saconnects, Volume 8, Number 5, 2022

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VOL. 8 NO. 5, 2022 reflects reflects on a Christmas past p. 16 The Angel Tree program once helped Sandahl, and now she gives back. p. 12 From poverty to purpose: the story of Grace Vandecruze. p. 22
Store Finds: Vinyl records have gained popularity. p. 26 New Edition’s Ronnie DeVoe
Many children overseas are facing gangs, trafficking, illiteracy, child labor, and undernutrition. With so many evils to overcome, your HELP IS VITAL . YOUR HELP IS VITAL scan call 845–620–7435 visit School Children’s Home After–school Program One–time donations also welcome! For just per month$25 you can sponsor a Salvation Army


WHO WE ARE page 5 People

Ismael Ortiz, who once led street gangs in York, Pa., now leads souls to Christ as an officer and pastor in The Salvation Army.

page 6 Programs

Operation Red Shield is a ministry that helps meet the needs of veterans. Plus: ways you can help veterans in your community.

page 7 History

Thriving during the worst of times can happen when we accept deep change that is required within ourselves.

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Faith in Action

Life’s road was difficult for Sandahl Taylor. Her children found help through The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program; today, the beauty queen is a strong supporter.

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After growing up in public housing in Boston, Ronnie DeVoe of New Edition and his younger brothers found support at The Salvation Army. page 16

RECOVERY page 21


“Quit drinking or move out!” demanded the wife of Lawrence Traynor. Her chilling ultimatum put him on the road to recovery. page 21

Boundless Grace

Grace Vandecruze has climbed many mountains, in her personal life and literally in the world. Read about her journey from homelessness to boundlessness! page 22

Thrift Store Finds

Vinyl records are back, and Salvation Army thrift stores are a great place to find albums for your music collection.

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LIVING page 28

Spiritual Life Development

The word Christmas can bring both great joy and trepidation at the same time. This holiday, choose joy. page 28

Book Review

Sacred Rest by Saundra Dalton–Smith shows you how to get meaningful rest, even when your eyes are wide open. page 29

Fit to Serve

Salvation Army Lieutenant Clifford Douglas stays fit, all while being a busy pastor. page 30



Leslie Brandeis sees giving her time to The Salvation Army as a mitzvah —a good deed done for others.

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Singers Ralph Tresvant, Michael Bivins, Ronnie DeVoe, and Ricky Bell of New Edition perform in Chicago, Ill., in October 1988.

photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images 1SACONNECTS.ORG





The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”


Be the gift

Precious are those moments when tears of joy and a sustained embrace take the place of today’s avatars. As the threat of COVID–19 subsides, so does the need for social distancing. The opportuni ties to gather as families increase. When the element of surprise is included, the experience can be spectacular.

Member since 2015 Award winner 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021

440 West Nyack Road, West Nyack, NY 10994–1739. SACONNECTS accepts advertising. Copyright ©2022 by The Salvation Army, USA Eastern Territory. Articles may be re printed only with written permission. All scripture references are taken from the New International Version (NIV) unless indicated otherwise.

Such is the case when a spouse turns and sees a loved one on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, dressed in full military regalia, walk through the front door at the end of a long deployment on a distant battlefield. Or when a little boy sees a puppy, wearing a collar of colorful ribbon, under the tree. He holds the puppy close, feels its warmth, and realizes he has a life in his hands.

These examples reveal gifts of indescribable significance.

In this issue of SACONNECTS, you’ll discover other priceless gifts personified. You’ll read the true story of Ronnie DeVoe. A product of a broken home, he found his way out of public housing and into a successful music career. His faith journey started on a Christmas bike he received from The Salvation Army.

Sandahl Taylor, who today hails as the reigning Mrs. Pennsylvania Galaxy beauty queen, was once a single mother and homeless. Her heartwarming story will inspire you to give back as she is doing as a participant in The Salvation Army Angel Tree program. Since her ministry began, she has collected over 5,000 items to give to children at Christmastime.

So poor was the family of Grace Vandecruze, that her mother walked the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., searching for paper money or coins. Destitute and living in a shelter, the family of 7 siblings and 2 adults, when advised to go their separate ways, decided instead to trust God, stay together, and survive. Today, as a mountain climber and a strategic advisor to the likes of Warren Buffett, Vandecruze shares her amazing story of recovery and victory through the boundless grace of God.

There’s so much more to uncover within the pages of this maga zine that will open your eyes to the value of simply being the gift. | @saconnects SACONNECTS is published by The Salvation Army USA’s Eastern Territory. Bulk rate is $12.00 per issue for 25–100 copies. Subscriptions are avail able. Write to: SACONNECTS, The Salvation Army, 440 West Nyack Road, West Nyack, NY 10994–1739. Vol. 8, No. 5, 2022. Printed in USA. Postmas ter: Send all address changes to: SACONNECTS,
10:24–25 3 FROM THE EDITOR


of the

Hunger Disaster Illness Loneliness Measure Basic Needs Shelter Medical Bills Unemployment Despair Spiritual Care
Salvation Army’s Love Beyond campaign is to increase public awareness of our year-round services. We love beyond hunger, homelessness, destruction, fear, loss, addiction, loneliness, despair, overdue bills, and so much more. We love beyond the circumstances of those we serve, seeing and valuing each person.

8 hours a day

is the amount of time chil dren spend on digital devices, video games, and television programs. Their screen time doubled during the COVID–19 pandemic.* The Salvation Army does its best to provide opportunities for physical fitness through its after–school programs and its Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers around the U.S. Find a location near you and get moving!

Guinea, West Africa , is now the 133rd country in which The Salvation Army is officially at work. The coun try will be part of their Liberia and Sierra Leone Command. Guinea has 13 million people. It is distinguished from Guinea Bissau and Equatorial Guinea, using its capital city, Conakry. It achieved independence in 1958 and has retained French as its national language. It is predominantly Muslim, with a Christian population of less than 10 percent.

Did you know?

The Salvation Army is the largest non–governmental provider of social services in the United States.

30 million

That is the number of people The Salvation Army provided food, shelter, and other essential social services last year.


are needed at every Salvation Army church to help make someone’s life a little brighter. There are weekly opportunities to cook, prepare food bags or serve meals to the commu nity. During the Christmas season, there are parties for children or seniors to host, toy bags to fill, and food pantries to stock with holiday favorites.

To do the “most good” this season, scan this code to find your local Salvation Army and give them a call!

*JAMA Pediatrics
macrovector/Freepik iStock 5SACONNECTS.ORG WHO WE ARE

A leader in ‘The Jungle’

I grew up in York, Pa. , which was known as “The Jungle.” There was crime, prostitu tion, and gangs that always sought new members. A gang recruited me as I played in my front yard. I became part of the trouble and chaos they caused the community. I didn’t feel in control of my life; I was being controlled by the streets and the gang, always trying to live up to this persona I had created. At 21, sitting in jail and facing possible life in prison, I thought back to my childhood, and I could only utter one word: Abba , or Father. In that moment, I felt God’s presence, and I was completely trans formed. I immediately asked for a Bible and began to pray.

The apostle Paul spoke about the gift of persuasion in the Bible. I never understood why anyone in a gang would choose to follow me. Still, I’d wake up some mornings and see gang members standing outside of my house, wait ing for my orders. Later, as a Salvation Army soldier in York, Pa., my wife and I were put in charge of the youth ministry. We started with only three teens, but in a few months, we had 60 members. They would help clean the corps and cut the grass. Whereas once I influ enced and persuaded others negatively, today I’m doing it in the name of Jesus. It’s extraordinary how God used my own life experiences for His Kingdom.

Lieutenant Irseris Agosto Santos and I have been married for 15 years. We’re each other’s number one fan. When people in our minis try see us together, they tell me that they’ve never seen a pastor as openly affection ate with his spouse as I am. That makes my heart full. The Word of God teaches us to love and respect our wives, mothers, and all the women in our lives who have influenced us. Our marriage isn’t perfect. A happy marriage takes both of us surrendering to the Lord every day, and being a support system for each other, never in opposition.

During my training to be an officer, I was put in charge of a canteen ministry on Saturdays. We would go to the nearby Spring Valley Corps to load the truck with food and then go out and feed people who were home less. When I arrived at my appointment in Wilkes–Barre, Pa., there was a canteen that had been sitting in the garage for years. It was from 2009, but it only had about 10,000 miles on it! We dusted it off and used it to help feed our community on Saturdays. This minis try has gained a lot of recog nition here. It shows people that The Salvation Army is still active and working for them. We are also blessed to be joined by other churches and organizations that want to drive the canteen and help. We all come together as a faith–based community to feed homeless people.

