February 04, 2000

Changing The World... One Life At A Time

By Marlene Gerber

The Salvation Army is about changing lives. Tina Bettencourt of San Diego is a living testament to that.

Tina is a mother, grandmother and a great-grandmother who works at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC). Nothing too unusual about all that. So why did the San Diego police dub her "a walking miracle?"

Tina Bettencourt with Major Doug Williams at the Salvation Army ARC.

This woman spent two years living on the streets, a seemingly hopeless alcoholic. She set some kind of record back in 1981 —the police having picked her up more times in one month for public intoxication than any other person. So when she finally checked into the Adult Rehabilitation Center, the police sent her flowers and heartfelt congratulations.

But the road to recovery was not without detours and a good deal of wreckage. The Puerto Rican native who had once been married to a captain in the U.S. Army was employed at a medical center, when her drinking became a problem. She lost that job and subsequent ones, and ultimately ended up among the homeless. Tina has some harrowing tales of life on the streets.

She finally got the help she needed at the San Diego ARC. Tina was one of the first groups of women to go through the then-new 6 month Women's Recovery Program. Here she found a safe refuge—but more than "three hots and a cot" that most shelters provide. The Salvation Army's comprehensive approach to rehabilitation, which stresses spiritual guidance, work therapy, a strong 12-step program and psychological counseling proved to be the formula that worked for Tina's long-term recovery.

Today, Tina enjoys a rewarding life with many friends and a family that is proud of her. With 18 years of sobriety and concurrent employment at the San Diego ARC, Tina is an inspiration to the beneficiaries in the program with whom she works in the work therapy warehouse. She shares her experience, strength and hope with others in recovery. "We help keep each other sober," she says.

The Salvation Army's San Diego Center offers the recovery program for both men and women, without cost to the beneficiaries. It is supported solely by donations of reusable materials (furniture, clothing, housing items) which are sold in the area's 12 thrift stores. It also accepts donations of vehicles, which are then made available for resale at reasonable prices. "Tina is one of thousands in this community who have been successfully rehabilitated over the past decade," said the Center's administrator Major Dough Williams. "The Salvation army has been helping people in need for over 100 years, because that's our mission," he added.

Tina is also a happy and grateful resident of the downtown San Diego Silvercrest Apartments, which is one of several housing developments in San Diego County that The Salvation Army has built and maintains for senior citizens. Looking out from the terrace of her apartment, Tina can view the city streets she once called home. "I never dreamed I would live in such a nice place. I thank God and The Salvation my every day for changing my life," she said.

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