Story and photos by Craig Dirkes, writer and photographer for The Salvation Army Northern Division
Ashley Bracamontes never knew she had a second home.
But then she met The Salvation Army.
“It’s like I have a whole other family apart from my actual family,” the 18-year-old said of The Salvation Army.
Bracamontes began coming to the East Lake Street Salvation Army in Minneapolis about 10 years ago, soon after she and her mom moved to Minnesota from Mexico. For years she has enjoyed weeknight youth programs, volunteering, and attending church.
“The Salvation Army is where I first accepted God into my life,” Bracamontes said. “This is where I learned the difference between good and bad. This is where everything happened.”
During high school and most of middle school, she came to The Salvation Army after class to study and volunteer almost every weekday, sometimes until 10 p.m. Staff members would pick her up from school and bring her home.
Like hundreds of other youth in Minnesota and North Dakota, The Salvation Army taught Bracamontes about the joy that comes with abiding in God’s word and the pitfalls of living life outside of it. She absorbed what she learned and applied it to her life.
“I learned that I didn’t want certain things in my life – like drugs,” Bracamontes said. “I learned about patience, problem solving, and trusting in other people.”
Her good decisions have paid off: She graduated from high school last spring and has received three scholarships to attend St. Catherine University in St. Paul this fall.
“Ashley is resilient,” reflected Macy Theriot, Youth Center Director at the East Lake St. Salvation Army. “She is a blessing to know and to have as part of our team. We appreciate the time and energy she put toward volunteering many years in our program.”
Passing the baton
This summer, Bracamontes has been working as a youth leader to elementary-age children enrolled in summer camp at the East Lake Street Salvation Army.
She is an effective leader because she has experienced many of the same challenges as the children she serves.
“A lot of these kids have to take care of their younger siblings – that’s what I had to do most of my life,” said Bracamontes, who has a 6-year-old sister and 14-year-old brother. “This neighborhood can be hard. I know what to say to these kids and I know how they’re feeling.”
She is also a help to parents, most of whom are Hispanic. Bracamontes is fluent in Spanish and has spent many summers in Mexico.
“I talk to the kids’ moms and they are comfortable with me,” Bracamontes said. “These parents know I went to school in this neighborhood. They relate to me.”
Bracamontes’ greatest joy is giving back to the community, The Salvation Army, and local children who can benefit from the positive example she has set.
“It is rewarding to know that these kids are having fun and are safe – because in this neighborhood, anything can happen,” she said. “I am grateful that I can pass along everything The Salvation Army has taught me.”
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