My mother, a devout Christian , would recite Psalms 91:11–12 every morning before I went to school: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” At 37, I still feel those words in my heart every day. When I leave the house in the morning, I walk out confidently, because whatever happens throughout the day, God is in control. He blesses our goings and our comings.

Lieutenant Ismael Ortiz, commanding officer at The Salvation Army Corps Community Center in Wilkes–Barre, Pa., talks about finding God in jail; a vehicle that started a ministry; and leader ship skills that came from the streets, but thrived in the Church.
WHO WE ARE PEOPLE 6 Volume 8 Number 5, 2022

Red Shield of service

When soldiers of World War I mentioned their connection to The Salvation Army, they talked about the “donut lassies” who served snacks and coffee on the battlefield. In recent times, war veterans are likely to mention the help they received as children from a local Salvation Army church on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Today, Operation Red Shield, based in The Salvation Army New Jersey headquarters, is working to meet the needs of veterans, years after they’ve finished their service.

“First and foremost, Red Shield is there for our veterans, both in general support, and to listen and learn about their situa tion,” says Fanny Torres, a social services coordinator for The Salvation Army in New Jersey. Torres served as an intern for Operation Red Shield while studying for her master’s degree in social work. She says that, although the experience was differ ent than the family and children’s cases she had studied, she fell in love with the veteran’s ministry, and keeps in touch with many of those she has encountered.

“A lot of the assistance that Operation Red Shield provides is what you see The Salvation Army typically do for others. A vet in his 70s might have many of the same financial burdens of a young single mother, such as rent, food, or utilities,” explains Torres. “The difference is that a young mom is usually able–bodied, and with help, can find employment and steady income to eventually care for her family. An elderly veteran may not be physically or mentally able start a new career, or even a regular job.

“Even younger veterans, of which we see more and more, can’t function like they would want because of Post–Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” says Torres. “PTSD isn’t something found or defined by a doctor or therapist, but rather by the person who has it; they decide what is trau matizing to them.”

Adida, 86, an Air Force veteran from Puerto Rico and one of Torres’ earliest

cases, suffered a unique trauma. Though she was fortunate enough to return healthy from her service, back home she endured domestic violence, poverty, and shame. Her own community didn’t see her worthy of recognition because she came back physi cally uninjured. They called her “loca,” or “crazy,” when she sought professional help.

“Imagine being a Latina woman in those times, serving alongside men, and coming back to that,” says Torres. “Years later, it still deeply hurt her that she couldn’t say her people were proud of her. So, we started by acknowledging her, thanking her, and talking about her strength and resilience.”

Operation Red Shield workers helped Adida secure a wide range of services. They made calls to find her birth certificate in Puerto Rico. They helped her move into a newly furnished, first–floor apartment, so she would no longer need to walk up four flights of stairs. During the move, one of Adida’s pet cats aggressively refused to leave the old apartment. Torres contacted a local animal shelter that sent an employee to calm the pet down and bring it to the new home.

“Helping is not just writing a check and giving a meal,” says Torres. “It’s acknowl edging what’s important to someone and meeting their unique need in the moment. The Salvation Army has the networks, connections, and resources to do so.

“Veterans are a community with a lot of pride, but unfortunately, they live with a stigma that they shouldn’t ask for assistance, and that they’re responsible for facing their prob lems themselves,” says Torres.

“Operation Red Shield is a minis try that won’t end, because there will always be new veterans who need our help in new ways.”

Ways to help veterans in your community

Give a lift. Some vets can’t drive due to a lack of transportation services or health issues. Offering a ride to the doctor or the supermarket is a greatly appreciated gesture.

Offer to help with cleaning or repairs. Begin with simple tasks, such as chang ing light bulbs from high places, checking that smoke alarms are functioning prop erly, and oiling loud, squeaky hinges.

Encourage finding a support group. For some veterans, it can be easier to open up about their health or emotional matters with fellow vets. You can help find support groups in your community or on online platforms such as Facebook.

Share your time. Organizations such as Veterans Affairs (VA) and Operation Red Shield always need volunteers. Answering phones, doing clerical work or packing food bags are some ways you can help provide valuable services to veterans.

Say “thank you” and mean it. Those simple words can have a profound effect on a veteran. Another phrase that shows deep appreciation is, “Welcome home and thank you for your service.” This is particularly meaningful to Vietnam veter ans who were denied the accolades from American society that previous or today’s vets receive.


Commissioner William A. Bamford III, territorial commander of The Salvation Army USA Eastern Territory, greets a young boy at a kettle outside a Walmart in Suffern, N.Y., last year. The Salvation Army’s Christmas kettle season is in full swing and is the organization’s largest fundraiser each year.

1929: a time for reform

In the 1920s, the world enjoyed a growing prosper ity, levity, and optimism. In the United States, the era became known as the “Roaring Twenties.” A surging economy, mass consumerism, and an elevated apprecia tion of the arts and culture was its legacy. Between 1920 and 1929, the nation’s wealth more than doubled and the gross national product (GNP) expanded by 40 percent.

The Salvation Army worldwide also grew exponentially during that time. Evangeline Booth, who was a daughter of William Booth, founder of the Army, was also its char ismatic leader in the U.S. Her brother, Bramwell, based in London, served as the Army’s international leader.

“Next to William Booth, Bramwell Booth is the great est general The Salvation Army has ever had, and whose equal we’re unlikely to see again,” said retired General John Larsson during an interview.

The Salvation Army provides soup for unemployed men in New York City on New Year’s Eve 1929 during the Great Depression. photo: Scherl/Süddeutsche Zeitung Photo/Alamy Stock Photo
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Exponential growth

“William Booth was the visionary, but Bramwell Booth was the mastermind who brought it all together. In those 16 years of his generalship, the number of officers in the world almost doubled. The Army’s work extended to 25 more countries, and its influ ence and impact grew worldwide. His legacy is secure,” said Larsson of the man who in 1885 had also been instrumental in raising the age of consent for girls in England.

However, catastrophic is the only word that can accurately describe the end of the ‘20s decade. In 1929, an economic bubble burst and sent world markets spiraling into a financial and psychological abyss that would become known as the Great Depression. These events ushered in a new era of reform and accountability on every level and across national borders. The Salvation Army, which reached into the heartlands of many nations, was also influ enced by the tide.

A new era

“The changes that the Salvation Army reformers were calling for had to do with the power and authority vested in the office of the General,” said Larsson. “You see, William Booth ruled like an autocrat. When Bramwell Booth succeeded him, he contin ued in that same style.

“But by the 1920s, there were many who questioned whether that was still appropri ate. The Salvation Army had grown into a vast international organization, fighting on 1,000 different fronts.

“Commander Evangeline Booth and the reformers were calling for three specific changes to the Constitution:

“Firstly, that the General should no longer have the right to appoint his succes sor by means of placing the name of the person he had chosen in a sealed envelope to be opened at his death; secondly, that the generalship should no longer be for life; and thirdly, that the General should no longer be the sole trustee of The Salvation Army assets, but that there should be a group of trustees controlling the Army’s, finances and property,” said Larsson.

The rapidly diminishing health of

Bramwell Booth challenged Army leaders to also take a second look at its succession policy. The church had become a multina tional entity. The days of it being simply a “Mom and Pop” or even a family–owned ministry were ending.

Maintaining the trust

“With advancing years, Bramwell’s leader ship style, instead of mellowing, became more and more autocratic,” said Larsson. “This gave added impetus to Evangeline Booth and the other reformers who were seeking to change the style in which the Army was being led. But Bramwell felt that it was his duty, his God–given duty, to preserve the trust that his father had given to him.

“But then something totally unexpected happened. In May 1928, Bramwell Booth had a health breakdown. At first, people thought, well, he’ll be away for a few weeks and then we’ll be able to keep up the pres sure for reform. But the weeks turned into months and his absence from the helm for so long became an issue in the whole 1929 crisis,” said Larsson.

A Booth on the ballot

“Reform, therefore, came to the Army in a painful way,” said Larsson. When Bramwell Booth said “no” to the proposed changes, the organization convened its first “High Council.” All its world leaders met in London to make the Army’s reformation a reality.

