But why did God put me on earth?
What am I here for?
How do I find my purpose?
But why did God put me on earth?
What am I here for?
How do I find my purpose?
Chances are, you want to know what your purpose is. This does not make you unusual—in fact, we’re all united in this way. We are all seeking.
Compared to a decade ago, U.S. adults today are more likely to regularly wonder about meaning and purpose in this life, according to a recent study from Lifeway Research. The study found most Americans (57%) say they wonder, “How can I find more meaning and purpose in my life?” at least monthly, with more than one in five saying they consider the question daily or weekly.
We’re all yearning as we find our way through this world, but finding your purpose is not so much about what you do in your life, your vocation. I would say it’s much deeper than that.
We want to find joy. We want to find peace. We want to find our community. It’s almost as if there’s a hidden secret we’re all looking for. We want to know what it is we’re meant to do.
You might be wrestling with it now.
Maybe you are one of those who have asked me, “Why were we created? What were we designed for?”
And if that wasn’t you but you’d still like to know my response, here it is: It’s not a secret at all. The answer is simple but profound.
We’re created by God, designed by him. He knew us before we were born, as Scripture says, and yet, each one of us is given the choice whether to follow him or not.
It’s up to you.
I believe God has a purpose for each one of us, a design for our lives.
He created you. He formed you before you were even known, and he has an assignment for you and me, no matter how many mistakes we make in trying to do things on our own.
But why did God put me on earth? What am I here for? How do I find my purpose?
As J.R. Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings, “Not all who wander are lost.”
The same goes for us today.
You might feel as though you’re wandering, unfulfilled, but you’re not lost. Here’s the truth:
It is God who directs the lives of his creatures (Job 12:10).
Many are the plans for a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Prov. 19:21).
And we know that God causes all things to work together for those who love God and those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
God’s purpose for you is simple, and profound: To know and glorify him. To follow his ways.
His purpose is far greater than personal fulfillment, peace of mind or even happiness.
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace (2 Tim. 1:9a).
Your life fits into a plan far greater than you could ever comprehend, a plan for eternity.
We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10).
Scripture tells us don’t look left or right, look straight ahead—focus on Jesus. Don’t let it become routine or get so caught up in the busyness of life that you lose the passion to be like Jesus.
His purpose for you is simply to love him, serve him and be more like him so you reflect him to everyone you meet.
We are his workmanship, his messengers.
So, let’s get to it. | C |
You might feel as though you’re wandering, unfulfilled, but you’re not lost.Commissioner Douglas Riley is Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army Western Territory.
We recently asked our audience: HOW DID YOU FIND YOUR PLACE IN THE SALVATION ARMY?
WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU BELONG?
These are only a few of the responses:
“I came needing some help with our utility bill...After getting help from them, they helped our son, who was 2 then, have a good Christmas because we were not going to be able to give him any Christmas gifts due to hardship. The Salvation Army made it possible for a Christmas we would never forget. They invited me to church and Bible study and it has been our church since.” RAGHELSANTIAGO
“It was where I was saved, and where I now serve and worship.” —ERINKAUFFMAN
“My mom brought me to church, to VBS and Home League at first. Everyone welcomed me and accepted me as I was; it didn’t matter how different I was, no one was too pushy to make me join. When I was ready, I came along.”—MICHELEGROSSKRUEGER
“I was referred to the Denver Harbor Light program by my probation officer…The Salvation Army welcomed me with open arms and made me feel loved and safe. Then, while I was there, I found Jesus Christ and his love for me. I learned about the mission of the Army and want that mission for my life.”RICHARD BARNES
“After being the abused child of drug addicts and a homeless mother myself, I am in a unique situation to support the families and help children start healing from the trauma…God had a plan for me because I never planned for a life of service, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”STEVI HATCHER
“I volunteered to serve dinner on Thanksgiving in 1995.”
“I was once in the ARC (Adult Rehabilitation Center) and then became homeless and then entered the William Booth Center, where I got hired as a shelter monitor and this year I will be celebrating six years working for The Salvation Army.”
“I found The Salvation Army through my substance abuse program. The Salvation Army will forever be home to me because it saved my life.”—JODY MAY
“It is a place that I know I can invite others into and they’ll be taken care of.” —KIARACOLGAN
“Growing up, my grandma would give me a dollar to put in the red bucket during the holidays…Working at The Salvation Army has connected me to more amazing people than I ever could have imagined.”—DANIEL OLIVEIRA —DESIREE VAESAU
“I feel welcome at The Salvation Army knowing that even though I made many mistakes in my past, I was forgiven, accepted and given another chance. Being accepted into a case manager position and being able to take this job has changed my entire life. I am able to give others the chance that was given to me in recovery and help others make better choices in life.”
