Reclaiming Dignity: How personal relationships are changing lives in Montana

The Salvation Army in Helena, Montana, is meeting needs with its Life Empowerment Program, which helps homeless and at-risk men, women and families get back on their feet. The program provides temporary housing and helps in the search for permanent housing, as well as providing life skill classes such as budgeting to help break the cycle of homelessness.  But ask the staff there, and they’ll tell you that the most essential element of the program is the personal relationships they build with those that come through their doors, and the physical, emotional and spiritual care they provide.

Read the transcript of the video here:

Val Mattfeldt, Social Programs Manager for The Salvation Army: Life Empowerment Program was established in order to help people get back on their feet. 

Captain Rob Lawler, The Salvation Army: Those who are homeless, families who are couch surfing, we provide the housing, but we’re a program designed to help them become successful with life skills, abilities, accountability, helping them save money. 

Darrin Bitters: Well, my living situation wasn’t the best. I mean, it just, no, it wasn’t the best. And I wasn’t a drug addict or an alcoholic. No, I was legitly, just homeless-homeless. Even though I did have my job, I didn’t have a place to live. For a week, I stayed at a motel that was like almost $400. And after that, what was I gonna do?

Captain Rob Lawler, The Salvation Army: If you don’t have a place to live, then you don’t smell so good, you’re not ready for work, you’re missing work. So, Darrin, in order to be successful, was spending on hotels, which was taking most of his income. 

Darrin Bitters: A buddy of mine brought me over. It was just great to be able to wash clothes, get a hot meal. I think I slept almost the whole weekend, when I first got there.

Travis Kelly: I had developed really bad cataracts. I could only see lights and shapes. On top of my wife leaving me and everything, I couldn’t work, couldn’t even spend time with my children. The landlord was pounding on my door for his rent money. So I went to The Salvation Army to get assistance with my rent. They’re like, “Hey, we see you’re having a problem with your vision, let’s help you with that.” And they connected me with the State of Montana, and they paid to remove my cataracts. After having my surgery, they gave me the opportunity to come in and have a roof over my head, while I continued looking for employment. 

Matt (Kelly’s son): I was really surprised because it was really big and I’ve never stayed in a two-story building.

Zach (Kelly’s son): I was very excited because it had two bathrooms, So if Matt was in the downstairs one, I can be in the upstairs one.

Val Mattfeldt, Social Programs Manager for The Salvation Army: When they first get in, we start budgeting immediately, because without that, we’ve not done our job. But people say, “Well, I can’t save money.” “That’s not my thing.” Well, yeah, you can. And it’s important for them to understand, that’s why a lot of people are in crisis, because they mismanaged their money.

Travis Kelly: Val was really good about helping me come up with a budgeting plan to pay all my old debt off. I know I spent a lot of money buying quick-to-eat stuff. There was a nutrition class where I learned how to cook for my family and everything.

Captain Rob Lawler, The Salvation Army: God didn’t ask us to become a burden. He asked us to take care of others in our community. We need to do that for people so that they can take care of those around them, even if it’s just their own family.

Val Mattfeldt, Social Programs Manager for The Salvation Army: We meet with them, see how they’re doing. We’re here to help them when they fall flat on their face to say “It’s okay, you can get up.” “You can do this, and we’re going to do it together.” 

Travis Kelly: If the people that come in, if they’re anything like me, they need that little boost of confidence and that little boost of encouragement.

Darrin Bitters: I continued every Sunday, I’m there; and Wednesdays for bible study, I’m there. So, yeah, you know, it’s not because I have to now, it’s because I want to. 

Travis Kelly: It was so welcoming from the moment I walked in there on a one-on-one basis, and it was the first church that I had felt so welcomed.

Matt (Kelly’s son): We started praying more as a family. Yeah, he was happier.

Zach (Kelly’s son): It even made me happy when he was happy.

Darrin Bitters: Anytime they need help with the church for different events, I’m always there, if Captain Rob needs a hand.

Val Mattfeldt, Social Programs Manager for The Salvation Army: We’re not just here to try to push them through a program. I can spend time with them, I can pray with them. If they’re in a crisis, I’m the first one they’ll call.

Darrin Bitters: I call her, “Mom.” So, yeah, I mean, she’s there for me when I need to talk to her. She’s been also trying to help me find a place. 

Travis Kelly: Captain Rob, he’s become a very good friend of mine. We do a lot of camping and ATVing and stuff like that together.

Captain Rob Lawler, The Salvation Army: When someone is not imminently going to be homeless, that provides someone with dignity. And then we can start talking about salvation.

Darrin Bitters: Yeah, I have to admit, when I get an apartment, it’s going to be weird leaving there, you know, but they’re always going to be my family.

Travis Kelly: I don’t know how to tell them how thankful I am for everything that they’ve done for me. 

Val Mattfeldt, Social Programs Manager for The Salvation Army: It’s just not the financial end of it, But it’s to give back to them the love that Christ has given each one of us. Because without the Lord, nothing’s going to work for anybody, unless they really give their life to Christ.

Darrin Bitters: It’s renewed my faith in Him and I’ve come out a better, stronger person.

Captain Rob Lawler, The Salvation Army: You know, it’s what Christ called us to do. We need to help them with their dignity and their abilities and love them.

Travis lives with his two sons in their own apartment. He is currently a full-time employee of The Salvation Army. 

The day after filming was completed in June 2017, Darrin found an apartment and is now living on his own.

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