Although it was widely believed that Bramwell’s daughter Catherine’s name was sealed in his succession envelope, only two nominees were on the ballot. One of them was Commander Evangeline Booth.

The council’s many days of passionate and heartfelt deliberations, negotiations, and ponderings resulted in Commissioner Edward Higgins, Chief of The Staff, becoming the first elected, rather than appointed, General—on the first ballot, under the new system, and the first outside of the Booth family.

“If Bramwell Booth had brought about that reform, it would have been the crown ing jewel in a life of achievement for the Lord and the Army,” said Larsson. “But it was not to be.”

Honoring a leader

Just four months after the end of the High Council, Bramwell Booth was promoted to Glory on June 16, 1929. He was 73. At his funeral, more than 3,000 Salvationists marched in procession and thousands more Londoners lined the streets to show their respect for a popular and much–loved spiritual leader who had coined the name “Salvation Army.”

“What shook the Army also shaped its future,” said Larsson. “Through the events of 1929, The Salvation Army came of age and was set on a path of reform that continues to this day. Therefore, 1929 is part of the heri tage of every Salvationist.”

In 1934, Evangeline Booth was elected General by the second High Council. Having been a commander in both the United States and Canada, she brought a wealth of experi ence and enthusiasm in many areas of the Army’s work, and inspired Salvationists with her vision for the future.

Read 1929: A Crisis That Shaped the Salvation Army’s Future by General John Larsson for the full story of the crisis, with all its astonishing twists and turns based on unpublished documents from The Salvation Army’s Heritage Centers worldwide.

General John Larsson, a former international leader of The Salvation Army, was promoted to Glory this year. He was a prolific lyricist and songwriter. His book, “1929: A Crisis That Shaped the Salvation Army’s Future” is a classic study of a pivotal moment in the Army’s history. In describing the challenges, Larsson shows readers how to rise above the worst of times by embracing God’s call for deep change.



The Salvation Army's Angel Tree program provided Christmas gifts for Sandahl Taylor's children during tough times. Today, she is returning the love to other children in need.

Beauty queen Sandahl Taylor is happily married with two children, but there was a time when she was a single mother and staying with friends. During several Christmas seasons, The Salvation Army Angel Tree program helped provide clothes and toys for her kids.

“I was struggling for a long time,” Taylor says. “Even when my husband and I got married, we were doing better, but we still needed help. For a long time, my kids were a part of Angel Tree.”

Today, Taylor is the reigning Mrs. photos courtesy of Sandahl Taylor

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Pennsylvania Galaxy 2021–22 and teaches cosmetology at Pittsburgh’s South Hills Beauty Academy. She and her husband, Kenneth, who is retired from the U.S. Army, have been married for seven years and are the parents of son Blake, 14, and daughter Anastasia, 10.

“Now we’re in a place where we can give back,” Taylor says. “For several years, we’ve chosen children from the Angel Tree to sponsor. I have my children each pick somebody out and my husband and I pick someone. We always ask if they have a pair of siblings since we have a boy and a girl. My children are allowed to pick whoever they resonate with.”

The Angel Tree program helps provide Christmas gifts for hundreds of thousands of children and seniors each year. Families apply and their wish list is shared with donors, who purchase clothing, toys, and other goods. A recipient’s information is typically printed on a paper angel and hangs on a Christmas tree before being selected.

“For many years, Angel Tree was a godsend for me,” Taylor said. “I’m just glad to be in a position now to be able to give back and help out with that.”

That’s not Taylor’s only connection to The Salvation Army, as she also gives free haircuts to kids returning to school each fall.

Coming back strong However, the road to her current life and benevolence was not a straight one. Sandahl grew up underprivileged in Pittsburgh, though her family was not the worst off in the neighborhood. When her father, Roy, suffered a heart attack and stroke in 2005, the family lost its home. She was only 17 and had just graduated from high school.

“I had to leave my childhood home,” she said. “I didn’t have anywhere else to go because I was still very young.”

She lived with her mother, Donna, during this time, but later in 2007, ended up "bounc ing between different people's homes." This time, Sandahl had her young son in tow.

“I left a domestic violence situation with

just the baby clothes and my son and my vehicle,” she said. “I knew I needed to get my son out of this situation that we were both in and I chose to leave.

“I really had nothing. I had no clothes. I ended up going from house to house to house with my son.”

Two programs, “Dress for Success” and the Employment, Advancement, and Retention Network (EARN), helped her get clothing and affordable housing. She also worked “odd jobs” to put food on the table.

“They kind of helped me get back on my feet and turn my life around,” she said of the programs. “I eventually landed on my feet. God saved me for a reason.”

In 2014, Sandahl got her teaching license in cosmetology and started giving back to the community.

“I kind of started helping other people after I got situated,” she said. “I did what I could. I was always volunteering in the community.”

One way she helped was by giving free haircuts to people in need, including veter ans, women, and children. Her father, who served in Vietnam, and Kenneth, are both veterans, so she helped stuff Christmas stockings through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

That philanthropic spirit eventually led to Taylor giving free haircuts at The Salvation Army’s back–to–school effort at the Pittsburgh Temple in 2014 and at a former Salvation Army church in Carnegie, Pa.

“I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said. “I turned it into more than just haircuts.”

In fact, Taylor also started collecting, shoes, clothes, and school supplies to give away to needy children each fall.

“Since 2015, I think I’ve collected over 5,000 items for The Salvation Army. I just know that having a haircut or clothing can change somebody’s life because it did for me,” she said through tears. “Seeing the smiles on people’s faces, it’s like heaven. I’ve seen men cry and I’ve seen women just be grateful and thankful.

“I’ve seen children get their pride back as they return to school. For me, that’s what

makes it worth it. I don’t need much, but just seeing those smiles is everything."

Finding herself in pageantry

As a child, Sandahl seemed an unlikely beauty queen contestant. She was quiet and reserved before coming out of her shell and joining the dance team in high school.

“I loved theater, but I just never felt like I was popular or cool or really anyone who mattered,” she said. “I was bullied a lot in high school and participating in pageantry really helped me with my self–confidence, helped me find my voice, and helped me realize I was so much more than all the things that made up my past.”

Her break into the pageantry world came when Raquel Riley Thomas, who led the Mrs. Pennsylvania America Pageant, noticed her community service on social media and reached out to tell her she would be a “perfect contestant.” In 2016, Sandahl had never done a pageant before and was new to the game.

“The very first pageant I ever did was as

Look for Angel Tree tags like this one at your local grocery store or Salvation Army and help a child in need this Christmas.

a married woman,” she said. “I didn’t even know there were pageants out there for me because at 19, I had a child very young and typically that would exclude you from beauty pageants. You must be single to be a part of most beauty pageants.”

Being crowned Mrs. Allegheny County was her first title and Sandahl quickly learned the power of a crown and sash.

“When I first started wearing that sash and crown, people wanted to know what I was doing,” she said. “When I would go to an event, they asked me, ‘Who are you? What is this about? What are you doing here?’ It really opened a lot of doors for me to not only talk about the things that were important to me, but issues I thought were important to the community.

“It really allowed me to see what I call the 'power of the crown’ and how much good can be done with it.”

When it came time to pick a cause, the choice was easy for Sandahl. She chose heart health because of her father’s heart attack. She has volun teered for the American Heart Association for 19 years and wants to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack— something she didn’t know when she was 17.

“I realized this was happening to me for a reason,” she said. “I really believe that I was called to give back to the community and teach other people how to become heart healthy and how to recognize the signs and symptoms.

“A lot of people don’t realize how import ant it is for our hearts that we take time for ourselves and do things that we enjoy. Helping others can help us as well. That’s where it all started for me.”

Taylor, 35, said she enjoys modeling, acting, competing, and getting dressed up and being on stage.

“I get to show a little bit more of a femi nine side that I never really got to have before,” she says.

However, it’s what the pageants stand

for that Taylor enjoys the most, and she helps spread the message as a part–time motivational speaker.

“I found that the Galaxy International Pageant's mission and their values really resonated with me,” she said. “Their mission is to emphasize beauty and culture across the world. Beauty isn’t just one thing, but every thing about a person. The goal is to empower women for generational change for tomorrow.

“That’s why I started giving back. I want to show kids, even my own kids, that even

point in my life, I was a single mom,” she said. “I was trying to do all these things and I didn’t feel heard. I didn’t feel welcomed or wanted because I did have a child out of wedlock and a lot of people frown upon that. The pageants gave me a voice to be heard.”

