In recovery for the long-haul

In recovery for the long-haul

Woman finds recovery—and a new life—with the help of The Salvation Army Las Vegas Adult Rehabilitation Center. 

As one half of a long-haul truck driving duo, Christine Kennerknecht logs an average of 200,000 miles a year on the road. She drives 10-hour day shifts and come nightfall, her longtime partner and fiancée Kerry Padberg wakes up from the bunk behind the cab and takes the wheel.

The couple have worked for their current trucking company for three years, and Kennerknecht is still enthralled with the job. “It’s hard work, but I’m so fortunate,” she said. “I get to see the country, and so many beautiful places.”

In recovery for the long-haul

Courtesy Christine Kennerknecht.

It’s difficult to believe that just four years ago Kennerknecht and Padberg were experiencing homelessness and abusing methamphetamine. The couple had been living with an ailing friend in Las Vegas when Kennerknecht was laid off and she and Padberg ended up on the street.

Growing up in Southern California, Kennerknecht said she chronically struggled with feelings of emptiness, and that her later substance abuse was an attempt to fill a void. She notes that her chaotic life also affected her now-grown daughter, who lives in Pahrump, Nevada. “Her life wasn’t the best because my life wasn’t,” she said.

At the time she became homeless, Kennerknecht was semi-estranged from her daughter. Still, her daughter told her she’d offer support if Kennerknecht got into recovery. “She’s in recovery herself, and knew some Salvation Army Captains, which led to my being admitted to the Adult Recovery Center (ARC) in Las Vegas.” Padberg subsequently entered a program at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission.

A Salvation Army soldier is a local citizen in communities throughout the U.S. who give allegiance to the doctrines and disciplines of the Army. There are some 450,000 soldiers in the United States.

Kennerknecht ultimately spent 10 months at the ARC. “Christine was very raw when she came into the facility in March 2018,” said Las Vegas ARC Chaplain Vickie Young. “Watching her transformation was incredible. The rewards of this job are endless and indescribable, when people can move through the world with a light in their eyes, able to feel good about what they’ve done to change their lives for the better.”

For her part, Kennerknecht said that Young and her husband, Chaplain Ray Young—who are both in recovery themselves—were essential to her recovery, providing individual and group counseling and spiritual guidance. Although she attended church as a child, Kennerknecht said rediscovering God through The Salvation Army has also been part of her journey. She and Padberg have since become soldiers at the Las Vegas Citadel Corps.

It was there that Lieutenants Ty and Heather Baze also became an integral part of the couple’s support network. “They were instrumental in our becoming soldiers and strengthening our relationship with God, and they also taught us that there are people out there that you can count on,” Kennerknecht said.

Heather Baze has seen the change in Kennerknecht. “Christine was always looking for ways to better herself,” she said. “We’re very proud of her; she has her toolbox now of when and how to contact people when she’s struggling.”

After her graduation from the ARC, Kennerknecht was accepted into the vocational program at The Salvation Army Las Vegas Owens Campus. Offered a choice between pursuing studies in culinary arts or obtaining a commercial driver’s license, she chose the latter. “I’d heard there was great need for truck drivers,” she said, adding that at the time, her Class B license was expired. The Youngs loaned her their car so she could take her driver’s test.

“It was such a wonderful moment when I walked out of the DMV with my provisional license,” she said. For her Class C commercial license, Kennerknecht spent two weeks in the classroom, followed by two weeks driving with an instructor, after which she was offered a job. By this time, Padberg was renting an apartment and obtaining his own Class C license.

Just two weeks after being hired, however, Kennerknecht lost her job when she failed a backing test. “The old me would have just said, ‘Forget it, I’m done with this, but the ARC gives you the tools to deal with life’s problems and setbacks, even when you’re doing what you need to do,” she said. “My sponsor also passed away during this time and it was really hard, but I maintained my sobriety.”

The Salvation Army’s “hand-up” employment services programs provide skills and strengths assessments, job-search counseling and support, and several programs that teach new job skills.

In late 2019, Kennerknecht and Padberg were offered a job with their current company. They earn more money by driving as a team and cover an average of four- to five-thousand miles a week, driving in 70-hour blocks.

When they’re not working, the couple stays with Kennerknecht’s daughter in Pahrump. “We have a wonderful relationship now and talk two to three times a day,” she said. The couple is saving money to buy their own home—a goal Kennerknecht never believed possible. She notes that she and Padberg still have their respective issues to deal with, but sobriety has provided them with “a foundation upon which to build a new life.”

The couple are currently planning their wedding, after more than 20 years together. “Part of recovery is doing things the right way, so we got engaged,” Kennerknecht said. “This entire process has made me realize I want to give back and help others, so I’ve been talking about getting my counseling licenses. Anything is possible.”

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Laurel Miller

Laurel Miller is a freelance writer based in Texas.