175 State of Homelessness: The Face of Transformation with Morgane Dussault

175 State of Homelessness: The face of transformation with Morgane Dussault

Today, and for the next few weeks, we’re talking about homelessness. As we discussed in the last episode, there’s a lot of focus, and rightfully so, on decreasing homelessness in the U.S. It’s a complex issue that deserves our attention more than ever. But it’s important to remember when you dig beneath all of the data and all of the policies and all of the ambitious housing projects, you find real human stories. And you see that a lot of people who experience homelessness at some point in their lives are our neighbors, friends, coworkers and family members. And many of them, given the chance, go on to transform their lives and do incredible things.

That’s what this episode is all about. Today, we’re talking with someone who fits that description to a tee, Morgane Dussault. Morgane is The Salvation Army’s Corporate Engagement Director in the Golden State Division.

She grew up in Chico, California, with dreams of studying international business at Pepperdine University. But her path changed one night at a high school party when she tried hard drugs. Six months later, she dropped out of school. For the next 15 years, Morgane struggled with addiction. She found herself homeless with nowhere to turn.

Then one day in jail, a fellow inmate told her, “If you want to change your life and you’re serious about it, then you need to go to The Salvation Army.”

So she did.

And today, Morgane says all of the struggles shaped her into someone inspired and committed to making a difference for others. She’s on the show today to share more of her incredible story with us and you have to hear it from her.

Show highlights include:

  • What growing up was like for Morgane.
  • Where her struggles with substance abuse started.
  • The moment she decided to go to The Salvation Army for help.
  • What she found when she arrived.
  • The message she has for those struggling with addiction or homelessness.
  • What she has learned that guides her work and passion today.

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

* * *

Christin Thieme: Morgane, thank you so much for joining us on the Do Gooders Podcast. I’m excited to chat with you today.

Morgane Dussault: Yeah, same here. Thanks so much for having me.

Christin Thieme: Yes. There is no doubt that your journey has been incredibly transformative and inspiring. Can you take us back to the beginning and share a little bit about what it was like to grow up in Chico, California?

Morgane Dussault: Yeah, I had a completely blessed and charmed upbringing. I had both parents in the home and I had everything any kid could have ever hoped for. I was an accomplished equestrian. I was an all-star student. I was set to graduate high school early. And then one thing happened at a high school party. I was introduced to methamphetamine of all things. And your parents always tell you, “Don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad.” But I had never actually seen what drug addiction did to people, so I’d never witnessed the gravity and the power that drugs could have and take control on someone’s life.

And the crazy thing is, is that out of all the kids experimenting that night at that really innocent high school party, I was the only one that became addicted. And I became addicted instantly. It was like a switch flipped inside my brain that I just couldn’t shut off. And from there it was like full speed ahead. It consumed my thoughts, it consumed everything. That was my only goal from there on out was how to maintain that high, and it led me to some really dark, scary places for about 15 years of my life.

Christin Thieme: That’s incredible. Like you said, just a switch. I mean, it’s one of those things that you definitely didn’t plan for-

Morgane Dussault: No.

Christin Thieme: …But then here you ended up. So can you give us a little bit of a picture of how—you said 15 years? How did you end up then walking into The Salvation Army?

Morgane Dussault: Yeah. I came from a very accomplished and successful family, and my parents just didn’t even know how to help me. They tried. I went to a rehab probably three months into my addiction. It was a place for troubled youth, and it really didn’t help me. All I cared about was leaving there and going and getting high. And so again, like I said, it was 15 years on and off, in and out of jail, just doing things that I never would’ve seen myself doing or envisioned for myself. I had ambitious goals. I wanted to go to Pepperdine University, I wanted to do international business. I spoke multiple languages. I had everything going for me. And so, they say you have to hit rock bottom before you can be ready to accept help. And I think that that was true for me.

And I should say that when I was 17, I got pregnant. I stayed clean throughout my pregnancy, but without the tools really to remain clean and sober, I quickly relapsed when my father passed away. And that sent me spiraling into my addiction once again, literally picking up where I left off. And that led me in and out of jails for many years, until one day I was in jail and I knew I was not getting out. I was facing federal charges, multiple felony counts against me, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. There was no getting out. And so it really gave me a moment of clarity to reflect on the reality of my poor choices and where my life was at. My mom had taken my daughter, she was removed from my care and custody. I had lost my father. I had had some really, really traumatic things happen to me, but none of that stopped me from continuing in my addiction. That’s how powerful addiction is.