Sandahl said her pageant coach, Crystal Cavey, "saw something in me that I didn't even see in myself. She made me feel right at home in the Galaxy system."

While the pageant world has given her self–esteem and a sense of belonging, Taylor’s spiritual life is more complicated. She believes in God and recites daily affirmations with a spiri tual bent in her search for faith.

“My daily affirmations are more of a daily reminder of who I am and a reminder that I am a strong, powerful woman,” she said. “I am a loving mother. In the eyes of God, I am wanted. I am a child of God, as we all are. I believe in God; I just don’t know what else that is yet. I’m still looking for answers.”

Taylor’s search for a church has also proven elusive. She has tried out a wide variety of Christian churches from a host of denominations, but nothing feels right yet.

if you don’t have much to give, even if you don’t have money or a skill, you have time, and by volunteering your time to help others, that can mean the world to somebody. That’s how we can bring generational change.”

A Salvation Army future?

Taylor’s current pageant title is Mrs. Pennsylvania Galaxy for 2021–22 and she has also held the titles Mrs. Germany World 2020 and Mrs. Pennsylvania America in 2018. She competed this past summer in the Mrs. Galaxy International Pageant and finished in the top eight. She finds inspira tion from Maria Torres, the pageant direc tor and a former single mother who brings awareness to Latina issues and preaches the message that “you can be a single mom and still do amazing things.”

“I loved that about her because at one

“I’m looking for somewhere that looks at me for who I am,” she said.

Sandahl said all her experiences with The Salvation Army have been nothing but “wonderful” and she would like to connect more.

“All I’ve known them to do is help,” she said. “I’ve never heard one negative thing about The Salvation Army. For me, it’s been an outlet of a place to serve.

“I’m looking forward to hopefully part nering with The Salvation Army even more. I’d like to go on mission trips to other coun tries and help people in need. Perhaps I can also provide haircuts for The Salvation Army. I feel like helping the least fortunate is something that’s important.”

For more information on The Salvation Army Angel Tree program, go to

Sandahl Taylor and her family participate in the Angel Tree program each year.
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A bike with a bow

photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

A gift from The Salvation Army on Christmas morning changed the life of New Edition’s Ronnie DeVoe.

Singers Michael Bivins, Ralph Tresvant, Ronnie DeVoe, Ricky Bell, and Bobby Brown of New Edition pose for photos after their appear ance on "Kidding Around" at NBC Studios in Chicago, Ill., in January 1983.


efore going on to super stardom with the R&B/ pop group New Edition, Ronnie DeVoe grew up poor in the housing proj ects of Boston’s South End. One of the constant positive influences in his life was a nearby Boys Club operated by The Salvation Army.

“It was the first place I learned how to play ping–pong and pool,” Ronnie told SACONNECTS. “The arts and crafts and a lot of the things they had in place allowed for a good atmosphere for kids to flourish in. It was home away from home at an early age for me.”

While his single mother, Florence, worked as a hospital administrator, Ronnie and his siblings, younger twin brothers Robert and Roland, would attend summer and after–school programs at the Boys Club (now the Boston South End Corps). Ronnie said he was at the Boys Club “from as far back as I can remember,” guessing he was no more than 4 when he started.

The Boys Club kept Ronnie and his brothers safe and off the cocaine–infested streets of the Roxbury neighborhood they called home. They also knew they would always get a good meal.

“That was the thing that fed us some times when there wasn’t as much on the table,” said Ronnie, whose parents divorced when he was 3.

When Ronnie was 6, The Salvation Army provided him and his brothers with new bikes for Christmas. Ronnie still recalls finding a red bike, complete with a huge bow, that morning near the tree in the family’s small apartment.

“It was way past amazing,” Ronnie said. “It just brought the biggest smile to my face. The little things mean a lot when you’re in situations like that.

“We saw other kids in the projects who had bikes. Not everyone had them, but I just looked up to the people who did have them and every now and then I would pull on their coattail to see if I could get a ride. Then, suddenly, I had one sitting in front of me that I could ride whenever I wanted. As a 6 year old, that was one of the happiest Christmases that I can remember.”

Early days with The Salvation Army

Long after that Christmas morning, Ronnie continued going to the Boys Club. He remembers the love he received from the staff members and called them “saints in the background,” as his mother toiled to make ends meet.

“They didn’t let me get out of line,” Ronnie recalls. “They would put me in my place, but at the same time, they would give me a hug and celebrate my achievements. It was great to be around people who cared about me outside of my parents.

“My brothers and I reaped the benefits of people like that in The Salvation Army.”

As Ronnie grew up, music became a big part of his life. His mother as well as his uncle, Brooke Payne, always had the sounds of Motown playing in the house from such stars as The Temptations, The Stylistics, and Blue Magic. As for Ronnie, he leaned toward The Jackson 5 and local talent in Boston.

Brooke Payne, the brother of Salvation Army officer Shari Payne, was a local chore ographer for several musical acts and Ronnie had a front–row seat to watch him work.

“He always had different groups come by the house and they would perform in my grandmother’s living room,” Ronnie said. “He was always teaching teens how to sing and how to hold the microphone and how to capture a crowd and how to dress the part.

“I kind of grew up seeing that all the time. It was just something that I always wanted to be a part of. I was like, 'Man, I can’t wait to be a part of one of his groups one of these days.’ I thought that would be amazing.”

Ronnie’s big shot came one day when he and his brothers formed a group and made up a routine based on a song by The Whispers, an R&B group.

“We performed it for my uncle and I want to say at that moment, he probably understood that I had a little bit of talent,” Ronnie said.

At the time, Brooke Payne was involved with an up–and–coming group called New Edition, which had formed in 1978.

“The guys from New Edition approached him to teach them routines and manage them,” Ronnie said. “He showed them how to be stars in the city of Boston because every group my uncle touched turned into stars.”

Ronnie DeVoe, 1985. photos clockwise from top right: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images; Jim Ruymen/UPI/Alamy Stock Photo; Paras Griffin/Getty Images
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A ‘new edition’ of the Jackson 5

At the time, New Edition had only four members and record producer Maurice Starr wanted a five–man group because he loved the Jackson 5. In fact, the name New Edition refers to a “new edition” similar to the famous Jacksons. As New Edition struggled to find that elusive fifth member, Ronnie’s uncle taught him a Jackson 5 routine and asked him to try out in front of the band in 1980. He was only 12.

“I had heard of them,” Ronnie said. “I met the guys in New Edition and performed the song at Bobby Brown’s house and basi cally from that moment on I was connected to New Edition.”

New Edition’s original lineup was Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ralph Tresvant, and DeVoe.

Ronnie said New Edition won so many local talent contests and became so popular in Boston, the group would often perform as special guests rather than compete.

In 1983, “after just growing and learning how to perform in front of people,” Ronnie said Starr signed the group to his Streetwise record label and New Edition’s debut album,

“Candy Girl,” was a huge success. The group went on to be one of the biggest boy band acts of the 1980s with such hits as “Can You Stand the Rain,” “Mr. Telephone Man,” “If It Isn't Love,” “Cool It Now,” and “Candy Girl.”

“We had prepared for the moment because of all the work we had put in,” Ronnie said. “We had rehearsed at The Salvation Army Boys Club a lot because our operation got bigger than my grand mother’s family room in the projects with the coffee table pushed to the side.

“Since 1983, the light has shined on us, and we’ve been rocking and rolling ever since.”

One of the group’s percus sionists over the years was Zoro the Drummer, who also received a bike from The Salvation Army for Christmas when he was young. Ronnie said while fans tend to focus on the vocalists who front a group and not the band, Zoro had great timing and was a crowd–pleasing exception.

“He was the first drummer we had that really was able to establish a personality of his own,” Ronnie said.

Without God, there is nothing. Christ means everything.”
Young and adult cast members of "The New Edition Story" and original members of New Edition perform onstage at 2017 BET Awards on June 25, 2017.
Ronnie DeVoe, 2022 SACONNECTS.ORG

Four decades of music

The group broke up in 1989 and DeVoe and some New Edition members founded the R&B and hip–hop group Bell Biv DeVoe, which produced the song "Poison," one of the most popular tunes of the '90s. New Edition reunited in 1996 and DeVoe has performed with both groups through the years with a variety of musicians and members.