“At my first day at a Salvation Army corps, I was hugged by five people in the corps and they did not care what I was wearing, what I looked like, they just loved on me…I felt like I was home on that very first Sunday. As a corps officer I try to follow that example, making people people feel welcomed and loved no matter what.”—RACHELJOHNSON
“It really is all about family for me. It is about being accepted for who you are and not because of what you can offer.”—CHARLES FOWLER
“It was Christmas of 1986 when The Salvation Army came into my life. I was a dependent of a military person, and we were struggling to get by. The Salvation Army provided my home with food and toys, a Christmas tree. I had never had such an experience in my lifetime.”–BILLIE LAWSON
“I broke down while traveling and a Salvation Army site let me sleep in the parking lot and fed me. Now, years later, I found a job in Housing Now. I owe a lot to The Salvation Army. I’m very grateful.”
“I was a volunteer counselor at Community Service Camp at age 17. The Salvation Army has provided me with friends, meaning and value, purpose and direction, redemption and forgiveness.”–MARTHA SHEPPARD
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? SEE PAGE 13.
AFTER A LIFE OF UNBELIEVING, ANDREW FLOCKHART FOUND GOD IN AN UNEXPECTED PLACE.
Ifound God at the Dallas Love Field Airport on a business trip.
The trip had been particularly stressful. As I sat at the gate waiting for my flight home, my mind was broiling with thoughts, reliving the day and trying to work through the challenges I faced. I found myself sitting with my eyes closed. I couldn’t bring peace to my thoughts.
In an effort to stop overthinking, I picked up my Bible. I was studying Christianity and reading the Bible from the beginning to support my girlfriend, the love of my life, and future wife, Sheryl, in her beliefs. Compromise is an important part of any relationship, and I saw this as a good place to meet halfway.
Still, I struggled with the subject matter. But this time, I noticed something different. As I read, my head became quiet, and I felt happier. I sat, staring at the same page, trying to process this. Why should reading a book I didn’t believe make me feel happy?
As an atheist, I had no rational answer.
I grew up in a non-religious household. This never seemed odd to me. I never felt that anything was missing. I was blessed with a loving family, and while my sister and I didn’t always get everything we wanted, we never failed to have what we needed.
After visiting a church with my mom as a teen, I concluded: “Religion is weird!” I don’t recall what I expected to find, but I know I wasn’t expecting it to feel so stiff and ritualistic. After a few weeks, I concluded that I wasn’t really missing out by not going to church. At an age where you start discovering who you are as an individual, I had firmly labeled myself “agnostic.”
As I grew older, I began to notice differences between my religious and non-religious friends. My non-religious
peers were more accepting of those who were different. I remember my beliefs began to change after one particular conversation with a close friend. He was outspoken about his faith, and we found ourselves in a theological debate. I expressed my concerns and reservations, and he asked, “Well, what is it that you believe?” My honest answer was, “I’m not really sure.”
This answer was met with a scoff of disbelief, and the conversation quickly ended. I could see his judgment. I was a fool who wasn’t worth his time. That conversation marked not only the end of our friendship but the end of my agnosticism too. From then on, I would label myself an “atheist.”
At the airport that day, a memory popped into my head. In my youth, I once attended a lecture by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. At the end of the lecture, someone asked him: “What do you think it would be like to meet an alien?”
His answer was interesting. He said we tend to imagine such an event as a meeting of equals. They would teach us some things and, in turn, learn from us—an exchange of ideas and cultures. He asked us to consider that the difference between a man’s and a chimp’s brain is relatively minor, but what are the effects of that difference? From that difference stem advanced societies, skyscrapers, highways, art, music and the space program.
We can teach gorillas sign language and communicate with them and probably learn from that experience, but is it a conversation among equals? What, then, would a conversation with an alien be like? They would have to be more intelligent to reach us. Why, then, do we think it would be a conversation on our terms?
As I recalled this answer, I found myself asking, “What
After 37 years of not believing, one day, God was there. It turned my world upside down—or right side up.
would it be like to meet God?” Even as a non-believer, I knew if God existed and created all things, he would not be just a little more intelligent than us but infinitely more so.
