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DIFFERENCE MAKERS: Helping people is ‘awesome’ feeling for Salvation Army’s Kathy Ceci

News Photo by Alyssa Ochss Kathy Ceci stands outside The Salvation Army administration building last week.

ALPENA — For Salvation Army advocate Kathy Ceci, being able to help people in need is an awesome feeling.

Ceci started her career at The Salvation Army after going to Alpena Community College for a year to receive a “clerk type of certificate.” It made her the perfect candidate to fill the recent job opening for an office person.

“So I applied for it and I got the job,” Ceci said. “Well it turned out to be receptionist, case worker, secretary; back then we did everything. I wrote the payroll checks and everything like that. I just enjoyed what I was doing and be able to help people.”

She worked at The Salvation Army for 13 years before turning to retail when Walmart first opened in Alpena. After 16 years, she was tired of retail and The Salvation Army had an open position, leading her back to where she first started.

“When I did come back here, my brother-in-law had once said to me ‘you’ve come full circle now you started at The Army and you’re going to end at The Salvation Army,'” Ceci said.

Ceci said being able to help people is an incredible feeling.

“It just feels good when you can help somebody,” Ceci said. “And even if we can’t help them if we can guide them to the direction they need to go in and that I don’t know it just makes me feel awesome that I can help other people.”

Besides being an employee at The Salvation Army, Ceci also volunteers for them and is a 16-year member of The Friendship Room, the local soup kitchen.

The most interesting and challenging experience she’s had while volunteering happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ceci said. With The Salvation Army, employees were still in the office helping people.

“I mean we did everything by the phone,” Ceci said. “If you needed help or that I took all the information, your application over the phone, (and) we set up a time. I would pack everything in a shopping cart for you, and push it outside and you would come and pick it up.”

At The Friendship Room, the night before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer put the state into lockdown, they had a board meeting to discuss what would happen the next day.

“It was like, ‘Okay, tomorrow we’ve got to convert to to-go dinners’ and the awesome volunteers and staff there. I’m going to say for that first year and a half, I was there five days a week handing out those to-go meals,” Ceci said.

People at both places were thankful and a little surprised. Ceci said at The Salvation Army, there wasn’t one person who didn’t say thank you through the door or call back and say thank you. At The Friendship Room, people were thankful as well.

She said the whole thing was an eye opener.

“The people were wonderful, they would come up, you know (and say) ‘I can’t believe you’re still going to cook for us,”’ Ceci said. “You’re still hungry aren’t you? You know, even if we’re short-handed with volunteers and that and you know we had it all protected we had the plexi glass up on the thing so nobody could come in, we’d slide your bag or your dishes underneath there.”

Ceci said people come back to The Salvation Army to help where they can. They get a lot of volunteers during Christmastime, Ceci said.

“Oh yeah,” Ceci said. They’ll come back and they’ll say ‘how can I volunteer for the kettles?’ Do you have any projects here I can help you with, volunteer?'” Ceci said.

The Salvation Army also has Angel Trees, which allow someone to get gifts for families and children in need. People will also call and say they want to adopt a family, Ceci said.

One of the most memorable moments came when Ceci helped a woman adopt a family.

“She said ‘I want to adopt a family with a 16-year-old boy,'” Ceci said. “She said ‘My son would be 16.’ She said, ‘He passed away when he was seven.’ She said, ‘So, I want to buy something for a 16-year-old boy.'”

Ceci was able to find a family with a 16-year-old boy and that boy had the same name as the woman’s son. The boy wanted Detroit Red Wings items and the woman bought everything Red Wings that she could, Ceci said. The woman said it was in honor of her son.

“And it just made her feel so good that she was able to do that,” she said. “Yeah, it made me cry. Still makes me cry when I think of that.”

Ceci said she encourages others to volunteer, even if it’s just two hours a week.

“Oh absolutely,” Ceci said. “It’s just so rewarding, it just makes you feel good. Even if you can only give a few hours a week or maybe a day a week, there’s lots of opportunities to volunteer.”

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