New Edition marks its 40th anniversary next year and Ronnie said the band likes to “give back to the New Edition 4 Lifers and those who have supported us.” In March, while New Edition was performing in Cincinnati, Ronnie stopped by The Salvation Army Center Hill Community Center to meet with local children and donate bikes, helmets, backpacks, and school supplies. He also brought gifts, including laundry carts, for the seniors who live in Salvation Army senior housing near the corps.

DeVoe’s aunt, Salvation Army Major Shari Payne, is the chaplain for the Army’s Booth Residence and Catherine Booth Residence and is the assistant corps officer at the Center Hill Community Center.

“You get older in life, and you value your purpose a little bit more,” Ronnie explained. “My mom always says, ‘You’re blessed to be a blessing to others.’ I find myself just want ing to be a blessing more to others.

“How better than to bless those who don’t have it and to allow them to have that same feeling I had that Christmas morn ing? I knew the bikes would be good for exercise and all the above, so that side of me just felt like it’s cool to see smiles and joy on people’s faces.”

Ronnie said his aunt was always a source of encouragement and support for him growing up and would often “share Scriptures” and engage in “conversations to steer me in the right direction” toward God.

“She was my rock as far as my spiritual ity goes,” he says.

Ronnie said his spirituality and music do intersect, but maybe not like a Yolanda Adams or BeBe and CeCe Winans.

“There’s integrity in it, but it’s not gospel,” Ronnie said. “It’s more what we do with our notoriety and influence and celebrity. It’s not about using our gifts for our greatest gains; it’s how do we spread and share the love?”

His other passions

Today, Ronnie is 54 and living in Atlanta with his wife, Shamari, and twin 5–year–old sons, Ronald III and Roman. They have been open about past marital problems, but cred its God with turning them around.

“We believe God is definitely sitting at the center of everything we do,” Ronnie said of his family. “God is good. I can see Him in so many different areas of my life. It’s only right to hold on to God’s energy and God’s love and I stay connected to God as much as possible.

“Without God, there is nothing,” he added. “Christ means everything.”

Ronnie credits God for allowing him to do what he loves for four decades.

“It’s just a blessing,” he said. “Not every one is able to do what they love to do for an extended period. It’s just not an everyday story for the most part. People are out there trying to make ends meet and run a rat race that’s not fulfilling, and they don’t get to use their gifts and talents. For me to be able to do it for 40 years, I’m just humbled and thank ful to God that I’m in the position that I am.”

He may be rich and famous, but Ronnie hasn’t forgotten his roots from the projects and has embraced another passion and way to help people. He became a RE/MAX agent in 2002 to learn the real estate business from the ground up and started his own company,

DeVoe Broker Associates, in Atlanta in 2006, to help others obtain home ownership. Twenty years later, the firm is still going strong.

“Coming from the projects and having things like The Salvation Army pouring positivity and love into me opened my mind to get to another level in life and to be able to purchase my mom and family a house when I was 17,” he said. “That’s where generational wealth started for most people. A definite passion of mine is to see that other people can go through that same process and I like to help them get there.”

Over the years during his breaks in tour ing, Ronnie and his wife have appeared on the Bravo series “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and VH1's "Couples Retreat." He said the plan is to continue touring for the foreseeable future.

“No plans to slow down,” Ronnie said. “We’ll take breaks here and there. We have a gift and we have been blessed to entertain people and take them away from some of the pressures they may be going through in life, but for that hour and a half or two hours that people see us perform, it brings them back to a time that makes them happy. Why stop something that is a blessing to others?

“When I see the faces of those New Edition 4 Lifers out in that audience, and all that amazing energy coming my way, it’s the thing that keeps me young.”

Ronnie and Shamari DeVoe with their twin boys Ronald III and Roman at the Atlanta Zoo in 2019. You can follow them on Instagram @devoetwins. photo provided by @devoetwins
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The ultimatum

“I had to surrender to win my battle against my cunning foe, alcohol.”

It was an icy, New England Sunday in January 1992 when my wife gave me an ulti matum: “Quit drinking or move out!”

I opened the refrigerator door, withdrew the remaining bottle of beer, and hurled it as hard as I could into our backyard. The bottle made a smashing sound as it collided with an old birch tree. Tiny shards of glass fell to the fresh snow.

I became aware of my dark thoughts of suicide as alcohol–induced loneliness, despair, and depression became unbear able. I was physically, mentally, and spiritu ally bankrupt and realized that continuing to drink meant institutionalization, jail or certain death. I was at my bottom.

As a young person, I, like many of my friends, “enjoyed” drinking; but how much was too much? For me, there was no such thing as “just having a drink.” I thought, how could anybody drink “just one?”

An open secret

Long before my January 1992 sobriety date, I was painfully aware that I was an alcoholic. For years, it was a dark and lonely secret I kept from my family and friends.

I told myself I could stop drinking any time I so desired. However, at an early age I discov ered that, once I started, there was no such thing as “just one” glass, shot, bottle or can of anything containing alcohol. My self–disci pline had essentially evaporated.

On too many occasions to count, I prom ised myself and others I would have just one drink. However, I ignored these prom ises and failed miserably to keep them.

While trying to be funny and popu lar among my peers, I would announce, “I only have a drinking problem when there is nothing around to drink.”

I secretly wished that well–meaning family members and friends would mind their own business, not tell me what to do, and stay in their own lane when discussing my drinking. I was completely unaware of

the alcohol–related personality changes I was accused of experiencing. My drinking had become more important to me than my job, my wife, my children, and my friends.

My behavior included attending only those events that allowed me to drink and socialize with others who drank as I did. I lost trust in people who did not drink. Sobriety never lasted more than a couple of days.

Chasing “the buzz”

When I did stop abruptly, “cold turkey,” I noticed mental and physical symptoms including insomnia, tremors, mood swings, and depression. Occasionally, I would just drink beer or wine, steadfast in my belief that nobody could be an alcoholic if he or she just drank beer or wine.

I skillfully obtained “extra” drinks at “open–bar events” for fear they would run out. To eliminate my anxiety, I routinely consumed several drinks “prior” to attend ing any event. I calculated the distance to be traveled and always measured the number of beers I would need to bring and drink on the way. At the party, I would refrain from eating anything that might jeopardize my sought–after “buzz.”

A trip to pick up a pizza or run a local errand included the same routine of bring ing a designated number of beers with me to correlate to the length and time of the round–trip drive. I never considered this behavior reckless as my children in the back seat were always safely buckled into their seat belts.

I continued to use alcohol despite its negative effects. It never occurred to me that alcohol itself was a depressant and that depression coincided with my alcohol abuse.

Lost opportunities

Toward the end of my drinking career, I lived to drink and drank to live. I had become sick and tired of being sick and tired. My addic tion eliminated any chance of receiving what could have been well–deserved work promotions. Instead, I got frequent perfor mance failures and terminations.

Lawrence (Laurie) Traynor is a Salvation Army volunteer and a national drug and alcohol treatment executive. He attends the Church of Eleven22 in Jacksonville, Fla., and helps Christian alcoholics, addicts, and their loved ones find public and private drug and alcohol assistance resources.

Tel (904) 553–1600.

I became increasingly aware of the many mornings when I met my bathroom mirror only to see blood shot eyes looking back at me and broken capillaries on my face. My inability to show up for meetings on time and my loss of focus and concentration in social and business settings got worse.

I spent more time in isolation and drink ing alone at home. I noticed it took me increasingly longer to capture my elusive alcohol “buzz.” I constantly compared my drinking to others. I noted, with congratu latory pride, that many of my friends drank considerably more than I did.

The 90/90 proposition

My wife’s ultimatum triggered the change. I began attending my local church’s 12–Step meetings. I took the advice of a former prep–school classmate who suggested that I attend 90 of those meetings in as many days.

Attending those meetings saved my life. Now sober for 28 years, I’m happy and healthy and I like myself again.


Grace Vandecruze immigrated to the United States from Guyana, South America; endured homelessness; and became a successful entrepreneur. Today, she is an author, motivational speaker, and strategic advisor to more than $25 billion of transactions in the insurance industry, including the sale of a company to Warren Buffett. Vandecruze has climbed many mountains in her personal life and literally in the world. Mt. Everest is among the 25 summits she’s reached. In an exclusive interview with SACONNECTS magazine, Vandecruze talks about her struggle during hard times, and the help she received from her loving family, The Salvation Army, and from God.

