Salvation Army officer recounts growing up in home gripped by addiction

By Lizeth Beltran –

Empty cabinets and bellies are some of the first memories that come to mind when Lt. Denice Delgado looks back on her childhood.

A day without three full meals was typical.

The 33-year-old Redlands, California, native now works as the Social Services Director for The Salvation Army Alaska Division. And Delgado has more in common with the people she serves than they know.

“Lots of times we wouldn’t have food or anything to eat,” Delgado said.

The second of three children, Delgado is one of many people who have experienced what substance and alcohol abuse can do to a family.

“I’ve seen my father beat my mom, my dad go in-and-out of jail; I’ve seen all these things as a kid, bouncing from home to home, not experiencing a normal happy childhood,” she said.

Delgado grew up with not one, but two parents with addiction problems. The child of a stay-at-home mom and a father who worked in maintenance, Delgado says her family’s problems with substance abuse began long before her parents met.

“There was sexual abuse in my mom’s background—abuse and neglect,” she said. “And then my dad, one of six, there were issues with his father as well. My grandfather was an addict and in and out of prison. It’s just a cycle continuing.”

For the Delgado family, there were many low points, but there were also brighter moments for the family. Delgado and her siblings relied heavily on the help of their neighbor and The Salvation Army for meals.

It was by chance that Delgado and her family met a Salvation Army social services director during one of their runs to the Army’s soup kitchen.

“We went to The Salvation Army to eat dinner out of their soup kitchen in Redlands, California, and they needed volunteers,” Delgado said. “So we started volunteering, my mom started volunteering and we were invited by the social services director to troop programs.”

This was the beginning of a lifetime of change for the Delgado family. Her parents sobered up, but Delgado continued her battle with her demons.

“Alcohol was always around me but I didn’t start drinking until I was 13,” she said. “There was always access and it was acceptable.”

Delgado also dealt with the constant temptation of hard drugs. Her friends used heroin and cocaine, but drugs were something Delgado never thought of entertaining.

“In my mentality of things, as long as I was just drinking, that was OK because ‘I’m not going to be like my parents and do heroin or crystal meth.’ Alcohol is what got me.”

Delgado struggled, for years. Like a blur, some of her young adult life is like a blind spot in her mind. She has no recollection of anything that happened between the ages of 18–21.

But at age 23, Delgado had a moment of realization. Out of money and desperate for a drink, Delgado experienced one of her worst moments of withdrawal in her father’s home. She saw this as a cry out to God, and grew determined to quit drinking. In that moment, she quit drinking cold—no rehabilitation program, no therapy—simply God’s will.

Delgado quit her job as a nurse and began working at a Salvation Army thrift store, and then working at the Adult Rehabilitation Center in San Bernardino. Soon after, she began training at the College for Officer Training at Crestmont in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

Major Cindy Dickinson, Alaska Divisional Director of Women’s Ministries, has seen Delgado’s transformation in the eight years she’s known her.

“She’s grown dramatically since I first met her,” Dickinson said. “ Her faith is strong and she’s very outspoken—which she uses to help others who are in need.”

Dickinson cites Delgado’s love of the Lord as the drive behind her passion to serve. Delgado’s growth is evident not only to Dickinson but in the way she speaks about her work at the corps.

“When I look at the people I help, I think about how I was one of those kids and I can be there to show kids you are not a product of your environment—that you can do anything,” Delgado said. “Everybody has a purpose. No one is too far gone to be saved.”

Watch Denice’s father, Mike, tell his story and find other video testimonies at

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