In my youthful ignorance, I would hurl challenges at God: “If you’re there, God, make yourself known.” When I didn’t hear an answer, I took that as proof of his nonexistence. But why did I think that communication would happen on my terms? Why wouldn’t it be just like what I found myself experiencing at that airport? A subtle, yet significant change in the way I felt.
my prior knowledge to justify what I thought about anything. Everything needed to be reevaluated against the newfound knowledge of a world created with purpose and intent.
Sheryl, while thrilled with the fact that I found God, was also a little overwhelmed with the prospect of having to be my main source of answers about God and Christianity. She introduced me to her aunt, a retired officer–or pastor–in The Salvation Army. I knew absolutely nothing about the organization at the time, but I couldn’t have asked for a better person to speak with.
As I contemplated this seemingly random memory from my past, the sudden onset of peace and happiness in my mind, I found that I did believe that God had just reached out and touched my thoughts. It turned into a flood of emotions and joy. I called Sheryl to tell her what happened, fighting back tears as I sat in that crowded airport. Tears that, only a moment earlier, I would have struggled to explain.
After 37 years of not believing, one day, God was there. It turned my world upside down—or right side up.
So what was life like as a new believer? In a word, confusing. In the beginning, I struggled with my identity. After so long as a non-believer, who was I as a person of faith? Who did I want to be? All my role models in life had been either people without faith or people I looked up to despite faith. I didn’t know anyone who could model a good Christian man. I didn’t yet know enough about Jesus to look to him in those moments.
My relationship with the Word, on the other hand, grew quickly. I devoured the gospels and Paul’s letters in the New Testament. My struggles with the Bible were mostly gone. Before, I found everything to be confusing, and now I found a wealth of interesting information about the world. Everything was different. I couldn’t rely on
Her aunt was kind and well-spoken. Her love for Jesus was apparent in her words and actions. What struck me most was her way of challenging my thoughts with kindness. I remember her posing this question to me: “If you want a healthy mind, you read books and study. If you want a healthy body, you go to the gym and exercise. What do you do to take care of your soul?”
I couldn’t answer her.
When I was an atheist, I didn’t give a lot of thought to the soul. Looking back on my life, I couldn’t help but think about my battles with depression and my struggle to justify the source and cause. Could it be that I simply hadn’t had anything in my life to uplift my soul?
As my faith grew, Sheryl and I started to struggle with the churches we were attending. While the sermons were good, we didn’t feel any sense of community. Sheryl, who had grown up in The Salvation Army, felt it was time to go back.
I was pleasantly surprised. The people were friendly. The officers made us feel welcome. The church was also diverse—so different from my youthful experiences of non-acceptance of those who were different. We couldn’t have been happier. We had found our home.
Sheryl pushed me to start attending Bible study to help with my endless questions. I’ll never forget my first time. In my mind, I imag-
When you live the majority of your life only then to have him, who upholds the world by his by the breath of his mouth, and into his how could
ined others would look at me and know I was new to faith. I feared they would label me a phony and tell me I didn’t belong. I knew these fears were irrational, but that didn’t stop them from running through my mind. When I walked into the room, I found I was the first to arrive outside of the officer leading the session. To this day, I don’t think he knows what an impact his simple kindness and small talk had in easing my mind.
During that first session, I don’t think I said a word. Instead, I listened and absorbed. I saw and heard people who were able to
that we didn’t know anyone yet. The answer seemed so simple—they needed to know us! For that to happen relatively quickly, we would need to start getting involved at church.
The following week we sought out opportunities to start volunteering. We started slowly, but those experiences were so profound and moving that we soon sought out every opportunity we could find. While I initially volunteered to gain a relationship with those in the church, a relationship that I hoped would help hold me accountable to my newfound faith, I gained so much more. I gained new friends, an
speak from the heart so passionately and eloquently in a way I could not. It was an incredibly moving and eye-opening experience.
It would take me a while to learn to be careful how I compared myself to others—that everyone has their own, personal faith journey to walk. But that day, I realized that I was a child in this new world and had a lot to learn.
Looking back at how God worked in my life during those early days, I recall being significantly moved by the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13). My previous exposure to Christianity and the Bible was like the seed scattered upon the path, snatched away by the birds before any understanding of the truth could be discerned.
Scripture had now found fresh soil in my life. But this parable left a solid warning for me—don’t let this experience become the shallow rocky soil where understanding and belief are scorched and fall away when trials come. Don’t let this newfound fire for God be a flash in the pan. His message was clear—I needed to get my roots in deep.