From poverty to purpose Orange and yellow flames rose into the air as a Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone, shrouded in billowing smoke, burned. New York’s Bravest battled the inferno as the Vandecruze family of 7 siblings and both parents, stood on the sidewalk in East Flatbush and watched. They felt helpless as their home and belongings turned to wet trash and smoldering ash.

Among the siblings was 21–year old Grace Vandecruze, the second oldest. “At the time of the fire, the solution that we were given by everyone, was, as a family of nine, the best thing we should do would be to separate. Later, after we got ourselves back on our feet, we could then reconvene.

“But that’s when my dad stepped in,” Vandecruze continues. “He said, ‘No. We’re going to stay together as a family.’ That’s when we went to the homeless shelter.”

Everything they could salvage from the inferno easily fit in a black, 13–gallon trash bag.

At the shelter, Grace, her siblings, mom, and dad, slept on cots the size of yoga mats.

In a neighborhood known for its crime, drugs, and abandoned buildings, the family coordinated their schedules so that they’d always be with each other or a friend while on the street or at the shelter. They also asked God to protect them from danger.

“I think being in that homeless shelter sort of shocked me into refocusing on my goals,” Grace remembers. “I really doubled down on my schoolwork and graduated on time.

“I didn’t spend a lot of time mingling or interacting in the shelter. I mean, I tell you, I was scared; I was terrified in that shelter. But for me, I was determined that while I was in a shelter, the shelter would never be in me.”

Those were difficult and dark days for the Vandecruze family. Grace’s dad took on odd jobs to help make ends meet. They lived from paycheck to paycheck. “Many times, there was more month than money,” she recalls.

One day, Grace’s mom was so desper ate for even pocket change, she walked the sidewalks in Brooklyn looking for coins on the street. Grace remembers, “She said, ‘Oh, God, let me please find at least a dollar

today. Let me find a dollar today.’ I mean, she prayed for just deliverance from poverty. Then, she came back, and said, ‘Grace, do you know what happened? I found a dollar!’”

The love of family

During this time, Grace bonded with Pauline Bristol and Michael Bristol, her mom’s cousins. Pauline ran the daycare center at The Salvation Army church in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In the 1980s, several of Grace’s siblings visited the center and participated in its programs and activities.

“I recall dropping my sister off at the Center for daycare, picking her up, and the amazing confidence builder that was for her. It was a nourishing environment,” says Grace. “I remember one day when I took her to the center, and she said to me, ‘Grace, I have no friends.’ I said, you don’t?’ She said, ‘No. I have no friends.’ But I said, ‘Let’s go anyway. I’m sure you have some friends, Denise.’

“So, when I returned to pick her up early, the kids were all sleeping. I was getting her ready, but trying not to disturb anyone, as we were way across the room from the exit.

“But as we were leaving, these children, one–by–one would say, ‘bye, Niecy!’ That’s what they called her. We suddenly heard all these voices from around this darkened room. When we got outside, I said, ‘Denise, look at all the friends you have!’ and her face just bloomed!”

Vandecruze also remembers the passion Pauline brought to her work. “I could tell that she viewed that daycare as a ministry. We were constantly visiting that center for food, and to meet with family.”


“Believe beyond your limits.”

When the family finally settled down in their new home on Hancock Street, The Salvation Army proved to be a reliable source for furnishings.

Grace’s mom was the second of nine children. Grace says that her grandmother, Hagar Delph, was a primary source of strength during those times. Grace calls her “the source of my inner confidence and strength,” and credits her brilliant example of compassion, grace, and abundance mind set as a lasting influence.

Despite the family’s limited resources and space, Hagar found room in her heart to adopt five additional girls after their own mother passed. While a household of 14 children was always a challenge, Hagar’s empathy and compassion made it possible to meet their needs.

Grace, who is today the third of 52 grand children, says, “My grandmother lifted me in love, praise, and blessings. Her spirit of gratitude, forgiveness, and grace served as a healing balm not only to me, but to everyone who has been in her presence. Her actions demonstrated unconditional love, and her indomitable spirit flows through my veins; as such, I am a living legacy of this.”

Hagar’s most treasured words to Grace were “Believe beyond your limits.”

A knack for numbers

In 1985, Grace received her Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting from Pace University and began her career as a certified public accountant. In that role, she quickly discovered that she had an amaz ing knack for numbers. “It turned out that accounting was as easy as breathing for me.”

This inspired her to go further. With the help of mentors who praised her for her outstanding work, she applied and was accepted into Wharton Business School,

University of Pennsylvania, where she received a rigorous, eye–opening educa tion. “Those were the best two years of my life,” Vandecruze remembers.

“Being there was inspiring on several levels. It’s an environment where it is clearly a pressure cooker. It really chal lenged me to do my best and I love chal lenges. Wharton has a reputation of being very quantitative” she remembers.

“At the orientation for housing, I looked across the room and the only African American face I saw was a young lady. We sort of approached each other, and asked, ‘You need a roommate?’ and so we roomed. I had a great experience rooming with her.

“As I was going through this envi ronment, I knew it was unique; the most amazing, intense laboratory of intellectual learning and networking I had ever had in my life.” There were 64 countries repre sented in her class of 750 students.

Mountain climbing mirrors life

After her graduation, Vandecruze was surprised when a Wharton School profes sor invited her back to learn something even more challenging that would literally take her to the top. Grace enlisted in a 14–day expedition up a 20,000–foot peak in Bhutan in Southern Asia, led by that profes sor who urged executives to leave their comfort zones and build their leadership skills. Today, she has climbed 25 mountain peaks on three continents.

“My takeaway from doing that is how much mountain climbing mirrors life,” Vandecruze says. “Why? Because moun tain climbing and life are daunting things.

“For example, I have a friend who just attempted to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa a month ago. The night before she left, she said, ‘I am so, so, so nervous and

scared. Am I supposed to feel this way?’

“I told her, ‘If you were not scared and nervous, you would not be human. You should be scared and nervous. It’s an ambi tious goal and accomplishment.’ I do think in life we need to challenge ourselves to step outside our comfort zones.”

Vandecruze is quick to compare moun tain climbing to facing career challenges. “A year ago, I sold an insurance company to Warren Buffett. The CEO and seller of the company, said, ‘I think Buffett is interested in us.’ So, I said, ‘Yes I’m going to call him.’

“I got Buffett’s number, but woke up the next morning feeling excited but also nervous. I knew that was a great opportu nity and that I have to continually challenge myself to meet and exceed expectations and goals. There is no place for complacency. So that’s the first point about climbing moun tains; it’s how we stretch and challenge ourselves to plan and execute our goals.”

Vandecruze also says that the moun tain’s rugged and intimidating landscape mirrors life. “You can have the best laid plans, but just be prepared to be disrupted at each step. I think we are so hard wired

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for certainty and for comfort that being in an environment where it is so rapidly fluid and uncertain and the storms are coming in from different directions, it is a great meta phor for how we choose to move forward in such daunting environments.

“In my mind, I’m thinking, how much longer is the climb? How much farther is the summit? Sometimes I look up and by look ing up and seeing how far the summit is, it can become even more daunting because I’m already exhausted while I’m looking up.”

Staying focused on the next step “So, I found the key to success is really stay ing focused on my next step. I strive to make my next step, my best step. You’ve got to focus on it in a step–by–step manner. On Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, a Swahili term that the guys tell all the climbers is, poly poly

“The simple definition is ‘slow, slow.’ The more complicated definition is, ‘be

careful before you take the next step. Measure it carefully, but once you start to take that step, take it with determination. Take it from precision. Take it with cour age, and climb the mountain, step by step.’ This is the metaphor I use for life.”

Encouraging others to climb

Recently, Vandecruze participated in a discussion among a panel of black women who currently sit on corporate boards. They presented a revealing talk to an audience of girls of color.

The girls’ faces expressed how moved and even stunned they were when Vandecruze looked into their eyes, told her compelling story, and then said to them, “If a person like me can go from being home less to this stage, then there’s nothing in the world you can’t do.”

In her book, Homeless to Millionaire: 6 Keys to UPLIFT Your Financial Abundance,

Vandecruze stresses how learning to manage one’s emotions leads to better management of money. As an example, she refers to Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–30, and how optimism, faith fulness, and stewardship can lead to one achieving multi–generational wealth.

