Harris County resident Loretta Ray has seen the effectiveness of the Salvation Army from every angle. After turning to the nonprofit’s services to turn her life around, she has since dedicated her life to helping others in the Greater Houston area do the same thing.

Ray first benefited from the services of Sally’s House—a shelter for single women addicted to drugs and alcohol—when she was released from prison for the ninth time in 2006. While still in prison, Ray wrote to Sally’s House Executive Director Gay McCurdy to ask for lodging upon her release.

“She wrote that she wanted to do something different this time, and that really struck me,” McCurdy said.

Ray lived at Sally’s House for under a year and learned how to manage her addiction, obtain a job, and develop relationships with her children.

After leaving, Ray worked at a catering company for three years, got married and returned to school. However, she said she always felt the call to help others in a more meaningful way.

“I just felt like I wasn’t realizing my full potential,” Ray said.

In 2009, Ray returned to Sally’s House to work as a receptionist. Over the next few years, she took on a variety of roles—including computer skills teacher and caseworker specialist—until eventually transitioning into her current role as a housing assessor.

McCurdy said she created Ray’s most recent role just for her because of her strengths and passion to help women find more stable living situations.

Ray works with residents of Sally’s House and the Transient Women Center next door to help them find suitable living arrangements. The role calls for Ray to work with property managers throughout the Greater Houston area, find transportation and stay in contact with women who have transitioned out of the Salvation Army’s care to ensure continued success in their lives.

Women who stay at Sally’s House take part in an intensive one-year recovery program with the goal of becoming employed, independent and finding stable housing.

Aungrey Horton, a current Sally’s House client, said Ray’s past experience gives her credibility and provides encouragement for women seeking help.

“She’s been there before,” Horton said. “I can feel the love she puts into her work whenever she is with us.”

After obtaining her associate degree in counseling and human service technology in 2012 and her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2014 from the University of Houston, Ray is now pursuing her master’s in social work at the University of Texas.

In 2012, Sally’s House also expanded its mission to include providing shelter to women who were homeless but not necessarily addicted to drugs or alcohol. The shelter, which offers space for up to 60 women, began offering space for homeless women to stay overnight for up to 15 days.

When Ray started her job as housing assessor, her only mandate was to get homeless women off the streets of Houston. Now, several months later, Ray feels like she is working hard toward achieving that goal and finding success.

“I started counting all the women we helped at first, but when I got to 100 women [who] were off the streets, I started to feel pretty good,” Ray said.

In October, Ray was awarded the Coalition for the Homeless’ Achiever of the Year award. The accolade recognizes formerly homeless individuals who have successfully transitioned out of homelessness.

“Without my time at Sally’s House, I wouldn’t be here,” Ray said.