Raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Robert Coriston never heard of the small Texas town. Growing up, he always referenced The Salvation Army as just a thrift store.
Turns out, the organization is where he found life and a purpose. It also saved his life.
Coriston was ordered to run The Salvation Army in Waxahachie after walking across the stage and becoming an ordained lieutenant about six months ago.
Coriston lived in an overly supportive home and claims to have been a “mamma’s boy.” But at the age of 25, his life began to fall apart. In 2008, his mother died unexpectedly from an oversized heart. That same day, him and his father both used drugs.
“I was losing the will to keep living, and I got really consumed with things that would numb me like drugs and alcohol,” Coriston said.
Six months later, his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and only lived a year after that. Life seemed to be out of his control. Unable to deal with the unbearable pain, Coriston again turned to pills and alcohol to fill the void.
Incapable of taking a hold on his life, Coriston soon bounced in and out of jail, eventually spending time in a state penitentiary. But the judge for the drug court gave him every chance before that. The judge’s reasoning behind finally sentencing Coriston was to save his life.
“At this point, my kidneys are failing and I’m completely lost,” he said.
When he got out of prison, he went back to his routine, but this time found himself evicted and jobless. Coriston would break into the school bleachers just to sleep.
At this time in his life, he only had one friend. Well, one day that friend earned a settlement and decided to buy two plane tickets to Tampa, Florida. What Coriston didn’t know was that he wasn’t coming back to Ohio.
On the trip, he’d visited his aunt and attended church with her before leaving. It was there Coriston met a woman whose son was seeking help from The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC).
“And to me, all I heard was this could be a way to not go back to Ohio,” he said.
But at that time, Coriston still wanted to be numb from feeling the agony of his parents’ deaths. He was persistent in calling the ARC, every day, even fibbing a small lie in order to be granted a cot.
In 2012 when he said when he arrived at The Salvation Army ARC, he didn’t even bring luggage because he couldn’t afford it.
He said, “I wasn’t looking for happiness, but a way to numb the pain, but within two weeks, I caught himself laughing, thinking how long has it been since I’ve laughed or cracked a smile?”
He was shocked at how graciously he was treated with food, the people, and entertainment.
Coriston mentioned that the ARC is solely funded by purchases from the thrift shops. Which was ironic because before this, all he knew was the thrift store of The Salvation Army and now it’s helping him get back on his feet.
He started working 40-hour weeks in the thrift stores, participating in recreational events and taking classes.
Coriston was an atheist going into the program and wasn’t even considering staying the whole six months. He just needed to figure out his next move. Well, 30 days into it, he was offered a non-paid position riding along in the box trucks, helping with pick-ups and drop-offs.
He rode with another guy named Chris Dobowicz, who is now an officer in Ft. Meyers. It was easy for Dobowicz to help lead the way for Coriston because he related to him so much. Soon, they became close, going to AA meeting and church together.
A year into the program, Coriston was offered a paid job, now driving the truck. But in that time, he knew he was supposed to be there to serve The Salvation Army and God.
“I was told if I sought him a little bit then he’d show himself. Then it was almost like this fog was lifted, this biased fog I had and then I could see where God was at work with everything,” Coriston explained.
Within five months he was working for the church as a program aid. In the meantime, he was finishing his paperwork to go to officer training.
Even though those surrounding him at training grew up knowing the doctrine and the Bible, and he was just now figuring it all out, he had his testimony. There in St. Petersburg he made friends and met the love of his life, his wife Kristen, who is now pregnant with their first son. Kristen also runs Waxahachie’s Salvation Army.
And now, he’s running the organization here that also houses The Boys and Girls Club. Coriston said that 20 percent of the budget for the Boys and Girls Club come from bell ringing at the holidays.
Connecting the dots to everything, he said, “All of those people who walk by and put in a dollar have no idea that I’m here because of that — It is not one donor that supports The Salvation Army, it’s the whole community who are putting their change in these red kettles, which is the testimony of why I’m still here.”
Coriston said if he’d tell himself in 2010, that he’d be serving others, let alone the Lord, the selfishness in him then wouldn’t have believed it. This whole time, getting up to this point, life wasn’t apparent, but when tracing the events backward, it all made sense to him.
He said, “You can’t be around this place and not feel the presence of the Lord. There are too many coincidences for me to not ask, ‘what is actually happening.’”