The following was contributed by Guest Blogger Kathy Lovin, Public Affairs and Communications Manager – Salvation Army’s Western Territory
In study after study, researchers find that people who watch fish in an aquarium can experience surprising health benefits, such as a decrease in blood pressure, muscle tension and pulse rate!
For instance, one study found that tanks full of brightly-colored fish in the dining room of the memory care unit at a convalescent center increased Alzheimer’s patients’ nutritional intake. That’s why the staff of The Salvation Army’s Bell Shelter in Southern California is trying to raise money to save their 300 gallon saltwater fish tank.
The Bell Shelter is home to about 300 to 350 residents at a time. It’s the largest homeless shelter West of the Mississippi and is located in a converted 40,000 square-foot hangar formerly used as a U.S. Army Air Base. It costs about $200 to $250 per month to feed the fish and clean and maintain the Bell Shelter’s tank. And that’s only if everything’s functioning properly. When a pump or a light needs to be replaced, the cost goes up.
But Paul Wager says the expense is worth it. He should know; he’s the Bell Shelter’s on-staff psychotherapist who helps the residents get their mental health needs met. Of the homeless population, Paul says between 30 – 50% have legitimate mental health issues.
The tank is in the main hall of the shelter in a high traffic area. There are benches along the opposite wall so folks can sit and gaze at the fish to their heart’s content. There are about two dozen fish in all, including clownfish, damselfish, dottybacks, basslets, and anthias.
Paul says the tank has a calming effect on the residents. Watching the tank allows them to relax and take a mental vacation from the challenges in their lives. The fish are such a part of their daily routine that many name their favorites and stand in front the tank to wait for them to swim by every day.
On Friday, September 16 Bell Shelter held a barbecue fundraiser to “Save Nemo and His Friends.” Staff and volunteers bought tickets for lunch and an opportunity drawing that will hopefully bring in much-needed funds so they can keep the tank. They want to give the fish a permanent home while they help the residents ease the transition into a stable, long-term home of their own too.
Click here for a link to fascinating a research paper on the health benefits of companion animals – including fish!
Click here to learn more about the Bell Shelter.
Check out Kathy’s Blog at www.SalvationArmyExpectChange.org!
We blogged last week about the increased number of Americans living in poverty which has reached a record 46.2 million people – or one in six Americans. According to the same reporting agency, the top five poorest states are Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Louisiana. Failed government policies from years past and a continued decline in GDP have taken a drastic toll on the jobs market and the American way of life. The poverty rate is the “highest of any major industrialized nation”.
This past week, reporters from The Associated Press scavenged the poorest areas of the country in search for a few of the stories behind this record-breaking number. The accounts include very real depictions of the prevalent poverty struggle in America. Most frustratingly, those without jobs often live in the communities with the fewest resources for finding another. Adding to this vicious cycle are the struggles of feeding a growing family or caring for ill loved ones who are unable to contribute. Families find themselves destitute once government assistance ends or help from the community isn’t an option anymore.
Read the stories here.
Among the accounts is that of Monique Brown, a single mom with four children who, up until two weeks ago, was homeless. When the recession hit in 2008, Monique lost both of her jobs in Florida and decided to move her family to Alabama in order to live near her brother. The Salvation Army of Birmingham provided shelter to Monique and her family for several weeks, eventually helping her find a public housing unit. They paid for her furniture, appliances and rent deposits. She now has a home where she can adequately care for her two-year-old son and continue her search for work. With help from The Salvation Army and other donations, her children have beds again.
The Salvation Army provides housing and homeless services nationwide. Along with providing food and lodging for the homeless, The Salvation Army addresses the health and educational needs of residents and seeks to address the issues causing the need. For more information on The Salvation Army Housing and Homeless Services, please visit our website at www.SalvationArmyUSA.org.
By Sallie Godwin, PR Director, Tulsa Area Command
Singing pirates, sword-fighting puppets, belly-dancing cowgirls – when Thomas Gibbs moved in the Center of Hope last year, no one had a clue his stay there was the beginning of an unusual adventure for The Salvation Army’s Tulsa Area Command. Yet that’s what happened this summer when the Tulsa Command became involved with “Invisible People,” a dance, theater and music production about homelessness created by Thomas’s mother Shadia Dahlal.
Like most people, Shadia had not thought about homelessness until it hit someone in her family. Thomas had lost his job and needed a place to stay. “He has Asperger’s and some other issues, and I was just so grateful that there was a place he could go and stay. I was very impressed with the people in charge of the Center of Hope and the care they showed everyone there,” she said.
Shadia owns the Belly Dance Academy of Tulsa and is artistic director of the Tulsa Folkloric Dance Theater, the non-profit organization that produced the show. Following her son’s stay at The Salvation Army’s Center of Hope, a homeless shelter and social services center, she was inspired to write a poem, which she titled “Invisible People.” Her husband put the poem to music and it became the name – and theme – of the production. Shadia said she called the poem “Invisible People” because “so many people who are homeless aren’t dealing with mental illness or fighting substance abuse. But they are just as invisible to the rest of society as those who are.”
