Lieutenant Thelma Jimenez is a core officer/executive director at the Salvation Army in Watsonville. The Salvation Army is a nonprofit organization/Christian church. It helps people who are dealing with homelessness and can’t really afford to live on their own. They help people like these find jobs or seek the help they need to get back on their feet to a better and happier life.
Editor’s note: Lookout worked with students at Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s Diamond Technology Institute charter high school through the school year. As a demonstration project, supported by Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, Lookout provided the school’s students and teachers complete access to Lookout’s local news and information, which has been used in several classes. This spring, Lookout staffers worked with Diamond Technology juniors, who interviewed Watsonville community members to create their own version of Lookout’s ongoing Unsung Santa Cruz series. Today through Thursday, we feature the students’ contributions. For more information on our expanding student engagement programs, both in high schools and at UC Santa Cruz and Cabrillo College, check out our Student Access page.
Sometimes we judge people too fast, based on their looks or the way they behave; this is a problem in our community and we need to change. Lieutenant Thelma Jimenez, the core officer/executive director of the Salvation Army’s Watsonville facility, is making that change.
Recently, I got the chance to interview her and the impact that her work brings to the community. She stated herself, “One of the things that I enjoy the most is the impact that we are able to do through the Salvation Army. I really enjoy helping people and I really appreciate being able to see lives transformed and hope being shared.”
Lieutenant Thelma has been involved in helping the Salvation Army since she was just a teenager. When she was a little girl, she and her parents were homeless and things were very difficult for them. They lived in other people’s homes but eventually got their own apartment. Through that, they had to make tough decisions when it came to finances, whether it was paying for the food, rent or bills.
One day, a core officer from the Salvation Army in Albuquerque, New Mexico, came to their door and dropped off a box of food, some jackets and some toys with flyers to all of the different programs the Salvation Army has. Lieutenant Thelma said, “That’s the first time I met the Salvation Army — through that we got involved in the church and involved in the programs and then I just started volunteering and doing so many different things for them. Eventually I realized, ‘You know what, I think this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, help those that need it just same way it was given to me.’”
Lieutenant Thelma really believes in helping others, so I asked her, “Why do you think it is important to make a change in the community?” She responded, “I would say make a CHANGE for GOOD because you can make a change and it might not be a good change, but making a change for good not only benefits others, but it benefits ourselves and our future.” The look she gave me when she was talking about this gave me some type of motivation to help others, kind of like inspiring to hear and understand.
The Salvation Army deals with a lot of people, and not everyone can be kind or be willing to receive the help that they need, so that can be difficult for the helpers. “We can provide the services, the hope, and anything else that we can provide,” Lieutenant Thelma said, “but it’s ultimately up to the person whether they would like to receive that and make some change in their lives.”
Most people who deal with homelessness have some type of mental issue, most of them are just hurt, angry, or frustrated and they take it out on the helpers. This makes it even more difficult for them to help; this job requires a lot of wisdom and patience from the helpers.
Throughout the years in the Salvation Army, the core officers rotate, so when Lieutenant Thelma and her husband got to Watsonville, they were able to start a new program, which is the shelter. The shelter works as a navigation center where they can help people struggling with homelessness by getting simple things fixed, such as getting a job. They do all of this through a case manager, who helps them get their IDs, medical insurance, and even referrals. With this shelter, they can also leave their things and show in case they have an interview. Said Lieutenant Thelma, “A lot of people have come out of homelessness through the program, whether it was going back home to family members or finding a job and pursuing what their goals were.”
The Salvation Army is a nonprofit organization/Christian church— and this is very rewarding for Lieutenant Thelma, she said: “Being able to help people meet their needs without discrimination but also being able to meet people through a Christian perspective, to me this is very rewarding because I get to build a relationship with them a little bit different. It’s not just a client that needs food and then you check a box. It’s more than that.”
Lieutenant Thelma told me that the most rewarding thing for her in this occupation was just seeing kids and families smile: “We get so many people that come for a warm plate of dinner, and seeing their faces because they know it’s a good hot plate, that’s rewarding.”
The community is always something that can be improved, even by the littlest things, and it’s always great to help. The last thing she stated was, “Helping others isn’t something that you necessarily learn, I think it is learnable, but you also have to have it in your heart to want to do it, It takes people who are willing to be present.” People like Lieutenant Thelma should be an example for all of us and how one person can make a significant change and impact in the community.