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Helen's 22-year journey with Berri Salvos Stores

In 2000, Helen Palena-Adamczyk began her role as manager of Salvos Stores in Berri, South Australia.

Helen Palena-Adamczyk says she has a heart and passion for her store volunteers. “To see those people grow has been one of the greatest joys of my working life,” she says.
Helen Palena-Adamczyk says she has a heart and passion for her store volunteers. “To see those people grow has been one of the greatest joys of my working life,” she says.

Twenty-two years later, Helen has stepped away from the store and hopes to move into a community engagement role with The Salvation Army.

She was drawn to the Salvos while in her 30s. “I believed that Christians need to be looking after those who are marginalised and poor in society,” she said. “I guess I saw, at that time, The Salvation Army was a visible example of that. At that time, they were renowned for their Red Shield Appeal and their social justice work.”

In 2000, Helen was a single parent, working on fruit properties and volunteering at the Renmark Thrift Shop. “It was really my (Salvation Army) officer at the time who approached me and said, ‘Look, there is this job coming into town and are you interested in applying?’,” she said. “And the rest, they say, is history.

“I didn’t really have a retail background as such, but I did have a capacity for that hard, physical work that was needed at those times.”

Helen said changes at the store have included more training, OHS and technology, and a strong emphasis on merchandising. “The vision and the mission of the store has remained the same,” she said. “The purpose of the store is to raise money for the work of The Salvation Army, but perhaps the way they go about it these days is a little bit more polished.”

Helen said recruiting volunteers had become a major challenge. “When I first started 20-odd years ago, we used to have a waiting list for volunteers, and practically someone had to die before you could get into the store to volunteer!” she said. “I found, after 22 years, the volunteer workforce age was beginning to creep up – but I did leave with a great team of volunteers and staff, some who have served with me for 15 years in that store.

“I have a heart and passion for the volunteers, particularly those that come to us that perhaps have been unable to obtain employment elsewhere. It really does give them a sense of purpose and fulfilment, and to see those people grow has been one of the greatest joys of my working life.”

Confronting issues

But being part of the Salvos – even the store – means dealing with some confronting issues and people going through difficult times. “I think the most confronting time for me was ... while I was balancing up the till at the end of the day, I had a homeless man sleeping across the doorway,” Helen said.

“I needed to engage the alarm, and I actually had to step over him to get out of the store. I found it a little bit intimidating because it was dark, and there was no way I could avoid it. But I found, when I engaged with him, it turned out he was what we call a ‘blow-in’. He had just blown into town and needed somewhere to stay for the night. The best I could find him was a couple of blankets.

“At that point, it was about five degrees, and I was shivering as I got to my car. Then I realised that I had never really been cold in my life. I had left a warm store, got into a warm car, and entered a warm house.”

That night she and her husband talked about her experience, which led to The Salvation Army’s community services group staging events to show people what homelessness was all about. “It was just to educate people that homelessness is not always anyone’s particular fault and that anyone can fall on hard times,” she said. “But there are other distressing situations, such as if people come to you, and you can’t give them all the help they need.

“Right now, we have a rental crisis in our community; I can’t find people houses. The best I can do is point them to (and its) homelessness team, and The Salvation Army can offer food parcels and pastoral care support.”

Helen said she hopes the new role as a community engagement person will enable her to get back to a more people-focused ministry. She hopes to start in February.

*Article reproduced at the courtesy of the Murray Pioneer.

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