Army working to restore hope in Alexandria, La.

By: Jon Kalahar

Hope is a four-letter word that can mean so much – especially if you’ve lost it.

Many across Alexandria, Louisiana, are desperately seeking hope, from military veterans, to the homeless, to those needing to overcome addiction. In 2017, thousands found what they were looking for at the Alexandria Corps of The Salvation Army.

“I’ve lost everything that I had,” said Roger Alexander, a Texas native. “I lost transportation. I lost my home, my family. I was at the breaking point. I was at the bottom. Lost good jobs, great jobs and I was at my lowest. When I came here, I didn’t have a clue.”

Alexander first came to The Salvation Army four months ago. A self-proclaimed heavy drinker, he was skeptical. Alexander lives in the Next Step wing of the Army’s shelter on Beauregard Street, works in construction and has been sober the last four months.

“You have to take it step by step, day by day. And I realize, yes, I have to do that, and I’m starting to realize just the small things of being sober I can achieve with that. So, I know there’s greater things coming my way,” Alexander said.

The Salvation Army provides three different types of shelter for people in need, ranging from the day-by day clients who stay each night and leave in the morning, to the Next Step program where clients can stay up to a year, and then the veterans who are in programs through the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center and eat and sleep at The Salvation Army.

“I don’t want to show people sympathy because that makes them feel bad, but I can sure show them empathy and let them know you’re not the only one in this situation,” said Major Glenn Riggs, Alexandria corps officer.

Majors Glenn and Teresa Riggs are serving their second appointment in Alexandria of their 20-plus-year careers as Salvation Army officers. They say each individual is different, but they have to want to turn their lives around.

“There’s an opportunity for case management, there’s an opportunity for an extended stay, there’s an

opportunity for an organized program even after you gain employment. We can continue to help you,” Major Glenn Riggs said.

He added that the men who stick to the program begin to realize better things are ahead. U.S. Army  veteran John Lavallais said the small group sessions with other veterans, the Bible study and the life skills you learn slowly change your way of thinking.

“It’s taken me back to the point where I focus. I have a need and I’m doing what it takes to accomplish that. It’s a game changer,” said Lavallais.

U.S. Air Force veteran Keith Lee echoes what so many who enter The Salvation Army want their end goal to be.

“I want to get back out in the community and become a productive member of society again. As a nurse,I always felt I had something to contribute to society. Not so much since I’ve been homeless, but I found hope in here, and I’m looking forward to getting on with my life again,” said Lee.

Jon Kalahar is the communications director for the Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi Division.