Although his father was a policeman, a service-oriented life for the benefit of others was not something his son aspired to. Instead, Welch found himself needing the services of others after a self-destructive addiction to drugs.
Welch’s journey from drug addict to social service worker at The Salvation Army proves that a charitable, purpose-driven life is a choice. It can also be a goal for those who search for more meaning in their lives.
Welch, who was born and raised in a small town near Savannah, Ga., came to Cleveland nearly four years ago after turning his life around and managing a drug program in Jesup, Ga. Before then, however, it was Welch who needed a rehab program to overcome his own drug addiction.
“I was a drug addict,” he admits. “I went through a 10-month Christian drug program called No Longer Bound, in Cumming, Ga. I stayed there for 16 months. Then I went to Jesup, Ga., and managed a drug rehab program called Free Heart, for a year.”
Welch said he has been clean going on six years now. He said his life took a turn for the better when he moved to Cleveland, then met and married Zandra Whaley, who manages the Plastic Surgery Clinic in Cleveland.
According to Welch, when the couple started dating, Whaley introduced him to Ruthie Forgey, The Salvation Army Corps administrator, which led to a position as a social service worker. Now Welch says, “My heart is for helping people, especially people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. There are two men from Cleveland that I’ve helped get into No Longer Bound who are there right now. I’ve also helped others get into other drug programs. I really enjoy helping people.”
But there is a fine line between helping and enabling, according to Welch, who knows from experience the harm it can cause when an addict is cuddled instead of held accountable.
“Someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol needs the truth spoken to them with love,” he said. “A lot of people, especially family members, enable them by giving them a place to live, and keep bailing them out of jail. That hurts them more than it helps them. If you said, ‘Look, you’ve got to get help! If you want to get help I’ll help you. Other than that, I’m not going to help you.’ A lot of times people keep helping an addict or alcoholic to stay in their addiction. You have compassion, but you also have to draw a line.”
Welch said his message to all addicts is simple: “There is hope,” he said. “God hasn’t given up on you. He still loves you. He has a purpose for your life. He can help you turn your life around. But first you have to admit that you are powerless over this addiction and you have to seek help.”
Welch said he hit “rock bottom” at age 42, after he had already been in two or three short-term programs without success.
“I would do good and stay clean for six months or so, then fall back into my addiction. My dad always said, ‘The sins of your past will always rise up to comfort you.’ That’s what would happen to me. When I was at rock bottom my son had gotten on drugs and he had gone to a program for teenagers to get help. I had a brand-new condo that I had bought with inheritance money in Port Wentworth (Ga.), just outside of Savannah. I had quit my job. My water was about to be cut off. My electricity was about to be cut off. I had title-pawned my car. I had a check written to a check-cashing place for $500 and I had no money coming in. My cellphone was about to be cut off and my car was about to be taken by the title-pawn people. Plus I was miserable. I was praying every day for God to just let me die.”
Welch said his mother would no longer help him out of trouble. Instead, she found a place for him to go: No Longer Bound.
“I called and talked to them,” he said. “It helped me turn my life around.”
Welch not only learned from his past, but learned, from his own experiences, how to help others. Now, at age 48, the happily married husband and father admits, “Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if this is real. Looking at how different my life is, and how blessed it is — and then to see how God allows me to help other people every day — it’s very rewarding.”
“My 24-year-old son married a girl who is a children’s pastor in Arkansas. She’s also in college. A businessman took him under his wing and trained him on computers. Now he works for a company that works on Walmart computers in Arkansas. They bought a house, a new car and they’re happy. My daughter works for Sam’s Club in their corporate office. They’re both doing great and I’m doing great here. I never thought life could be this good. It’s the best it’s ever been.”
For a man who was not raised to give of himself in the service to others, Welch said he would have it no other way in his new life. Finding more happiness in giving than receiving, which is a major part of his service at The Salvation Army, has become a joy that is easily apparent in the face of the local social service worker.
“It’s a blessing to be able to give of yourself,” he said. “But The Salvation Army can alway use donations to help us help those in the community.”