Salvation Army ARC alumni celebrates the new year with a renewed life

Salvation Army ARC alumna celebrates the new year with a renewed life

After graduating from the Anaheim ARC Jan. 3, Francesca Zavala is embracing transformation in 2024.

Francesca Zavala graduated from The Salvation Army Anaheim (California) Adult Rehabilitation Center Jan. 3.

“It felt like an out-of-body experience,” she said. “I was shaking, wondering, is this really happening? I had sat through six months’ worth of graduations every Wednesday, and now it’s my Wednesday. I couldn’t believe it.”

The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARCs) are residential programs that provide spiritual, emotional and social assistance to individuals who are experiencing a variety of social, emotional and spiritual challenges, including issues relating to substance abuse. The Salvation Army maintains 18 ARCs in the Western U.S., with programs specific to women in Fresno, Pasadena, Anaheim, San Diego and San Francisco, California; Las Vegas, Denver and Phoenix.

After graduating, Zavala, 31, returned to San Bernardino, California, her hometown, where she lives with her brother and is looking for work. She attends recovery meetings and remains active at the ARC as an alumni.

Salvation Army ARC alumni celebrates the new year with a renewed life
Courtesy Francesca Zavala.

She said the ARC structure helped prepare her for life outside the program.

“You’ve got to wake up, make your bed, brush your teeth, take a shower, do some chores—and in a timely manner, which is what I really liked because being out of The Salvation Army now, I still wake up. I make my coffee. I make my bed and I plan my day,” she said. “And so that’s sort of stuck with me.”

Zavala said she began experimenting with drugs in her teens. She didn’t finish high school.

“Then I got into a relationship that was really bad, and it lasted like 10 years,” she said. “When we broke up is when I started to use heroin. And from there it was just that cycle of using, of trying to stay well enough to function, not working, wanting to work but not really having the desire to change or do anything different because I’m stuck on this drug…It was really horrible.”

Eventually arrested for drug possession, she was placed on probation. After another arrest for stealing, she ended up in jail, where she started withdrawing. One morning, she fainted and was taken to a hospital. She had suffered a minor heart attack.

“That’s when I finally surrendered,” Zavala said. “I said, ‘God, you’ve got to take this from me. I’ll give you all of me if you just help me out a little bit.’”

Those were difficult days, she said.

“But honestly, it was like a divine intervention from God to move that mountain for me to change. Because if I would have never got caught, I probably never would have changed. I’m so grateful that I did get caught.”

When she left the hospital and returned to jail, she participated in Bible studies. She recovered from the withdrawal and focused on the future.

On her court date, she asked the judge to send her to a program—“any type of program.”

“From there, I landed in the ARC,” she said. “If I would have had any idea of what it was to entail, I would have signed up a lot sooner…It was the perfect structure for me.”

“At The Salvation Army, that’s when I found out God never left me; it was I who left him.”—Francesca Zavala

The ARC staff and other beneficiaries—14 women—welcomed her. Before long, the facility reached its maximum capacity of 30 women.

Zavala’s arrival coincided with that of ARC Administrators Captains Tanya and Timothy Pemberton, who had previously served at the Santa Monica (California) ARC.

“When the Pembertons came, they brought love,” Zavala said. “You could tell that they love each and every individual that walks through the doors…Captain Tanya, she’s like the mama bear of the program. She will love on you and love on you until you just feel the love back.”

Zavala said it helped strengthen her relationship with God.

“At The Salvation Army, that’s when I found out God never left me; it was I who left him,” she said.

Soon she was reaching out to other beneficiaries, talking and praying with them.

“Francesca was a leader in our ARC. She was a prayer warrior,” Tanya Pemberton said. “She lost her mother while she was here and almost left but with prayer and guidance she was able to lean on those around her to help her through those early times of knowing her mother was no longer here on this earth.”

She also chose to become a Daughter of the King, a group of beneficiaries who serve as role models and mentors within the ARC program, and said she looked for those who were struggling, those with “worried eyes.”

“Francesca is a good example to the ladies of transformation,” Pemberton said.

Zavala credits The Salvation Army with saving her life.

“That obsession to use is gone, is lifted, because I gave that to God,” she said. “I want to devote my life to serving the Lord and helping others when they’re struggling in their faith. And it’s just a beautiful feeling, really.”


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