Business is best in October at the Salvation Army Family Store in New Haven.
Signs in the store, located at 274 Crown St., direct customers toward the women’s pants, the men’s dress shirts, the books and the electronics. Regardless, Yalies have no difficulty discovering that perfect ’80s tracksuit for Safety Dance.
What they may overlook in the sea of racks holding used clothing is a sign reading, “Thank you. You just bought someone hope.”
Tucked behind a George Street parking lot marked by a Salvation Army clothing-and-shoe drop box is the Adult Rehabilitation Center. In this brick house, 45 recovering drug and alcohol addicts find sanctuary in the Salvation Army’s Christian-based rehabilitation program. 95 cents of every dollar spent on secondhand merchandise at the Family Store fund Salvation Army community support programs such as this one.
“That’s how we are able to have folks here that aren’t able to pay for the program,” Philip Warren, who was hired as “Envoy” almost two months ago, said. “When you donate to the Salvation Army, you’re actually contributing to the effort … which takes wayward men in your very own community and helps them to get their lives back together.” (As an Envoy, Warran acts as supervisor of his branch’s budget, sales and residential services as well as serving as pastor.)
The proceeds from Salvation Army stores allow all of the service organizations — disaster relief, elderly care and addiction rehabilitation — to remain self-sufficient.
The rehabilitation center’s program consists of four phases — orientation, discovery, developmental and application — each lasting between eight and 12 weeks. While walk-ins are accepted, the majority of the residents are referred from hospital detoxification facilities. Ages range from 18 to 70. Regardless, to enter the program, participants must prove complete sobriety through
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Breathalyzer and urinalysis tests.
Once registered, the clients, now called beneficiaries, begin the orientation phase during which they are encouraged to rest. The discovery phase follows, where they are exposed to what Warren called “the teachin’ and preachin’ of the Gospel.” In the subsequent developmental phase, the men discuss Bible teachings, and in the final application phase, Warren said they try to incorporate the teachings into their life.
In addition to shelter, the rehab program provides three meals a day. Both group and individual counseling and education groups meet periodically, and the men attend two weekly chapel services.
During the entirety of the program, the participants must complete 40 hours a weekof “work therapy.” Warren said the therapy is not a job but an integral part of the counseling program intended to teach a good work ethic to participants, though they are not paid. Work therapy often involves processing donations from the trucks.
One rehab program participant fills this quota by arranging the displays on the wall shelves and in the windows. He said he funnels his creative energy into the store on a daily basis and enjoys the work he is doing. Taking the afternoon to clean the plates on the “bric-à-brac” wall, an area of the store where miscellaneous items are kept, he noted that a lot of energy is required just to keep things organized.
But a customer, who claims to shop there daily, has noticed the added effort and attention to detail.
“I can tell he takes his job seriously,” the customer said, further saying that he believed the quality of displays has greatly increased.
With three windows to manage, the beneficiary said the Halloween and fall arrangements currently displayed are some of his favorite. “They’re pretty much the way I think a window should be,” he said.
Employee Andrea Kosner, clad head-to-toe in thrift store gear, can’t help but admire the displays as she heads out for her afternoon cigarette break after a day spent organizing the clothing — work that she describes as “OK” but “a little stressful” and often characterized by unappreciative customers.
‘THROUGH GOD’S GOODNESS’
Still, there’s more at stake in the program than just keeping the beneficiaries clean and busy.
“I’m after more than sobriety and freedom from drugs and addiction. I’m after their eternal soul,” Warren said. “If all you are when you leave is clean and sober, then I’ve missed something. My goal is for you to be saved through the redeeming power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
And Warren’s evangelism is not new in the Salvation Army’s over-150-year history. Indeed, its founder William Booth began preaching the Gospel to the poor and hungry living in London in 1852. In 1878, Booth adopted the name “Salvation Army” for the organization, and the newly converted soldiers of Christ accordingly assumed the name “Salvationists.”
And Warren considers himself one.
“When you live your life with the Lord, you walk with the Lord,” he said. “You know that you don’t go anywhere or do anything alone.”
While largely a personal process, the additional group therapy sessions create a sense of community within the rehab group. They plan to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s together, Warren said, and will gather to watch the Super Bowl. Plates and plasticware for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner are already beginning to pile up in Warren’s office. Even Mojo, Warren’s new puppy, spends days at the facility.
“I know all the guys on a personal level,” Warren said. “The officers in charge spend the holidays with the men. … It’s a pleasure. It’s an honor.”
And even upon graduation, the men don’t necessarily leave the Salvation Army community.
Warren himself is a product of the organization’s rehabilitation program in Philadelphia. He successfully completed addiction therapy and was hired as a truck driver responsible for picking up donations. Warren continued to move up the ranks, working as a dock foreman (using the forklift to load and unload the trucks), production supervisor (orchestrating the placement of items in the store and the sale of leftover items to Third World countries) and minister (counseling through sharing the Christian Gospel).
Like Warren, James Murphy, Family Store manager, went through the Adult Rehabilitation Center Program before becoming an employee.
“I needed help and [the program] literally saved my life,” he said. “Now I’m back. Don’t think I want to go anywhere else. It’s all up from here.”
A self-described “do everything guy,” Murphy sweeps the floor, moves the items and takes cash register money to the bank.
He can also fill in as cashier when needed.
But when an employee asked Murphy where to place the “Creepy Crawlers,” a children’s game that produces insects made of gel, he could only respond with a joke: “I’ve got grandkids your age! You think I know what a creepy crawler is?”
He then turned to help the next customer.
Murphy punched in the price for the blue glass bird; then the pair entered into discussion about the Torah and prayer.
When the conversation came to a conclusion and the customer exited the store, Murphy threw his hands in the air exclaiming: “I love this job! Where else do you have fun like this and get paid?”
Assistant manager Ayesha Thorne said she knows many customers by name. She added that at least 25 people frequent the store twice daily, one of who has been doing so for 40 years. Thorne herself used to be an avid Salvation Army shopper, prompting her to apply for a job.
She said people are attracted to the Salvation Army because it is a “gold mine” of assorted items. Still, the philanthropic side of purchasing these items is a silver lining.