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We’re pretty much a community

Inside an ARC during COVID-19

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”—Jeremiah 29:11.

Families all over America are quarantined inside their homes as the COVID-19 virus rages.

That’s similar to what is happening at the Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARCs), which also function as a community, says Major Beth Muhs, program administrator at the Manhattan, N.Y., ARC.

“We’re pretty much a caring community,” Muhs says. “We walk together, and we talk together like a family.

“We have not brought anyone new into the program since COVID-19 and no one here is presenting any symptoms of the virus. No one is allowed in who doesn’t live here. No one working here is living outside. We’re all here together.”

The center, which has been on lockdown for the last two weeks, includes 38 men and six women beneficiaries; 13 employees; four officers; and a counselor.

Muhs said beneficiaries are only allowed outside for 15 minutes every two hours.

The center maintains a full schedule, but many rules have changed. The ARC’s warehouse is just two blocks away, but work therapy assignments there have been suspended. The ARC’s family stores are also closed. However, the rehabilitation work inside the ARC continues.

Beneficiaries rise for coffee and breakfast but practice social distancing by sitting only three to a table in the dining area. The silverware is pre-wrapped, Muhs said.

The center is still holding corporate worship in the chapel, but every other chair is left empty to provide the required social distancing. The chapel is used to show movies in the afternoon such as “I Can Only Imagine,” “War Room,” and “Heaven Is for Real,” and social distancing is stressed.

“We’re really spreading everybody out,” Muhs said.

One counselor lives at the ARC, but the rest are accessible remotely via computer, Muhs said.

The center is still offering group counseling. Muhs has been teaching on the the appropriate topic of “Getting Through Disappointment.”

“For some of our people who were getting ready to graduate, disappointment is a very big thing right now,” she said.

Beneficiaries can express some of those feelings in their “COVID-19 notebooks,” which are used for journaling during free time.

“They can write down their feelings and what’s going on in their hearts and minds,” Muhs said. “The notebooks are not to be turned in to any of us, but so they can keep track of how they’re progressing. They’re doing a lot of journaling and reading in their free time.”

If a beneficiary loses his or her pen, they must get a new, sanitized one. Muhs said it’s all part of an effort to keep the center clean. Crews of no more than five people clean the front hallway, chapel, multipurpose room, canteen, and restrooms each day.

“Everything is getting a second cleaning,” she said.

The ARC, which is housed in a seven-story building in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City, doesn’t have an exercise area. Beneficiaries are encouraged to walk or run stairs. There’s also an elliptical exercise bike available and many beneficiaries are jumping rope to stay in shape.

The center has also made use of the roof, but only 20 people can gather at a time. The beneficiaries and staff recently held a trivia contest up there and had ice cream later.

“We have a beautiful view from our roof of Manhattan and New Jersey, so we try to use the roof when the weather is helpful,” Muhs said.

Beneficiaries also entertain themselves with pool and foosball and everything is wiped down after each game. There’s also a sports room to watch vintage games. The news, a popular topic these days, is turned off from 4-6 p.m.

“We’re just being overloaded with news,” Muhs said. “We put on Christian radio for them instead.”

Muhs said everyone has also helped pass the time by playing games such as Jeopardy and Pictionary. Beneficiaries are also enjoying puzzle books and adult coloring books.

Muhs bought palms to bring this year’s Palm Sunday service to life.

“We are considered a residential church,” she said. “The people who live here are our congregation. We are keeping people on schedule and talking about feelings and emotions and frustrations, but most of them are grateful. What we are hearing on Sundays during testimony time is, ‘I’m grateful because there are so many people who want to get in here who can’t get in here.’

“We’re also giving them free time and doing the best we can to make things fun. I told them, ‘Let’s have some fun while we work on ourselves.’  We want a continuation of this daily process of being able to go back into society and be a productive member.’”

Meeting the challenge

The situation is similar for the 30 men at the ARC in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The center’s warehouse is closed, and pickups are suspended, but the mission continues.

“We’re still meeting the needs of our guys,” said Envoy Stephen Taylor. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge we’re up for in the long haul.”

Taylor said the center is trying to keep as normal a schedule as possible. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings are being done via Zoom, as are some counseling sessions.

“These guys know that their spiritual walk and recovery walk cannot stop because of a crisis,” Taylor said. “We’re really putting our best foot forward. We’re trying to get back to normalcy. We’re doing our best.”

Taylor said the men are practicing social distancing in the dining room, rec area, and during counseling.

The center has held hot dog cookouts and beneficiaries have played Bingo and pool “to take our minds off the fact that we can’t go out the front door,” Taylor said.

Taylor, who recently moved into the ARC, said the men have been able to Facetime family members.

“I feel bad for the gentlemen who have young children at home, and they haven’t been able to see their kids. It’s heartbreaking to tell them, ‘No, you can’t go home,’ but we’re finding other ways for them to stay in contact with their families.”

The center holds praise and worship every day at 12:15 p.m., and Taylor has preached on “Being in the Eye of the Storm” and Jeremiah 29:11.

“We’re in the eye of the storm,” he said. “The devil is going to look for ways to attack us and right now our defenses are down because we have the distractions of the outside world, but now this is the time to refocus.

“It’s a scary time, but one of the things we’re practicing here is Jeremiah 29:11. We know that God’s got us, and the guys are really continuing their recovery and spiritual growth. That’s really been awesome to see these past two weeks.”

by Robert Mitchell