And so while I was sitting in jail, I’ll never forget it, one of the girls in there… I had asked, “Will you help me get into a program?” Because I thought maybe that would be a way to get out of jail. And at that point, I really wanted to see my daughter. I was seeing her sometimes on the other side of a plexiglass window. She was three years old at the time. And it breaks your heart, especially when you’re sober and you have a little bit of clarity. All the raw emotions start flooding back and you can’t numb out that pain. And so it was there where I was like, “I really want to do something different with my life, but I don’t know how.” My parents said, “We’re not going to fund your recovery. If you want recovery, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own.”

So I talked to some of the girls that were there in jail with me, and one of the girls said, she’d been in and out of jail for the majority of her adult life. She’s probably in her fifties. And she said, “If you really want to change your life and you’re serious about it, go to The Salvation Army.” And I was like, “Salvation Army? Like thrift stores, kettles, Salvation Army?” And she’s like, “Yeah. They have some of the best recovery programs and they’re totally free.” The only problem is it’s about three and a half hours away in San Francisco. And I was like, “Oh my goodness.” And at that time, there were very few programs and very few programs that were free, and that’s when the meth crisis really started peaking. And so there were tons of people incarcerated or struggling with addiction that just didn’t have access to treatment.

So the wait list was six months long to get in. There were 26 beds altogether to meet this huge demand of help. And so I started writing to The Salvation Army in San Francisco from a jail cell. And finally three months later, I was able to get a bed in that program.

Christin Thieme: Wow.

Morgane Dussault: And it was really scary. I didn’t know what I was up against. And I asked my parents if they would give me a ride. The judge was willing to release me and let me go into a program, and I asked my parents if they’d give me a ride. And the one thing that the judge said before he allowed me to go into this program, he said, “I don’t ever want to see you in here again. I want you to not take this opportunity in vain and really try to use it as an opportunity to change your life.” And so I did, and I did just that. And I’ll never forget, it was a very tense and quiet car ride to San Francisco with my mom. It was most-

Christin Thieme: All three and a half hours.

Morgane Dussault: Yeah, three and a half hours. She was most unhappy with me, but I knew it was the best thing for me. And we show up in the Mission District in San Francisco. I hadn’t even really been to San Francisco much in my life, just to visit for fun things. And so to get dropped off in the Mission District at 21 years old, it’s very sobering in and of itself. It’s like, whoa, this is my life. And I remember walking up the stairs and they welcomed me in. And again, it was very, very scary. Just the thought of like, oh my gosh, going into this program, I don’t know what to expect. And I’ll never forget, my mom looked at me and she said, “This is your one chance.” And she said, “And if you leave, don’t call me because I won’t pick you up.” And I thought, well, I guess I’m here. I guess I’m going to do it.

And at that point, I really didn’t know if I could change. I thought I had gotten myself so far in a rut, I didn’t know if I could see myself getting out. And the way addiction takes over your life, that becomes your norm and that becomes a lifestyle. And so you become so conditioned to it and accustomed to it, you tend to want to go back, never mind how horrible it was and all the dark and scary and horrible places it led me to. I still had that yearning to go back. But thank God, the distance between San Francisco and Chico kept me in that program. And when I went into the program, I was instantly met with love and met with acceptance, and I knew that the people in The Salvation Army truly cared about me and they didn’t even know me. And I always tell people, “They loved me until I could love myself. They believed in me until I could believe in myself. And they provided me all the tools and resources necessary to reclaim my place in this world and get my life back.”

Christin Thieme: It’s so interesting that you could feel that right away when you went in. What are some of the specific ways, can you share any of those that showed you that support, that love when you had first arrived?

Morgane Dussault: Yeah. I had a chip on my shoulder, and I was really young and probably very, very immature. And they just kept loving me through it, just extending grace, extending kindness, extending warmth. Like I’ll never forget Majors Marilyn and Bob Gregory and Captain Moses Reyes. And for people within The Salvation Army world, they probably know those names because they were just the gold standard of Salvation Army leadership. And if you know anything about the Army or you hang around the Army long enough, you’ll meet these officers and these leaders within the Army that just exude the gold standard of excellence in everything. They’re pastoral, they’re great administrators, they’re some of the kindest people you’ve ever met in your entire life. And I think that that is the key to the magic of The Salvation Army is that holistic piece and that spiritual care. Because when you’re meeting somebody at their worst and their most broken, you’re really trying to not only heal the mind and the body, but the soul as well.