Shadia reached out to the Center of Hope and told her about her idea for the production. She worked with several of the Center’s homeless guests to use their photographs as the show’s backdrop and even invited them to the dress rehearsal.
The dress rehearsal was held July 7 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, the premier live- theater venue in Tulsa. Local Salvation Army leaders Majors Roy and Kathy Williams attended the show along with 10 of the guests who had posed for photographs. As honored guests, they were the only people allowed to attend the dress rehearsal. Everyone sat enthralled as a dumpster morphed into a pirate ship and two pirates emerged to act as singing ambassadors from the world of people’s dreams to the reality of an alley where homeless people lived.
The grand finale of the show was a slide show created with huge photographs of the guests from the Center of Hope. After the curtain call, the guests mingled with the performers, some of whom were moved to tears. “The whole cast was touched. It was nice to have them there,” Shadia said. The homeless guests seemed to enjoy the project and handled challenges with humor and grace.
Sallie Godwin is PR Director at the Tulsa Area Command. Sallie began her career as a newspaper reporter and enjoys writing and shooting photographs for six Boys & Girls Clubs and the Center of Hope homeless shelter in Tulsa. She also writes posts for salarmytulsa.blogspot.com.
As much as people like to bash social media, sites like Facebook and Twitter have played crucial roles during recent global events.
From serving as the one of the very few connections between earthquake-shaken Haiti and the outside world, to helping organize revolutionary protests in Egypt, social media is proving to the world stage that hey, maybe there’s more to this than just letting virtual friends know the scoop on our relationship status.
There’s a lot of good that can come from this stuff if we use it well.
A few New York interns appear to have already figured that out. As a part of their project “Unheard in New York,” these interns gave four NYC homeless men their own prepaid cell phones and Twitter accounts with the purpose of helping them tell their stories. Every day Danny, Derrick, Albert and Carlos tweet about what it’s like to live on the streets, the struggles they face, and how they came to be homeless. From once feeling like they didn’t have a voice, they now have thousands of people following, talking with, and learning from them on Twitter.
If these tweets can give a voice to the homeless, what can your tweets do? How can your Facebook status become more than just the status quo? We want to hear your ideas for using social media to do good.
I’d like to suggest one way you can get started – connect with The Salvation Army online. We’re on Facebook (The S alvation Army USA) and Twitter (@SalvationArmyUS). We share how we’re serving people in need every day and opportunities for you to be a part of it.
Last week I had the immense pleasure of speaking with Lamont, a 36 year old Salvation Army client residing in our men’s shelter in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The energy in Lamont’s voice is contagious. Though he’s fallen on hard times, his perspective on life is more hopeful than most people’s I know, and I couldn’t help but feel inspired after meeting him over the phone just minutes earlier.
After spending some years in prison, Lamont says he wanted to live a changed life when he got out, and he knew The Salvation Army could help him do it. Before serving time, he had volunteered everyday in one of our kitchens as a way to stay off the streets, so he knew firsthand about the help we offer.
Upon his release, Lamont went to The Salvation Army with a plan. He told the local staff about his goal of going to cosmetology school full time to earn his license and eventually find a job that would allow him to support himself. They gave him a bed at the men’s shelter, and now Lamont says it’s put him in a better position to cut off his negative relationships from his past and meet new people.
He’s also focusing on school 100% as a student at the American Institute of Beauty and using his barber skills to benefit the shelter’s many other residents.
“I’d go on the streets giving people free haircuts,” Lamont says. “Then my name started circulating that I was the guy to come to when you need a haircut. I’m always playing around, cutting, blow-drying with these guys. They say, “I got a job interview tomorrow. Can you help me?” So I shave ‘em, trim ‘em, do their nose hairs, whatever. If you make people feel better on the outside, they become more employable, so I do hair.”
As much as he helped his male bunkmates, Lamont wanted to do more for the women at The Salvation Army’s family shelter. Then one day, when he saw his school getting ready to toss out some old nail polish bottles, he asked to take two back to the family shelter. The school told him they’d contact The Salvation Army directly to make sure it was ok, and Lamont never expected what happened next.
Rather than giving the two bottles, the school donated loads of new nail polish to The Salvation Army, plus items for complete manicure and pedicure sets, hair products, and makeup for the women, as well as socks, body wash, toothpaste, and many other hygienic items for the men.
“It was beautiful! It was incomparable! I’m giving praises to God. I was just a vessel he used,” Lamont gushed remembering it. “It makes me feel good. I really accomplished something. I did something. I’m still smiling about it right now!”
Lamont’s dream is to have his own salon one day that is full of his personality. It’s a plan he says he came up with more than ten years ago and is still trying to execute to this day. For him, doing hair is a job in which his clients won’t hold his past against him as long he can make them look and feel good. He loves the way a simple haircut or style can transform a person’s attitude and make them shine.
Lamont has several months of hard work ahead before he gets his license. Classes began in August and he’s on schedule to graduate in May 2011. He’s out the door every morning before 6:30am to take a 2.5 hour bus ride, and he doesn’t get back to The Salvation Army shelter until after dinner time. But his joy and determination are undeniable.