But how do you dig your roots deep as a new Christian? I knew I needed someone who would hold me accountable. Someone who would notice if I suddenly didn’t show up to church. The only problem was that Sheryl and I were so new to the corps we were attending
extended family and a sense of purpose I had never realized before. Those opportunities allowed me to see God in action.
After nearly a year of taking every volunteer opportunity we could find, we started to get asked questions by our new friends and church family. Were we considering becoming soldiers, giving our allegiance to the doctrines and disciplines of The Salvation Army? Were we considering becoming officers, pastors? At first, for us, the answers were easy: “No” and “NO!”
While our resistance to soldiership was short-lived, each time someone asked us if we were considering officership, I wanted to laugh out loud and ask, “Do you even know me? How on earth could you think we should be officers? We aren’t those kinds of people at all!” But no matter how many times we said no, the question just kept coming. I was left nearly speechless when one day, my father, as a non-believer, would ask me this question.
I began to consider the possibility that this question might represent more than casual conversation. Was it possible that God was leading us toward officership? Was this part of his plan for us? Sheryl and I began to wrestle with the question but internally, we both hoped it was not true. We had spent over a decade building successful careers, and we couldn’t imagine what it would be like to give that all up.
without believing in God, the Creator power, who formed the universe deign to stop and lift you out of ignorance presence; you then say no to him?
The conversations we had about potential officership weighed heavy on our relationship. The strain of the weight of those conversations often frayed our nerves and sometimes left us short with each other. One evening, after another tense conversation with Sheryl, as part of my personal devotions, I read Proverbs 19:21: Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. That moment held a rush of comprehension and allowed me to see clearly for the first time.
God hadn’t put people in our path to plant the seed of officership. God had been directing our steps for years toward this very purpose. And while God had been directing my steps, I had been resisting as his purposes didn’t align with my vision for our future. At that moment, I acknowledged God’s call on my life and realized resistance was not an option.
When you live the majority of your life without believing in God, only to then have him, the Creator, who upholds the world by his power, who formed the universe by the breath of his mouth, deign to stop and lift you out of ignorance and into his presence; how could you then say no to him?
I approached Sheryl, my hands trembling, and said to her, “I think I am getting called to be an officer.” She looked up from what she was doing and said, “That’s great. But I’m not! So stop talking to me about it!” I remember standing in stunned silence. “Well… what now?” I thought. My call was unshaken; I was still clear about what God wanted of me, but I didn’t know what I should do next. I still didn’t understand the meaning of Proverbs 19:21—that God’s purpose would prevail.
A few days later, Sheryl approached me in tears. Like me, she had also spent time in personal devotion when a verse spoke into her life. The author of the devotional posed this question: “What is something in your life that needs to end in order for you to grow closer to God?” This question was linked to John 15:2: He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
Sheryl knew the answer to this question; the branch that needed to be pruned was that of her career. Her complete and utter focus on work was what was preventing her from having a closer, more fruitful relationship with God. She then told me that she had also felt called by God for some time but had been resisting it as she didn’t feel equipped to be an officer.
When we stood together in mutual understanding of what God was asking of us, an amazing thing happened. All the tension that had pervaded our relationship over the previous months immediately disappeared. We felt a profound sense of peace and relief. It was an amazing sense of affirmation.
However, after the excitement wore off, I began to worry. Is it possible Sheryl only said yes because she thought that would make me happy? Is she only doing this for me? Without even knowing I was having these doubts, Sheryl squashed them in dramatic fashion the following morning when she gave two weeks notice to her employer.
Still, between the time we applied and our arrival at The Salvation Army College for Officer Training at Crestmont, there were many times when it felt like we were making massive sacrifices. However, shortly after arriving at the training college, we realized the word “sacrifice” doesn’t fit. In sacrifice, you give up what is valued for something more important. We did value our careers and possessions, but once we surrendered them to God, we realized how valueless they were compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and stepping into his plan for our lives.
I thank God for continuing to pursue me in the face of my ignorance and skepticism. I’m grateful for his love and the gift of faith he saw fit to bestow on me. I’m thankful to him for giving me a wonderful partner who teaches me more about love every day. I’m thankful to him for bringing me to a wonderful church family I’m honored to be a part of.
I pray I didn’t hurt anyone in my ignorance or cause anyone to stumble in their faith. I would ask the forgiveness of those I judged and whom I met with unkind words. I pray God gives me the strength and the opportunity to help others who are struggling to find their way to him. | C |
I pray God gives me the strength and the opportunity to help others who are struggling to find their way to him.
