Redeeming Lives with The Salvation Army’s Major Darren Mudge

August 13, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us today Major Darren Mudge. He’s a pastor, an administrator and a businessman running the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. Welcome to Green is Good, Major Mudge. MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: Thank you, John. It’s good to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, it’s good to have you on. We’re huge fans of The Salvation Army and all the important and good work that you’re doing there, but before we get talking about The Salvation Army and more particularly about the adult rehabilitation center programs, I want you to share, Major Mudge, your journey, your story, because it’s a fascinating one and I would love the listeners to learn all about your before we get talking about The Salvation Army. MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: Well, I’ve had an interesting life journey and it began at the age of 13, when I became interested in The Salvation Army. I play a musical instrument and some friends learned that I play a musical instrument and invited me down to listen to The Salvation Army band and I was so enamored with it that I brought my trombone in and enjoyed the band and made The Salvation Army my church and since then, I’ve done some traveling playing with different Salvation Army bands here in the United States and became a Salvation Army Officer in the late ’80s. I decided that that was God’s call in my life and so I was trained to be a Salvation Army Officer and stationed in the New York area for 15 years before I went to South Africa and served with the Salvation Army over in South Africa for three years, returned from there, worked in York, Pennsylvania, for five years and now here in Springfield, running the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center so that in a nutshell is kind of my life since teenage years, since coming on to The Salvation Army. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and thank you for that great service, and I’ve learned so much about The Salvation Army over the years since I was a little boy in New York watching the Christmas collection. As an adult, I’ve learned so much about it and as you said, Salvation Army really is an amazing church and it’s just an amazing structure and we’re so appreciative. This is the first time we’ve ever had you on Green is Good and we’re so honored that you are representing The Salvation Army today on Green is Good so thank you for that. Thank you very much. MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: Well, I’m honored to be here and any time I can talk about The Salvation Army, I’ll do it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s great, and now getting into what you’re doing at The Salvation Army, you in particular are involved with the adult rehabilitation centers, the ARCs. Can you explain what the ARC really means at The Salvation Army and how long has The Salvation Army been operating adult rehabilitation centers? MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: The Salvation Army has been operating adult rehab centers for over 100 years. It’s gonna be close to 120 at this point, and really, what it is, it’s a ministry to folks that don’t have anywhere else to go for drug and alcohol rehabilitation and we do a lot of counseling with them as well as working with them through their addiction and trying to get a hold of their addiction and getting them into recovery and becoming contributing members of society and so The Salvation Army started this so many years ago and the way we support it is through our thrift stores so any purchases that are made through our thrift stores go to support the ministry of rehabilitation and the ministry is free for those who need it and come in for it and part of what we call their work therapy is to help us to get those thrift stores stocked and clothes hung and get items on the shelves and that sort of thing so it’s really kind of an all-around program where a person will come in and receive counsel and receive support in overcoming their addiction and as a result, they give us support and help in moving things out to the stores and then that money comes back in to pay those expenses so it’s a wonderful ministry. We really enjoy it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Major Mudge, I’m on your website now and for our listeners out there that want to follow along and learn more about the important and great work The Salvation Army is up to or to donate to The Salvation Army, it’s www.satruck.org. It’s a beautiful website. There’s a lot going on here so as we look at this website, and you guys have created wonderful technology for a modern world that is so technology based and make it easy for people to donate, talk a little bit about the business side of running the adult rehabilitation centers. You just spoke about the spiritual and the people side and saving these lives and doing the great work that you’re doing but what’s the business side look like? MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: Well, the business side really is asking people to donate clothing and furniture and that sort of thing to The Salvation Army. We then send our trucks out to pick them up and bring them back here to our warehouse. They’re sorted. They’re gone through. They’re hung. Those things that aren’t fit to be sold, we recycle those and put those off into the recycling stream but the things that are able to be sold, we move those off into our stores. They’re sold in our stores and then that money comes back here to our center and supports the other work that we do and so for me, it’s a great business model because we’re relying on the public to support us and then in turn, we’re able to invest that money into folks that are less fortunate in the public arena and helping them to become contributing citizens and contributing members of society and so I like to say we’re not just recycling clothes and recycling furniture and recycling electronics but we’re recycling people as well. We’re trying to redeem lives and one of the illustrations I use is when you want to redeem a bottle, you take it in and you get some worth out of it and so we want to take these folks that really are struggling really, in many cases, don’t have a lot of self worth and saying to them you are worth it and we want to redeem your life and help you to become a good citizen and a good member of our society. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you recycle all these materials; the furniture and cars and electronics, and there’s a money making aspect to all of that. That money gets reinvested into your adult rehabilitation centers and therefore, then you’re able to recycle lives. MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: That’s right. That’s exactly how it works and it’s pretty ingenious. We are a nonprofit so we’re not in the business of making money. We’re in the business of making people whole. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, talk a little bit about, you know, Salvation Army is, of course, here in our great country in the United States but it was truly founded, I believe, in another country and can you share a little bit? Because I know you’ve traveled the world. How do the arcs work in other countries as well? Where did it start and where is it now around the world? Can you share some of your own personal experiences and what you’ve seen around the world? MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: Sure. The Salvation Army is in over 125 different countries right now and really, what happens is, and what happened here even in the United States when it came here, people were exposed to The Salvation Army in England where it started and then moved all over the world and kind of brought The Salvation Army with them and one of the main tenets of The Salvation Army is if there’s a need, we’re gonna try to meet it and so here in the United States, of course, we still have the need for alcohol and drug rehabilitation. We do that here. In South Africa, which I’m most familiar with, we do have a rehabilitation center there as well and they operate very similar to the model we have here where they have a thrift store that supports them and that sort of things but in other places in South Africa, we have a lot of orphanages for children with AIDS and that are suffering from HIV and that sort of thing. It depends upon the need of the country what we end up doing there. Many times, our entree to the country is the country approaches us and says can you help us with this issue that you have some experience with and we’ll go in and start helping with that issue and then lo and behold, our churches begin springing up and people begin seeking spiritual counsel and spiritual life through The Salvation Army as well so it was a grassroots organization from the beginning and continues to be so as people are moving out into different countries. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Culturally, Major Mudge, how different are the arcs around the world? Do you recycle different materials at different facilities around the world given the different societies and cultures you’re working with and then how similar are the centers also around the world so is there some differences that you’d like to point out but also, some baseline similarities also, which the church element, I’m sure, and the spiritual element is always the baseline but can you talk a little bit about similarities and differences? MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: Sure. One of the challenges we have in South Africa is the culture there is not necessarily really geared towards philanthropy and giving and so one of the major obstacles we had there in South Africa was trying to get people to understand the mindset of sharing with your neighbor and helping your neighbor out. That culture is very family oriented and so families help families out and so you rarely see people put into nursing homes and that sort of thing because they’re kept at home and they’re cared for by their families and so one of the struggles we had there was kind of getting people to understand if you can give us your old clothing, if you can give us your old furniture and your old electronics, we can then pass those on to other people and so that was a real education process for us there and a lot of it is so dependent upon the culture in the country and what people are used to as to what we can do and how we can help other people and getting other people to help other people, those who are more fortunate in some ways to help those who are less fortunate. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For those listeners who just joined us, we’re so honored to have with us today Major Darren Mudge. He’s the Pastor, Administrator, and businessman who runs The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. To learn more about what Major Mudge and his colleagues are doing at The Salvation Army, please go to www.satruck.org. You could get involved. You could donate and also, you can just learn just so much more about The Salvation Army. Let’s get talking about the recycling element of the adult rehabilitation centers. How has that evolved over the years? You’ve had a fascinating journey with The Salvation Army for many, many decades now. How has recycling just even here in the United States evolved with regards to becoming a profit center for The Salvation Army’s great works that you do? MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: As times have changed, we’ve been recycling clothes and been very green, as it were, for as long as we can remember. That’s something that we’ve done and helped people to do and seeing the value in. In recent decades, we’ve come to find that looking for more ways to recycle is gonna help our bottom line and help us financially, especially where in the past, we would literally bring old electronics and stuff that we could not sell and would not sell- it was broken and it couldn’t be repaired- we would take those to the landfill and that became a huge issue for us because we were seeing a lot of stuff going into the waste stream that really didn’t need to go there. There was value in it and we’ve found local companies that have come alongside and said to us, ‘Listen, we will be able to purchase some of your recycling materials and then that helps our bottom line and of course, helps the environment by putting those into a recycling stream rather than right into the waste stream. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it, got it, and when it comes to recycling lives, how does the program work and do you cover both men and women? MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: Many centers cover both men and women. About a third of our centers here in the eastern United States cover men and women and the program works by a person calling up and saying, ‘Listen, I have a problem. I’m an addict or I’m an alcoholic and I need some help,’ and many of them have gone through traditional treatment programs but out program is usually seven to nine months where a person comes in and lives with us and goes through what we call work therapy every day so they’re waking up at a certain hour, they’re given a work therapy assignment, whether that’s working in our warehouse or working on our trucks that go and pick up the things or working in the house doing housekeeping or doing cooking and that sort of thing . They do that every day for five days a week. They work 40 hours a week and that gets them into a routine, which many of them have not has in years and gets them to work on discipline and we work on character issues and spiritual counseling with them through our counseling staff and so as they’re working with other people, some things are coming up for them. We’re able to help them talk through it, some talk therapy and that sort of things where they’re able to share their feelings and share their experiences and many of them come into us and they’re feeling worthless. They’re feeling like they have no meaning in life and through our spiritual counseling, we’re able to say to them, ‘You have value. You can redeem your life. You can move yourself into a different way of life so you’re not dependent on drugs and alcohol,’ and so we find that at the end of seven to eight months, these folks are prepared to go back into the world and become contributing members of society and for me, it’s a redemption of lives. That really is the best part of the ministry. I enjoy the business. I enjoy the work that we do but seeing the changed lives where a person comes in and they can’t look you in the eye. They’re feeling so bad about themselves and what their addiction and alcoholism has done to their lives and all the loss in their lives and to see them stand up on their graduation day and say, ‘I’m ready to go back out into the world and I’ve reconciled some relationships and redeemed some relationships with my family and those who are close to me and they see now my worth and I see my worth and I’m ready to go back into society,’ that’s the most rewarding part of the work that we do. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Major Mudge, is The Salvation Army the largest recycling life conservation company in the world that helps rehabilitate people as a nonprofit? Is there any organization that even comes close to this or is this the number one recycling life organization in the world? MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: I hesitate to say that because I don’t know all of the other groups that are out there doing this sort of work, but I’d definitely say we’re one of the largest redemptive ministries for people that are drug and alcohol dependent. We have 70 people here in our house in Springfield and throughout the eastern United States, we have thousands of people that go through our programs every year. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I was honored years ago. I was asked to speak at one of your Oakland adult rehabilitation centers and they were giving me a tour after I made some comments and got to meet the residents at that point and they walked me into a room that looked like a church setting and I was sort of stunned and as I then continued my journey throughout the building, I said, “That was like a little mini church in there,” and I said, “Explain this to me,” and they said, “John, The Salvation Army is a church and that’s how we look at ourselves.” Major Mudge, is that church-like setting in many or most of the adult rehabilitation centers across the United States and across the world? MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: That church setting is in every Salvation Army adult rehabilitation center. That’s the focal point of what we’re doing. We’re trying to redeem lives spiritually as well as getting them off their addiction and off their alcoholism, that sort of thing. The spiritual aspect, for us, is very important. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Of course. It was so moving and it just changed my whole approach to understanding The Salvation Army because it’s one thing to see the beautiful red cans during the holidays and see the fundraising but then to see the church from the inside out was just really a wonderful experience. We have a few minutes left. Major Mudge, I want to give these two minutes to you. Talk a little bit about the major challenges that you face at work and what you do personally but also, share one or two of the greatest rewards that you’ve gotten in the whole journey that you’ve been on at The Salvation Army. MAJOR DARREN MUDGE: The major challenge we face today is really competition for recycling goods. We’re doing it from a nonprofit standpoint and relying on people’s generosity and goodness to give us the materials that we need to operate our system and operate the centers and there’s more and more competition out there, especially for clothing, and if you drive through your neighborhood, you will see different clothing boxes in many different areas and these really are kind of moving into The Salvation Army’s area and we’re running out of product to sell to then use that money to help people in the rehabilitation of their lives. The greatest reward for me, John, is literally to stand next to someone who’s graduating and to realize that the work that they have done on their lives and the work that we’ve been able to do with them has really changed their lives and changed their mindset and changed their understanding of who they are and changed their relationship with God and with other people and that, for me, is the most rewarding part of the ministry that I do. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, it’s been unbelievably rewarding having you, Major Mudge, on Green is Good today. I’m so honored to have you on and for our listeners out there, to do more, to donate your clothes or other items that you have to help save lives, please donate to The Salvation Army, www.satruck.org. Major Mudge, thank you for your inspiring work in saving and sustaining people’s lives. You are truly living proof that green is good.