“I want to utilize my own hands, brain, and the senses God gave me to get myself out of my situation. I’m gonna share the good things that God has put in my heart. I thank God He has given me the knowledge, ability, and power to plant the seeds. That’s all I am. A sower of good seeds.”
In regards to The Salvation Army, Lamont told me, “It’s a blessing to be a part of this organization. I think that someway, somehow, with the will of God, together we can always make a difference. I would love to try to be a part of this organization for the rest of my life.”
We’d like that too. Good luck, Lamont, with school, you career, and beyond. We’re rooting for you!
Ryan Cox is a 14 year old from Jacksonville, FL who has found a unique way to support the needy in his community. The teenager has provided thousands of pounds of food for hungry, impoverished persons in Northeast Florida through his “gleaning efforts.”
Gleaning is an ancient, biblical practice that involves gathering leftover crops that would otherwise rot from fields that have already been formally harvested.
Ryan has gleaned and donated more than 3,000 lbs. of fresh produce to The Salvation Army and other non-profit agencies. He started at the age of 12 when he needed to complete several service hours for his church confirmation. During his first gleaning experience, he harvested potatoes from a farm in Hastings, Florida with other 7th grade boys. Despite being hot and dirty after many hours of hard work, they were thrilled to have harvested hundreds of pounds of potatoes!
Having previously served meals at a Salvation Army soup kitchen, Ryan knew first-hand that they could use more fresh produce, so he made it his personal mission to continue gleaning as much produce as possible.
In 2010 alone, he gleaned more than 2,000 pounds of potatoes, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and citrus which he and his parents delivered to The Salvation Army. The value of Ryan’s donated food is worth more than $4,200 and has provided more than 1,600 nutritious meals for homeless men, women and children. According to Ryan, this is only the beginning. He continues to set personal gleaning goals and well surpasses them.
Head Chef for the local Salvation Army, Anthony Mosely, cannot say enough about Ryan and his gleaning efforts.
“Ryan has literally saved us thousands of dollars in produce costs and had added variety and freshness to our meals. He is an enthusiastic kid with an abundance of energy and ambition. He is the kind of kid they should make a movie about. How many kids his age do you know that set personal goals of helping to feed homeless people – and then actually follow through on them? This kid is amazing!”
And amazing he is! Ryan will be entering high school in the fall and shows no sign of slowing down in his efforts to help others.
From all of us at The Salvation Army, thank you Ryan for your outstanding work and leadership! You are a true blessing and role model.
Information submitted by The Salvation Army Florida Division.
By now you’ve all heard of the homeless man with the golden radio voice, Ted Williams. (To view the YouTube video that started it all, click here.) In just a few days he’s gone from panhandling to becoming an internet sensation with prestigious job offers pouring in.
Ted’s amazing turn of events, not to mention his humble and charismatic personality, has inspired an instant and growing fan base.
Interview with CBS’ The Early Show
Now Ted’s second chance at life is inspiring other gifted homeless people, including Salvation Army clients. In Minneapolis, Stu and Laporsha are both talented and educated individuals who never expected to be homeless, but they have hope that they will be able to once again get back on their feet, just like Ted.
Fox 9 spoke with them about how The Salvation Army is helping them pursue their own second chances:
Salvation Army residential shelters just got some great news to start off the New Year.
Stearns & Foster (owned by Sealy) announced it’s donating $1 million worth of new mattresses to our facilities across the country. The bedding manufacturer teamed up with retailers during the holidays to offer $100 in donations per mattress set sold, and, to our excitement, they reached the maximum amount of donations.
Stearns & Foster’s generous gift will fulfill a basic need for men, women, and children who need a safe place to stay and comfortable night’s sleep at The Salvation Army.
We have shelter programs operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Last year we provided more than 10 million lodgings to Americans in need.
We can’t wait to get these mattresses out to our communities and see the impact a good night’s sleep will have on the people we serve every day! Thank you to Stearns & Foster and participating retailers for your generous support!
Did you know that socks are the number one requested item at homeless shelters?
Hanes, the #1 sock brand in America, does. That’s why they’ve launched a virtual sock drive to benefit The Salvation Army.
For each person that ‘Likes’ Hanes on Facebook and clicks ‘Help Hanes Donate,’ the brand will donate one pair of socks. Last year they set a goal of 100,000 pairs and met it in one day! Due to the overwhelming support, this year they’ve raised the goal to 500,000.
Help Hanes and The Salvation Army knock this year’s drive out of the park again by warming up 1 million feet. Visit Hanes on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/Hanes or find more info at www.Hanes.com.
There’s even a cool sock-o-meter to monitor the amount of support raised so far…but I’m not going to tell you how many socks have already been pledged. You’ve got to go see for yourself!
The Dallas Cowboys took a timeout from practice this week to observe one of their favorite traditions – serving food at their local Salvation Army homeless shelter.
More than 200 Salvation Army clients felt like they scored big when they got an early Thanksgiving dinner served by their home town heroes.
Don’t forget, you can see another great annual Cowboys/Salvation Army tradition next week. Tune in to the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game on FOX to see our Red Kettle Kickoff halftime show with Keith Urban!