Leadership column: Week 5 — Salvation Army

Brandon Schatsiek

We’ve reached that time of year when classes are out for spring break and families head off on vacations.

Right when I was ready for some much-needed R&R after the constant poking and prodding to do better by the leaders, I sadly realized that there was no break for the students enrolled in the Washington Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy.

The fifth week of the academy — the non-profit organization portion — allowed us the opportunity to tour the Salvation Army in Peoria.

The Salvation Army in Peoria, which first opened its doors in 1885, offers a variety of services to Peoria’s downtrodden including food and shelter, emergency response and disaster relief, social services, child care, summer camp, the newly implemented veteran’s outreach service and much more.

In addition to helping those in the Peoria area — roughly 200 lunches a day, offering 60-65 men shelter every night and around 30 people every month in the family shelter — it is also the Salvation Army division headquarters, which serves 24 other communities in central Illinois and eastern Iowa.

We started our tour by watching an informational video about a Peoria woman who was a repeat drug offender, prostitute and mother who neglected her children. She found herself in and out of prison on a regular basis, but with the help of the social service arm of the Salvation Army, she was able to turn her life around, get her children back and get married, and make a better life for her family.

Rich Draeger, associate development director for the Salvation Army in Peoria, said those are the stories that prove the Army has an impact in the community.

“(But) we can’t do what we do without the community being engaged,” Draeger said. 

Personally, I loved this specific class because I’ve always been drawn to the non-profit world. My belief is that it is the job of those who have enough to give back to those who don’t, regardless of how they got there and without putting stipulations on the assistance.

Draeger made the great point that it’s important to break down stereotypes that people have regarding the homeless or people in need.

He said just because people are staying in the shelter that doesn’t mean they don’t have a job and are lazy. He has found that 40 percent of shelter residents actually do have jobs, they just need some time to save up some money to eventually find a place of their own. 

He added that sometimes finding a job isn’t the problem, but it’s creating and sticking to a budget.

Draeger said the average stay in either the family shelter — which offered free housing to 13 women and 19 children in March — or the men’s shelter is around 120 days and while that seems like it is a lot, he said it is a blessing because that way it gives more time for the case workers to really get to know the aid recipients and really work toward finding the root of all their problems.

“These people are more than just a statistic in a brochure — these are people with stories,” Draeger said.

The Salvation Army is a wonderful organization that offers a lot more than just food and clothes to those in need. 

To find out more about how the Peoria branch assists the needy in central Illinois or to find out how you can help volunteer, go to www.saheartland.org.