WASHINGTON – The sounds of the Salvation Army bells can now be heard ringing all over the DMV as the Red Kettle campaign kicks off. With each donation, the Salvation Army are helping to change the lives of those in need.
Vianelly Herrera is only 21 years old, but she’s already lived through enough heartache and hardship to last a lifetime.
“There were times I didn’t know where we were going to be, there were times where I didn’t know what we were going to eat. It’s been tough. It’s been tough,” she says.
“I don’t think they realize the pain that it is really to grow up without a mother,” she says.
Her daughter Ariana was born when she was just 16-years-old, forcing her to drop out of school and find a job. Nearly a year later, Herrera had her son, Jerimiah, and suddenly her hard life became even harder.
“When I had my son I didn’t have an address they told me if I didn’t have an address my son wouldn’t be discharged and I believe they said after ten days I couldn’t take my son. My son had to stay in the hospital until I could find somewhere to go,” she says.
She says that’s when she went into panic mode. She begged friends and family for a place to stay. She was eventually placed in a group home with her children but knew she had to do better for herself and her family.
Aleata Dawkins manages the Salvation Army Turning Point program in Northwest D.C.
“Miss Herrera I would call her, I probably get emotional thinking about her — resilient,” says Dawkins.
The program helps struggling families get back on track.
“Turning Point allows our families to come in and really realize that ‘I have an opportunity to turn my life around.’ I tell the families when they first come, it’s all about how you perceive this moment,” says Dawkins.
Turning point checks all the boxes for its residents, from life skills and job training, childcare, and all the basics.
“Families that come to Turning Point oftentimes come with nothing, a couple of bags of clothes,” says Dawkins.
They are given a completely furnished unit with dressers, bedding, sheets, pots, pans.
But there is one thing Herrera got from the program that she wasn’t given, her diploma. She says she worked hard, struggled, and sacrificed to get it.
“Yes I did June 13 at 10 o’clock in the morning. I know the exact date. I felt accomplished,” says Herrera.
“We sell dreams that they’ve never seen,” says Dawkins.
Herrera’s dreams are becoming a reality for her and an example for her kids.
“When my kids grow up I want them never to quit,” she says.
She also wants to you to think of her when you hear the Salvation Army’s bell ringing and see their red kettle.
“You can change life,” says Herrera.
“All the money that is donated through those red kettles goes to support a family. She could’ve given up. She sees a future. And now that she’s grasped that she can have the future she wanted, the sky’s the limit,” says Dawkins.
Major Lisa Hall with the Salvation Army says 80,000 people were helped in the DMV area from last year’s donations.
The donations go to support food, rent and utilities for families in need. It also supports three drug and alcohol programs, as well as the Turning Point program, and a new anti-human trafficking program.
The Salvation Army’s goal is to raise $1.4 million dollars from the DC metro area this season.