DENVER (CBS4) – This is the time of year when those ringing bells and red kettles are very visible signs of the Salvation Army, but the organization touches those in need every day.
Take the story of Clark Willingham. At 53, the architect is getting his life back on track while he supervises the Salvation Army’s expansion in downtown Denver.
“I’m just so grateful,” he told CBS4’s Tom Mustin. “I didn’t think my life was going to be repaired and I’m back.”
An alcohol addiction wrecked Willingham’s life two years ago. It cost him his job with an architecture firm and he found himself sleeping on Colfax Avenue.
“I was a homeless man with nothing,” he recalled.
But he ended up at the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter when he hit rock bottom.
“By the time I got there I was pretty destitute; very suicidal, felt like I didn’t want to live because I’d destroyed everything that I had,” he said.
He found a path forward when he enrolled in the Army’s Harbor Light Center, a program combining rehabilitation, faith and accountability to help addicts regain control of their lives.
“That was pretty humbling and pretty difficult,” he said.
The program put Willingham to work as a janitor and while sweeping up, Willingham heard about the plans for a new building. That’s was what he needed to really get back on track. He drew up sketches and took them to Col. Raymond Peacock.
“I introduced him to the project directors,” Peacock said. “They liked what they were hearing; they took Clark to dinner a couple of times.”
As happens in lots of businesses, dinner led to a meeting with the firm heading up the project. Yong Cho was skeptical but said when he met Willingham, he saw something positive and decided to take a chance by giving him a job.
It paid off.
“I have the utmost respect for his talents and commitment,” Cho said.
Now two years sober and back in his own home, Willingham reflected on just how much his life changed in 48 months.
“It’s almost miraculous how it’s worked out. Once the building is finished at least they know who to go to if it doesn’t come out the way they wanted.”
With the holidays approaching, Willingham knows the real value of every coin tossed in one of those red kettles and just how much hope each chime of those bells embodies.
“There was a couple of Christmas’s were I was on that street and it didn’t feel good. This Christmas I’ll be home with friends. I could not ask for a better life. Don’t give up. Never, ever give up.”