COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – You can expect a smile and a warm greeting if you happen to be walking past Salvation Army bell ringer Robert Leach.

On a recent day, it’s sunny and warm and he finds it easy to welcome people going in and out of a north Colorado Springs King Soopers. Most of the time all he gets is a tightlipped smile or nod as people pass, but that doesn’t deter him.

When a mother and two little girls approach, he gives a wide smile to the woman, asks how she’s doing, and then holds out his bell to the smallest girl.

“Want to ring this bell,” he asks. “It’s a lot harder than it looks.”

The little girl shyly takes the bell and gives it a couple of quick rings before handing it back. Her mother hands her a quarter to put in his kettle. A couple of passers-by, smiling at the little girl, also put in money.

This is the personality that makes him one of the area’s top-grossing bell ringers.

“The secret is that you can’t just stand here ringing a bell,” he said. “You have to interact with people.”

He’s grateful for the $7.50-an-hour job and works hard at it. It’s a far cry from his last job as a Presbyterian minister in Indiana which paid $80,000 a year.

“Hey, it’s $7.50 an hour that I wasn’t earning before,” said Leach, a married father of four.He says the Salvation Army is a great nonprofit organization that does a lot of good and he’s happy to help organizers with “funds development.”

“I want to be successful no matter what I’m doing,” he said. “If people are raking leaves or picking up garbage, it doesn’t matter as long as they are doing their best.”

When he left his old job in July, this wasn’t exactly where he thought he would end up. That job was stable and gave him a retirement plan and health insurance for his family.

But it wasn’t the right fit, he said.

“I realized after five years that I was the shepherd being led by the sheep. That wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t feel right about going in every morning and drawing a pay check. Even though I realize it was the worst economic situation in probably 60 years, it just needed to be done.”

After quitting, he had a hard time finding another job. He moved to Colorado Springs when friends invited his family to come live with them for free. As the months went on, he started branching out in his search for work. He applied for technical writing positions, at Home Depot and as a cell phone salesman.

The Salvation Army was the only place that offered him a job.

“It had gotten to the point where I had too much time on my hands and I was just happy to be doing something,” he said. “Even if I wouldn’t be making a lot of money, at least it was something.”

Working on his feet, normally in the cold can be a bit grueling, but he finds it easy to stay in good spirits. People tend to be nice to him and, after a while, the smile just freezes on his face, he says.

When business is slow, he makes it a point to greet everyone going in and out of the store. If they say they’re having a bad day, he encourages them to come back by and talk to him about it.

“We have a little mini counseling session,” he said. “I always tell them I’ll pray for them.”

He knows this isn’t a permanent solution for his family, but he tries to look on the bright side.

“I’m not going to support my family on this, but it will slow down the rate we’re going into debt. And that’s something to be thankful for.”

– By By Maria St.Louis-Sanchez, The Gazette

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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