And in addition to that, we had therapy. We had groups. We had to participate and actively participate in our own growth and recovery, and we had to get up every single day. The other thing a lot of people don’t know is that they think, oh, people, they just need to quit drugs and go get a job. Well, it doesn’t work like that. You literally have to learn how to live again. You’re not used to getting up in the morning at 8 like a normal human being. You’re getting up at noon or 4 in the afternoon, and you’re staying up and out all night.

And so it’s really part of a conditioning. You really have to be conditioned and taught how to live again. So they taught me how to get up, and they taught me how to show up, and they taught me how to work an eight-hour work, or 40-hour work week in addition to doing what I needed to do to facilitate my recovery, going to AA and NA meetings, going to church, building a community of support, and then receiving the help to take those next steps and get out into the workforce professionally.

Christin Thieme: Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, you had experienced a lot of trauma by the time that you arrived there, so you were met with this love and support. What do you think it was that gave you the strength to stick through it, to make your recovery permanent after all of it?

Morgane Dussault: I think that one of the things that they tell you, and one of the things the officers used to tell me is, “Don’t leave until the miracle happens.” And it sounded really cliche, and I was like, “What are they even talking about?” Right? And then I think once you get a few months of recovery under your belt and you can almost see the end, like your graduation, and you see other people graduating and celebrating these milestones, you’re like, “If they can do it, I can do it.” And then you start wanting it more for yourself. And I think that I turned a corner probably around about five months, four months into my program where I was like, “This is what I want for my life.” I was excited to live again and be part of society. And the old me started coming back to where all my ambition, my drive, my yearning to be the best person I could be and realize my full potential came back. And I was like, “Maybe I can do this.”

But it does take a long time. And I think that that’s some of the magic behind The Salvation Army programs that we still operate today in very similar fashion, is that we realize that it takes people time to recover and for hope to come back. And hope is actually a code determinant of success. So if you can help someone restore their hope in themselves, they have far greater chances of succeeding long-term. And that’s what The Salvation Army did for me. And again, they provided me all those supportive resources I needed, and they kept telling me how much they believed in me. And every tiny success, no matter how big or small, they were cheering me on every step of the way.

Christin Thieme: I love that. Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement with The Salvation Army today?

Morgane Dussault: Yeah. So this has become a 25-year long relationship. Because when I left the Army, when I left that program, I went back to start rebuilding my family and all of those things and furthering my education. I always said, “I don’t have money.” Because if I had all the money in the world, I’d be giving it all to The Salvation Army, but I knew I had my time. I could give of my time. And I wanted to stay connected with the Army because it felt like home. And I can tell you that wherever I go anywhere in the entire world, I can walk into a Salvation Army and I’m met with the same grace and the same kindness. And people are always welcoming you with open arms. It’s like this big huge family. Once you’re part of the Army, you’re part of the Army, in any fashion.

So I started bell ringing and I started getting my family into bell ringing, and then I just kept coming back and volunteering and giving back and getting involved. And then they didn’t have anyone to lead a Bible study. And so they’re like, “Can you lead a children’s Bible study?” And I’m like, “I’m no theologian. I don’t know the Bible very well, but I really have a heart for kids and I have a heart for the Army, so I’ll do it.” So they just kept getting me involved. And then they were looking at building a program very similar to the one I went to in San Francisco in Chico where the meth crisis was out of control. We were the second county in the state per capita for meth use. And there was just a growing problem in no access to programs. So The Salvation Army said, “We want to build one here.”

And I was like, “Sign me up. I want to be part of this. I want to evangelize the good of the Army and bring people alongside of us.” And so that’s where I got my first taste of an introduction to philanthropy. I never really thought much about philanthropy in its true form and the power that it has. And when I got introduced to that capital campaign and being part of building that program from vision, from concept to actual ribbon cutting and welcoming the first people in, I saw the power that philanthropy has to bring people together, to really build out something meaningful and transformative. And I got bit by that bug.

Christin Thieme: I love it. And what’s your role today?

