Deseret Industries—Diamonds in the Rough
Heather Whittle Wrigley, Church News and Events
Wes Oliver had hit “rock bottom.” Shortly after high school—where he had been an outstanding swimmer and traveled with the junior Olympic team—he began a downward spiral into addiction to drugs and alcohol until one day he found himself in jail.
The jail’s drug treatment program required those recovering from addiction to secure a job before leaving. That was when Wes’s bishop thought of the vocational rehabilitation program at Deseret Industries (DI).
DI is a nonprofit, vocational rehabilitation facility that doubles as a thrift store and is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are 43 locations throughout the western United States.
Those who are interested in the program should obtain a referral from their local LDS bishop and then contact their local DI or LDS employment center.
“Before my experience with the DI, I looked at it as just a place that you can take things you don’t want,” Wes said. “Now that I’ve had my experience, I view it as a place that gives people opportunities when a lot of people wouldn’t.”
At a stage in his life where he didn’t feel there was any hope, Wes became an associate at the local DI, where he learned basic employment rules and skills, things he had never experienced before.
“Even though he was doubtful about himself, I could see the capacity in him to be much more than what he was,” Wes’s bishop said.
At first, Wes had trouble following rules and staying on task, but with the help of a mentor and through counseling with his bishop, he began to improve.
“DI helps people to become more than they are,” said a DI developmental specialist who monitors trainees and helps them improve their performance. “Our purpose is to help Church leaders assist individuals in achieving self-reliance.”
Mentors are also a critical part of the program. “The bottom line is, it’s being a friend,” said Dave Wright, a Church member who became Wes’s mentor.
Supervisors, family, friends, and Wes’s bishop and mentor all worked together to create an environment where Wes could change. When it came time for Wes to find employment, Dave was ready to offer him a job in his business.
“What the Deseret Industries did for Wes—I had no idea they provided that for people,” said Janet Oliver, Wes’s mother. “Wes had this light about him again, this happiness in his life.”
At Deseret Industries, Wes’s individual efforts were amplified, and he came to believe in himself, rising from addiction and incarceration to earning an MBA and entering the temple.
At DI, people donate items they no longer need and find out that to some, those items are of great value.
Even for people, “it’s a lot like [that] at DI,” Wes said. It’s where people can discover they are of greater worth than they ever thought.