Early in the book, Vandecruze writes, “I am here to remind you that we hold the pen to plan and create our financial future. We have a unique opportunity to rewrite what our future will be. Words such as theft, misappropriation, and homelessness will not be in our future chapters—not in this book and not in our lives! Our future chap ters will include abundance, investments, wealth, mastery, grace, love, and legacy. Let’s begin a financial abundance climb.”

Grace Vandecruze is founder and managing director of Grace Global Capital, LLC. Her book, Homeless to Millionaire: 6 Keys to UPLIFT Your Financial Abundance, is available on

Ascending to the top: Grace Vandecruze (left) and three colleagues pause at a base camp on Mt. Everest. (Right): Grace participates in the ringing the opening bell ceremony for the New York Stock Exchange. images courtesy of Grace Vandercruze

Taking vinyl for a

Over the past 10 years, vinyl records and record players have made their way back into homes in a big way. Vinyl sales jumped from 27.5 million albums in 2020 to 41.7 million in 2021. Even as music streaming services continue to attract paid subscribers, a new generation of music fans, both casual and hardcore, are buying new and clas sic music on 12” records, making vinyl the music industry’s most popular and most profitable physical format. Some consum ers say that they prefer vinyl’s rich analog sound over digital music files, which lose sound quality when modified to play on cell phones or streaming services. Others say that owning vinyl recordings is better than having it stream, where a song may be only available as long as the streaming service is operational.

As the music industry works to keep up with the demands of new and old vinyl enthusiasts, garage sales and Salvation Army thrift stores have become prime loca tions for rare album finds.

Alan Porchetti remembers the first

record he ever owned: “Alive!,” the first live album from the rock band KISS.

“I think vinyl has become popular again because having a record to hold in your hands is a unique feeling,” says Alan, a Salvation Army pastor in Trenton, N.J. “When I was young, it was almost like a ritual to open my album for the first time.

Even before I played the music, I was exam ining the cover, taking in the smell of the vinyl, and looking to see if the artist had included anything extra inside, such as a signed poster or a photo.”

Now a collector with hundreds of rock and heavy metal albums, Alan says that thrifting for vinyl is where he finds the sought–after, original versions of classic albums, rather than the modern re–releases that have come with vinyl’s new popularity.

“It’s great to have a streaming music service that will play any song I want for a few dollars a month. But when I stream on my phone or computer, I’m not getting the album credits, the lyric notes, or the artwork that comes with my record. All those things


create a deeper connection with the artist.

“There’s nothing like putting on a record on a Saturday afternoon while relaxing or doing my chores, especially in the cold fall and winter months,” says Alan.

Salvation Army pastor Sahory Montilla, from Bridgeton, N.J., never listened to a music album from beginning to end until she started buying vinyl records three years ago.

“I can better appreciate the album and the work the artist has put into creating it when I own the music. I can hear every instrument and how it comes together better with a vinyl,” says Sahory, who collects jazz and funk albums from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.

The vintage albums she enjoys are frequently found in thrift stores. “In the vinyl collectors’ community, thrifting is the way to go,” says Sahory. “I can run into a gem I’ve been searching for months, or I can find a record that I know can be sold online to others; collectors are always looking for the 1st or 2nd press of their favorite album.

“Thrift stores are a great place to start and add to your vinyl hobby.”

RECOVERY THRIFT STORE FINDS There’s always a variety of records of every genre at the Salvation Army’s thrift stores. Here are some well–known vinyl we picked up on our last trip, all priced from $.99 to $1.99. You never know what you’ll find! Go to to locate a Salvation Army thrift store near you. WHAT WILL YOU FIND?
MITCHELL Miles Of Aisles
JULIO IGLESIAS 1100 Bel Air Place NEIL DIAMOND The Jazz Singer
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Every purchase you make at a Salvation Army Thrift Store helps fund local Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARCs), where people who struggle with drugs and alcohol find help and hope. Visit to learn more
SINATRA Strangers In The Night photo: Getty Images 27SACONNECTS.ORG

Steps to a simpler Christmas

The word Christmas can bring both great joy and a sense of trepidation at the same time.

Why is that? For many people, all the work involved in orchestrating family traditions and celebrations brings a feeling of pressure. Some worry about holiday bills, while others are concerned about surviving Christmas after a recent loss, such as a divorce, death in the family, or layoff from a job. Some are trou bled by being childless or single or estranged from family and wonder how they can piece together a memorable celebration.

Every year we declare that this year will be different. We will simplify and bring greater meaning to how we celebrate, but then get swept up in the minutia of holi day preparations. Once the holiday ball gets rolling, it is hard to stop it. Then, when all is said and done and the season is over, we are exhausted, and disappointment sets in because Christmas was once again the blur of shopping, wrapping, events, and parties, along with some crushed expectations. We are overwrought with the thought of They gave us a gift, so we need to give them one.

If we don’t go to this party, what will others think? It’s a family tradition…we’ve always done it that way. With those thoughts as

guiding principles, joy can drain from our lives. So, consider being proactive. Think about committing yourself and others to make this holy season richer in meaning and purpose.

The freedom of simplicity

You may be saying, “Yep, this year it will be different!” Look at the “why” before consid ering the “how.” The discipline of simplicity is an expression of your life pointing toward one goal over all else. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), but we live in a world of duplicity. Our time and attention are pulled in a million directions, exacerbated during the Christmas season.

So, does this mean we become kill joys with every outward expression of Christmas? Not at all! We must contin ually ask ourselves if how we celebrate Christmas expresses why Christ came to bring life, love, and purpose.

Where to begin

Start with a few simple but meaning ful steps that speak to the true spirit of Christmas. What matters most to you and what are you committing to? How do you want to uniquely celebrate in a way that is

life–giving instead of life–draining? As you read the suggestions, one or two may truly resonate with you. Then, consider the cost and discuss it with those closest to you as this might also affect them. Ask God to give you wisdom as you take steps to a simpler Christmas.


It all starts with you and a rededication to spiritual growth. Understand who you are in Christ, and rededicate yourself to him as your priority in your life. It will give you a new lens to see everything else you do.

Consider Mary’s declaration at Gabriel’s announcement that she would become the mother of the Savior of the world, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to do what ever he wants…” (Luke 1:38, TLB). Then lay before him all the Christmas opportunities and see where he takes you.


Examine your holiday activities in the light of your deepest values. Your deep est value is God and time with him. How are you going to do that during Advent? What is life–giving to my family and me that brings us closer to God? How am I


connecting with my family of faith and celebrating with them?


Remember those people who truly need your gifts and perhaps think about expressing your love in more direct ways than the giving of gifts.


Be a peacemaker within your circle of family and friends. Holidays can be trig gers of misunderstanding and wound edness. The ministry of presence is desperately needed today. Don’t under estimate the gift of listening. “People don’t want to be fixed; they just want to be heard” (Stephen Macchia).

Each of these steps to a simpler Christmas are rich with meaning and you may want to consider how God wants you to move forward. SLD has created a resource that combines these steps with God’s Word to help you maneuver from chaos to calm this Advent season. A copy of “Steps to a Simpler Christmas” takes you through 25 days of December in God’s Word to simplify your celebration of this holy season. Download your copy today at

Sacred Rest

One morning, Saundra Dalton–Smith, M.D., walked into her office and saw something that changed the course of her career.

“A patient sat in the waiting room and read the Daily Bread devotional booklet I always keep there. But tears streamed down her cheeks and her hands shook,” Dalton–Smith remembers. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “She then poured her heart out and told me about what a hard time she was going through. Something in that devotional spoke to her.”

At that moment, Dalton–Smith, an internal medicine physician, realized that, if her ability to help people was to truly be effective, she had to go beyond the physical body of her patients and deeper inside their hearts and minds to connect with their souls.

“I knew that there had to be some thing more going on with them. I could get them to a level of wholeness, but I couldn’t get them all the way there. I was only treating a third of them; I was helping their body, but not their mind or spirit. I could see the stress in their eyes and hear it in their voices. They were exhausted from doing life,” she said.

So, for Dalton–Smith, the question became, how can I help them find rest from their hectic lives? That became the cata lyst for the extensive research that even tually led her to write Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, a book that explores seven types of rest: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, sensory, and creative.

Although it was originally designed to touch people with the love of Christ, today, Dalton–Smith’s mantra of sacred rest reaches executives in corporate boardrooms, congregants in churches across denominational lines, soldiers on the battlefield, and people seeking tradi tional medical care in hospitals.