Morgane Dussault: So yeah, so that led me actually through continuing to serve. And as I grew as a professional, they finally asked me to come to the table for a seat at the table as an advisory board member. And so I led as an advisory board member in Yuba City where I lived for many years. And again, I just became part of leadership and nonprofit leadership and started serving on a lot of boards and decided that’s where I really wanted to take my career. And I never thought I was going to work for the Army, per se. I just knew I was always going to be involved. But I was going through some personal challenges in my life. I was going through a divorce, which is heartbreaking for me, and just God placed it on my heart. You could go anywhere. Where do you want to go from here?

And I talked to friends and leaders in the community and said, “Yeah, I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like I want to make a change and make a pivot.” And one of those leaders I greatly admire, Robert Bendorf, who’s a county administrator in Yuba County. And he sat me down and we had lunch and he said, “Morgane, follow your heart professionally because that’s where you’re going to find the answer.” He’s like, “You’re talented. You could do so much good and follow your heart professionally.” And at that time, I had started researching solutions to end homelessness. I was really fascinated with how we can end homelessness in all forms. And so this became a passion of mine. And so I started reaching out to colleagues and I reached out to a couple colleagues in Del Oro where I was from, that became really close personal friends and mentors, Mitch McConkey and Tim Rodriguera.

I remember talking to Tim one day and he said, “Morgane, you should do fundraising.” And I was like, “Tim, I don’t know anything about fundraising.” And he says, “Oh yeah, you do. You’ve been doing it for years.” And I said, “Yes, volunteer friend raising.” And he’s like, “No, there’s a perfect role for you. It checks all those boxes. You said you’re looking for the right culture and the right vision and the right fit.” And he says, “I know where you can find that.” And he said, “Silicon Valley.” And I was like, “No.” I was like, “Silicon Valley?” I was like, “I don’t know anybody there.” I’m like, “It’s so expensive. There’s so much traffic.” And he says, “But it checks all your boxes.” He said, “Just give him a call, just have a conversation.” Well, out the blue, I get a call from my now boss, Ernst Bauer, and if anybody has ever met Ernst Bauer, they would laugh and go, “Oh yeah, that sounds like Ernst.”

He calls me out of the blue and I said, “Oh, Tim told me about it, but I’m not so sure. I know I’m looking for a bunch of different things, but Silicon Valley, that’s not what I had in mind.” He said, “Just come down. Just come down and have a conversation.” Well, I came down and I had that conversation, and it was like God was telling me, this is what you’ve been looking for all along, take a leap of faith. It checked all those boxes. I loved the team, I loved the role, I loved the vision for the future. They’re building out this hundred million dollars redevelopment plan to re-envision the future of serving people in combating homelessness in Silicon Valley. And I thought, wow, that’s… It checks all those boxes. So four weeks later, I moved my entire life to Silicon Valley and started work with The Salvation Army as the donor relations director and heading up the campaign in the philanthropy space for the Silicon Valley team.

Now, three years, four years later, I’ve moved into a role of corporate engagement. So now I work with our corporations and leaders in the community throughout the division, from Bakersfield to Modesto, to really make sure that we keep the doors open for people that were just like me, people that are lost, people that need a hand up, but they’re not a lost cause. Right? It’s really about investing in people.

Christin Thieme: Yeah, I love that.

Morgane Dussault: So that’s where I’m at today.

Christin Thieme: Still friend raising.

Morgane Dussault: Oh, definitely friend raising. Yes. Friend raising and fundraising. And I can tell you it’s been the greatest blessing of my life. And because we’re The Salvation Army, I love the fact that I’m able to openly express my faith. And I had one of those moments when I came to Silicon Valley and I remember standing on the deck in the balcony of my apartment, and you could actually see the stars that night. So if you live in the city in a metro area, you can’t always see the stars. And the stars were out that night. It was like God revealed his purpose and his promise to me, and it all came full circle. It was almost like he was telling me, Morgane, you had to go through all that to get to where you’re at today so you can do this work. This is what I was preparing you for all along.

And I love the fact that now I can use my story for good, all that adversity, all that pain, all that trauma, doesn’t have to be in vain. I can use it to advance the mission of The Salvation Army and make sure that we deliver the most hope and reach the most people that still are struggling out there and languishing, feeling like they have none. No hope, no promise for a future.

