WHEELING - When Ken Griffey Jr. was 40 years old, he had a spiritual awakening after seeing a picture of Jesus at the Salvation Army in Baltimore.
"The Salvation Army saved my life. ... I was pretty much used to drinking and drugging as a way of escape. It was my pleasure. Eventually I did way too much and I wanted to quit. I was addicted and I couldn't break free from it," Griffey said.
To baseball fans, Griffey's name will sound very familiar. He's not that Ken Griffey Jr., however, but a cadet at the Wheeling Salvation Army.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Ken Griffey Jr., left, a new Wheeling Salvation Army cadet, stands with Maj. John Blevins inside the emergency homeless shelter on 16th Street.
"Someone told me about the Salvation Army. Everyone else wanted money and I found out they had a free, adult rehab in Baltimore. I walked in the door and I saw a picture of Jesus on the wall. I felt a sense of peace. It felt like my burdens had been lifted," Griffey said.
Griffey, 48, originally from Chicago, said at that moment he decided that's where he was supposed to be. The drug rehabilitation program lasted nine months.
"My whole life changed. I didn't want to sin anymore. I was born again and I wanted to give back," he said.
Griffey eventually started working for the Salvation Army, managing different departments, teaching classes and serving as a counselor. In 2011, he decided he wanted to become an officer. Some thought he was too old to start the program, but after being given the chance by others in organization, he entered Salvation Army's college in Atlanta last year.
As part of the two-year program he must serve for seven weeks at a local Army Corps - and he landed in Wheeling.
He arrived Tuesday and Majs. John and Dianna Blevins already have put him to work.
"This is my summer assignment. ... Today we went to Peterson Rehabilitation nursing home. We made sun visors for 25-30 patients. We sang songs and prayed," he said.
John Blevins said he is happy to have Griffey in Wheeling.
"He's going to learn a lot here in Wheeling with our shelter, our thrift store and our corps programs at the church building. We're happy to have him - we hope he learns a lot," he said.