“Considering that the book has my Christian beliefs right beside my scien tific beliefs, you would have thought it

would have only been received by my Christian audience. However, at this point, the exposure has been widespread with so many different people and so many different backgrounds. They’re saying how it has helped them to see how they need to address all these different areas of their life, if they want to be in a place of just really feeling healthy.”

Dalton–Smith, who has done a TED Talk, and appeared on numerous TV, radio, and podcast shows, as well as in magazine articles, has more to say about how people can rest with their eyes open. “In the military, we call it ‘tactical rest.’” Her work has expanded far beyond hospi tal patients to her being a consultant to the military as well as to corporate and hospital executives.

“I help people build their staff, and the thing is, they can’t always take a sabbat ical or an extended vacation when they start feeling burned out. I teach them how to be restored on their feet, so they don’t have to stop because they’re in the trenches sometimes for days on end, and they’ve got to be able to restore.”

Dalton–Smith says getting proper rest is really a mindset shift. “It isn’t simply about activities such as sleeping and napping and just lying on the couch and those kinds of things. It’s about the restor ative activities you do to pour back into the places that have been depleted.”

Saundra Dalton–Smith, M.D., is a physician, researcher, author, speaker, and mom.




Salvation Army Lieutenant Clifford Douglas was 27 when he came to the United States from Guyana, South America in 2015. However, standing 5 foot 9 inches tall and small in stature, Douglas says he could have passed for a 17 year old.

“When I was at camp, I would be with the teenagers, teaching and hanging out, and everyone thought I was their age, until I showed them my ID,” Douglas recalls.

Douglas, who was a professional dancer in his homeland, made a commitment to a disciplined workout regimen in 2016 with a goal of bulking up. Today as he reflects on the health benefits of that regimen, he believes his almost daily workouts have also helped him in his role as the command ing officer at a Salvation Army church in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“I grew more to understand the impor tance of working out and what fitness means,” he said. “At first, it was just about building a body, but then it became more than just building a body, but about my overall health.

“As Salvation Army officers, the work we do takes a toll on our bodies, and we need to stay fit. Our wellbeing is made up of three parts: spiritual, mental, and physical. If we truly want to be fit for service, then we’re going to try to focus on all three aspects and that’s why I delved more into fitness.”

A changed man

Now 33 and muscular, Douglas works out four days a week for 90 minutes to two hours a day. He also maintains his passion for dance to supplement his workouts.

Douglas starts his day at the gym and said his workouts get his body “up and active, all the brain cells and muscles functioning,

and preparing for the day ahead.”

“I feel better throughout the day when I work out as opposed to when I do not work out,” he said. “It helps relieve stress. It helps calm my mind. It helps to center myself. It also helps me to function better overall.

“What I’ve found is that the more I get into the gym, the more I feel better throughout the week. I’m able to cope with the stress and the pressures that come my way. I even work out during the kettle season. I don’t stop.”

Douglas said his workout plan is simple. He finds a nearby Planet Fitness and pays a membership fee of only about $20 a month.

“It’s inexpensive and you can find a Planet Fitness anywhere and everywhere,” he said.

Douglas also has a routine: He works on his chest on Mondays, core fitness on Tuesdays, his legs and back on Thursdays, and arms and shoulders on Friday.

Douglas said some of his fellow Salvation Army officers have told him they wish they could start a fitness journey, but the demands of officership and family make it difficult. Douglas, who is single, remembers working out while at the College for Officer Training (CFOT) at 5:30 a.m. and being joined by other cadets who have families.

“In my mind, there’s no excuse,” he said.

Always in the background of Douglas’s fitness journey is his first love—dance. He started when he was 11, attending the National School of Dance in Guyana at 19. He was dancing professionally by 21 and spent five years with the National Dance Company.

“I see dance as a way to connect,” he said. “I think that’s one of the most prominent ways I connect with God. He speaks through me through dance and movement.”

Dancing even led to Douglas becoming a

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Salvation Army officer. Back in Guyana, his pastor told Douglas he had a call to officer ship. Douglas didn’t think so until he came to the United States on vacation in 2014 and visited The Salvation Army’s Queens Temple Corps.

“I saw passionate youths involved in creative arts and I felt like this is where I needed to be,” he said.

Big plans ahead Douglas was later asked to teach dance for the entire summer at The Salvation Army’s Star Lake Camp.

“The Lord really spoke to me about ministry, and I felt like that was where I needed to be and what God needed me to do,” he said.

Douglas applied for officership and was accepted. Today, he is part of the Eastern Territory’s Move Dance Company and the Greater New York Division’s Dance Team.

While he seldom dances at his Salvation Army church in Brooklyn, Douglas teaches dance and is in the process of forming a professional dance program called Bushwick Expressive Arts. Students will learn dance, drama, and visual arts.

Douglas knows that starting a new program, along with his other church duties, requires him to be in great physical shape. He reiterated the need for officers to seek a healthy lifestyle and stick with whatever workout program they choose to build endurance and stay physically fit.

“If you’re not taking care of yourself, you wouldn’t be able to function, not only for yourself, but for your people and to do the service God has called you to do,” he said. “I make sure I still make time to work out so I can do all these things.”

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.”


When Leslie Brandeis was a child, her mother shared a unique take on volunteering.

“She used to say, ‘When you volunteer once, you’ll always be asked to volunteer again,’” says Leslie, who today calls herself a “professional” volunteer. “Mom was right, and it’s so gratifying to be asked again and again.”

During the early months of the COVID–19 pandemic, Leslie came to The Salvation Army in Port Chester, N.Y., to help pack and distribute food bags for families in the community. “Eventually, other volunteers went back to their jobs. But I’m retired; I can’t just sit at home doing nothing,” says Leslie.

“I didn’t know much about the Army, except that when there was a crisis, they were always there to help. I would give to the kettles during the holidays, but I didn’t know the extent of the work they did for their communities,” says Leslie.

She’s now part of that work. In a storage space inside the Army’s gym, which Leslie calls her “closet,” she comes in every week to prepare bags containing pasta, rice, and other meal products for families. She has her own method of packing and stacking. “It can feel a little like a conveyor belt job,” says Leslie. “But I say that, if you’re going to do a conveyor belt job, you might as well do one that helps as many people as possible.”

Early in the pandemic, Leslie also helped deliver food to homes in Port Chester. She says that this gave her a new view of living and housing conditions in the community.

“I noticed that sometimes we were drop ping off boxes at back doors and basement entrances. These weren’t legal residences. In case of fire or other emergencies, it can be dangerous for someone to live like that.”

Leslie, who is Jewish, divides her time between attending her synagogue, Congregation Kneses Tifereth Israel (KTI), and volunteering at The Salvation Army. Sometimes her two organizations work together; Congregation KTI has done coat drives, toiletry collections, and food drives

“I see the work as a mitzvah, which usually means command ment, but it’s also used to describe a good deed done for others,” says Leslie. “I look at the nourishing food that I pack every week at the corps, and I’m grateful that I don’t have the need for it, and that I never grew up hungry or lacking in anything. When I became a mother, I wanted my own family to also appreciate what we were fortunate to have. My children grew up knowing that on one of the eight nights of Hanukkah in our home, instead of receiving gifts, they would be donating them.

“I’ve seen those same values while working with Salvation Army officers. I’m always impressed and overwhelmed by how much they care. This is a true calling for them,” says Leslie. “I also admire how Hispanic communities in Port Chester have kept their own cultures and languages alive [among each other]. In Jewish communities, Yiddish has been somewhat lost along the way.”

As a child, Leslie recalls hearing stories about her father wait ing on breadlines as a boy. Now, as a volunteer, she’s helping feed families just like his.

“We once had a discussion at my synagogue about why there are poor people in the world,” says Leslie. “I don’t think there’s a real answer to that question. I do think that, if all our financial situa tions were the same, we would find something else to be unhappy about. When the Jewish people left Egypt, God provided manna (bread). They still complained about having to eat the same thing every day.

“Instead of asking ‘Why does poverty exist?,’ ask, ‘What can we do to fix it?’ I know that these dozen bags of groceries I just packed won’t erase poverty tomorrow. But maybe, they will make some one’s life a little bit easier for a day.”

for distribution at the Army in the Port Chester.
“Mom used to say, when you volunteer once, you’ll always be asked to volunteer again. She was right, and it’s so gratifying to be asked again and again.”
—Leslie Brandeis
Leslie Brandeis divides her time between attending her synagogue and packing food bags for The Salvation Army.
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