Christin Thieme: I love what you said, lost, but not a lost cause. Given your story and your experience and now your commitment to making a difference alongside The Salvation Army, what would be your message or advice to somebody who maybe is struggling with addiction or homelessness today? What would you tell them?

Morgane Dussault: I would say, “I know it’s a scary proposition to think about changing your life, but what did the last six months of your life look like? What do you have to lose? If you don’t like it? If it’s not for you, the streets will still be there. But what if you take a leap of faith and take that step and it completely changes your life and restores you to the person that you know is inside?” That’s what I tell people all the time, and that’s what I tell clients in our program, and that’s what I tell all the other women in our program, especially those that are struggling and thinking, is this really for me? Can I really change? And those are the words I always tell them.

Christin Thieme: I love it. What about for you? What are your hopes or dreams in terms of your work with The Salvation Army and what’s ahead?

Morgane Dussault: Man, I don’t know. I might be a Salvation Army lifer at this point, I’m not sure. But I love it. I love working with our leaders. I love what we do, and I love being able to share the good work of The Salvation Army everywhere. So I feel like God, He has a plan for me, and I’m not sure what that is, but all I know is that for what I’m doing right here and right now, it’s been the greatest blessing in my life. And I’m going to continue to do my best to grow programs, and again, make sure those doors stay open for people in need.

Christin Thieme: Yeah, absolutely. And last question, for people who are listening who maybe are inspired by your story or want to be more involved with ending homelessness, ending any kind of problem that somebody is facing, they want to be more involved with The Salvation Army, what do you recommend for people? How’s the best way to get involved?

Morgane Dussault: Yeah, that’s one of the things I love about The Salvation Army. And I tell people all the time, there’s something for everyone at The Salvation Army. It doesn’t matter your age, your talent, your expertise, or your level of wealth. There is something for everyone, whether you give of your time, your talent, or your treasure. We have amazing programs and amazing opportunities in every zip code in the United States. Come down and pack food boxes for us, come donate a couple toys and bless a child during the holiday season, be part of our back to school drives and help kids get ready to go back to school, come and read to kids in our afterschool programs, come and do stuff with our seniors, and be helpful in inspiring change in others. Come and help do a class on resume preparation or financial literacy, where we have programs that serve in the recovery space or workforce development.

And again, there’s just opportunities for everyone. And we always need leaders. We always need people with a heart for others that’ll come alongside us in the advisory boards. The advisory boards, and what people in the Army know, what people outside of the Army might not know, is that our officers, it’s like they’re in the military. They get moved around a lot. But this advisory board is the glue that holds everything together, even through all of those leadership changes. And so our advisory boards in our communities are so critical to our continued advancement, growth, and prosperity. And it doesn’t take a huge commitment of your time, just a heart for service. And so I really encourage people, especially in the professional space, come alongside us, join an advisory board, join a committee, get involved.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. Makes a big difference. Well, Morgane, thank you so much for sharing. Thank you for the work that you’re doing. Thank you for being willing to be so open and give us a little insight into who you are and how you have turned everything to good. Thank you.

Morgane Dussault: Amen. Yeah, God is good. And I couldn’t have done it without The Salvation Army. I can’t say enough what an amazing organization it is. And it takes an army to make hope possible. And so, yeah, we definitely need the army behind the Army to keep doing the most good and delivering the most hope all year round.

Additional resources:

  • See how The Salvation Army fights homelessness.
  • You’ve probably seen the red kettles and thrift stores, and while we’re rightfully well known for both…The Salvation Army is so much more than red kettles and thrift stores. So who are we? What do we do? Where? Right this way for Salvation Army 101.
  • Get on the list for Good Words from the Good Word and get a boost of inspiration in 1 minute a day with a daily affirmation from Scripture list this sent straight to your inbox. It’s an email to help you start your day with goodness.

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now.

Salvation Army training college officers serve survivors of Maui wildfires
Salvation Army training college officers serve survivors of Maui wildfires

Salvation Army training college officers serve survivors of Maui wildfires

Efforts support The Salvation Army’s ongoing disaster response in Maui

The Salvation Army and San Diego community unite to support flood-affected residents
The Salvation Army and San Diego community unite to support flood-affected residents

The Salvation Army and San Diego community unite to support flood-affected residents

Heavy rain cascaded in front of The Salvation Army San Diego Kroc Center Jan

You May Also Like