was on the other side of the shield.

“We all have a shield and I’ve been on both sides. One side is living a life that only benefits yourself and not your family or your friends. I’ve learned to live on the side of Christ – the other side that serves others.”

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Keith endured constant emotional abuse from a step-father who refused to claim him as his own child. Keith recalls The Salvation Army Angel Tree program delivering presents to him on Christmas because his father would purposely leave him out of the gift exchange with his other sons.

“I was not his kid.”

While his friends and brothers enjoyed the youthful freedom of summer vacation, Keith’s father required him to work at tobacco fields and poultry farms. “It started as early as 14 years old. I’d hop on a greyhound bus to Connecticut for the summer months to work. When I returned, my parents got my paycheck.

His aspirations of going to college to be a lawyer were put on hold when he was obligated to join the Marine Corps.

“The Corps changed me. When I got out, I was addicted to tobacco, alcohol and gambling. I lost God there.”

Working during the day and attending school at night, Keith continued his battle with addiction but amazingly, earned degrees in economics, history and his master’s in education. He went on to be a teacher.

“[My wife and] I were always short on money. I had trouble getting and keeping jobs. I hit rock bottom. I started going to church out of desperation. It was there that I found the Lord again.”

Rediscovering his lost faith and putting his addictions aside, Keith was capable of working and leading a normal life again. Lynn hired him as a full time employee at The Salvation Army in 1995. Dedicating himself to a life of service to others, he became a Salvation Army soldier in 2007.

“Lynn inspires me. She’s just a great boss and I look forward to seeing her each day. Captain Darren Norton [of the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps] told me that everyone has a spiritual gift. I came to find out that bell ringing is mine.”

But of course, Keith never fails to add that his faith is what guides him each day in every action, mentioning that it’s the small things throughout the day that make the greatest difference.

“Life is so much better when you care about others more than yourself. If you’re able to give, why not?

Chatting with Lynn about him, it’s clear that Keith’s presence in the office means much more than excellent work ethic.

“Keith is an amazing individual.  I’ve watched him change and grow to become the man God wants him to be.  I admire him for overcoming many challenges in his life. He is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had and I’m proud to call him my friend.”