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LDS Transitional Services gives a hand up to those needing help

By Genelle Pugmire - | Sep 3, 2021
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Jackeline Sahbaz and Sister Rene Turner, a service missionary at the Las Vegas Transitional Services, visit with each other on Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, in Las Vegas. Sister Turner and her husband, James, volunteer as service missionaries who connect individuals with resources that can help them get back on their feet.
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Garrett Morris of Oakland, California, operates a forklift at Deseret Industries, a nonprofit work-training organization owned and operated by the Church, on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Murray. Morris is one of thousands of beneficiaries who have sought the Transitional Services initiative’s help to stabilize their lives.
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Christopher Hugie, right, of Logan, reunites with Greg Young, the Transitional Services initiative’s general manager, on Wednesday, July 21, 2021, at the initiative’s office at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City. After being released from prison, Hugie worked with Young to find a job.

The helplessness and hopelessness of many people transitioning out of severe issues in their lives is being addressed by an initiative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church’s Transitional Services initiative, which has been in service for more than a decade, continues to expand its reach to help individuals stabilize their lives and transition back into society.

Since 2019, Transitional Services has helped more than 26,000 people get back on their feet. Garrett Morris’ story is one example.

“I’m a guy who’s just trying to rebuild his life after a setback,” the 48-year-old man said.

Originally from Oakland, California, Morris works in Murray as a forklift operator at Deseret Industries.

“Back in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006, I ended up working too hard and ended up turning to some substances I shouldn’t have,” he said. As a result, he served almost 10 years in prison.

While incarcerated, the lifelong musician and Latter-day Saint met a church leader at the prison who encouraged him to share his musical talents.

That church leader later wrote him a letter that Morris cherishes even today.

“(He) got ahold of me and pointed me in the direction of the Transitional Services before I got out,” Morris said.

“I remember his letter to me said, ‘You know, that’s what we’re here for. It’s our pleasure to help, so please let us do that because you uplift people with music in prison. Let me help you when you get out,'” Morris recalled. “I’ve been very lucky with some good people that have helped me along that path.”

Upon his release, Morris said the initiative assisted him with short-term assistance, including clothing, food and a bicycle.

The church’s Transitional Services initiative assists individuals like Morris, regardless of their religious affiliation. These are men and women who have struggled to stand on their own feet after exiting correctional facilities, are facing homelessness or falling victim to human trafficking, are dealing with mental health issues or domestic violence, and more, according to the church initiative.

Beyond temporary assistance, Transitional Services also helps people find jobs and provides general information about community and government resources to increase their long-term stability.

They have five offices in Utah (Cedar City, Logan, Ogden, Provo and Salt Lake City) and two more in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Mesa, Arizona.

“It took a tremendous weight off my shoulders and helped me concentrate on looking for a job,” Morris said. “(It gave me) confidence to get a job because you’re at least worth some help, you feel that you’re worth at least the kindness of feeding, of clothing, of caring how you are. This means a lot to someone trying to restart their life after damaging themself and hurting people.”

The immediate social reintegration support that Transitional Services offices provide to Morris and others accompanies opportunities to work for what they receive.

Morris explained that shortly after he obtained welfare assistance, church service missionaries connected him with the chance to work as a forklift operator at Deseret Industries. Since then, he said his personal goals have only increased.

Morris is hoping to get back to school and obtain a commercial driver’s license so he can drive trucks. He said driving the forklift is a stepping stone.

“My obligation to anybody I’ve ever hurt, whether it’s that circumstance or another, is to be a better person going forward,” Morris said. “For them to still say, ‘I know that you’re a human being, you’re still deserving of something else other than punishment.’ That’s been a huge blessing just for me to function as a human being.”

At the Las Vegas office, Jackeline Sahbaz met Elder James Turner and his wife, Rene, both service missionaries who connect unemployed single mothers and others in similar situations with resources to help them get back on their feet.

“I needed some help because I lost my job for almost a whole year,” Sahbaz said. “The program helped me to understand better the way of, you know, applying for jobs, the way of, you know, the things that you have to put in your resume, how you have to do the interviews.”

“I think it’s so crucial that you look them in the eye and make them feel of worth or you can’t make any progress,” said Viola Murray, who served more than four years as a service missionary at the Transitional Services Office in Salt Lake City. While there, she assisted women in need who were searching for ways to start their road to recovery.

Murray dedicated her daily volunteer work at state prisons and the Transitional Services Office to listening, identifying needs and connecting beneficiaries with resources that could help them rebuild their lives.

“The type of situations that come in here are so varied,” Murray said. “I’ve seen everything from human trafficking to addiction to severe poverty, severe trauma cases, PTSD and just plain destituteness and hopelessness. And when they hit that rock bottom, a lot of them come here, and oftentimes we are their last resort. And, unfortunately, some don’t make it here.”

Christopher Hugie, 38, of Logan, said that after being released from prison, he felt hopeless. Over time, he applied for more than 3,000 jobs and received only four offers. Employers shied away when they discovered his criminal history.

“The constant rejection. The constant in my face, ‘Hey, sorry this isn’t going to work,'” Hugie said.

Transitional Services General Manager Greg Young, who leads the initiative’s offices across the United States, sat next to Hugie.

“I just broke down and started crying,” Hugie said. “That was hard, making myself vulnerable after the end of the prison system for so long as you learned (and) tried being tough, not letting people see your emotion. And having Greg there actually care. That was monumental to me.”

After working as the manager of the initiative for more than 12 years, Young said he meets people like Hugie every day.

“I do this because I love the people that I work with. I love the missionaries that I get to work with on a daily basis,” Young said. “But most of all, (I do this for) those that come in our doors that have special needs, that are homeless or transient or that are coming out of correctional facilities.”

“We are a temporary assistance program, looking at long-term solutions,” Young added. “A few of our main focuses (are) to preserve life, to relieve suffering and to foster self-reliance in the individuals that are here in our offices. That in itself … is also intermingled with focusing in on the Savior and the Savior’s love.”

During a brief reunion with Hugie, he shared that besides remarrying and finding an employer that took a chance to hire him in spite of his criminal background, he has also completed an associate degree with a nearly perfect grade point average.

For people who now face hardships and are looking to get back on track with the help of Transitional Services, Hugie offered some words of wisdom.

“Do all the small things that don’t make sense right now, and it will make sense down the road because it works,” he said.

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