W ho are we?
The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church, founded in London in 1865. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.
With the generous support of the public, The Salvation Army serves nearly 24 million Americans in need each year. It is the largest non-governmental direct provider of social services in the country, made up of more than 1.4 million volunteers, 435,000 officers and church members, 47,000 advisory organization members, and almost 50,000 employees.
It’s biblical: We love because God first loved us.
THE SALVATION ARMY’S SERVICE INCLUDES :
• Curing hunger
• Fighting human trafficking
• Teaching kids
• Combating addiction
• Brightening the holidays
H ow can you help?
• Overcoming poverty
• Stopping domestic abuse
• Empowering the arts
• Helping disaster survivors
• Assisting the unemployed
• Providing shelter
• Equipping families
• Sharing God’s love
• Loving the elderly
• Serving veterans
W hat do we do?
It’s because of people like you The Salvation Army can serve nearly 24 million Americans in need each year.
You can help The Salvation Army show love all year in your community.
However you give, you’re making a difference. And there is a you-sized need for goodness in the world.
Where can you help? Take our quiz to find your cause and learn how you can join in today: caringmagazine.org/quiz
The Salvation Army serves in more than 130 countries around the world and in every U.S. zip code, working to meet human needs in every community—exactly as that community needs. Every program is rooted in a passion to serve God by serving the hurting, the helpless and the hopeless. In the Western Territory, The Salvation Army serves the 13 Western states in addition to Guam and Micronesia. With a geographic area that large, the scope of service often takes unique forms. Here are 11 ways The Salvation Army tailors its service to meet the distinct needs of people in the West.
Located on The Salvation Army Booth Campus in Boise, Idaho, Cardinal Academy is a cost-free charter school for pregnant and parenting young people—women and men—ages 14 to 21. The Salvation Army Booth Program for Young Parents partners with the school, providing wrap-around services. Rebecca Arnold was on track to complete high school when life took an unexpected turn, and she became pregnant. After leaving school and later pursuing her GED, she heard about the program from a friend who found it on Facebook and was able to earn her degree. “Just because you have a baby, your story is not over,” she said. “It just means you have to work a little harder, which is OK…The Salvation Army is there for them. There’s always help. There’s always hope.”
In the culinary arts program at Hope Harbor in Lodi, California, Chef Barry Crall leads students from local recovery and rehabilitation programs through 16 weeks of intensive kitchen skill development with a goal to launch careers in the local hospitality industry. Since the program’s launch in 2007, hundreds of students have graduated and gone on to work in the culinary field. This success brings Lodi Corps Officer Major Mark Thielenhaus immense joy. “When I walk into a restaurant and someone comes out of the kitchen and says, ‘This is where I’m working now. I’m excited to serve you lunch,’ it reminds me that the program helps people change for the long-term,” Thielenhaus said. “Workforce development must be a part of rehabilitation.”
For more than 50 years, The Salvation Army has partnered with the Alaska National Guard to collect and pack gifts for Operation Santa Claus (Op Santa), which aims to deliver the joy of
Christmas to remote villages throughout Alaska. In 2022, 585 kids across three villages received gifts delivered in backpacks. “When they saw the backpacks, they were super excited to get their toys and they went and opened them up right away,” said Captain Kevin Pope, Alaska Divisional Business Secretary.
As director of The Salvation Army Red Shield Center boxing program in Modesto, California, Juan Barrera instructs boys and girls, and adults, too, in the basics: the boxer’s stance, and the jab, cross, hook and uppercut punches. He also listens to and mentors the participants. “The kids see the ring and they want to get in there,” Barrera said. “Not all the kids have to compete. I think our role here as staff members is to build champions, but not champions just in the ring—champions in life.” Over the years, the program has produced boxing champions. In 2017, then 9-year-old Andre Flores became the first member of the boxing club to claim a national title. And after two years of no wins, pro boxer Rodney Hernandez came to the Red Shield Center, and found success.
ticipants, and has largely grown through word of mouth. “I am thankful because I don’t go out in the community and look for them,” Refilong said. “They’re coming with their friends, or they call and say, ‘Is it OK if I come?’” The answer is always “yes.” Refilong tells them, “That’s why we’re here. We’re here to help each other. Just come as you are.”
For many, camp is their first time truly experiencing the great outdoors. It’s also often where they meet and come to know the love of Jesus. In 2022, The Salvation Army held its inaugural adaptive camp for young adults at High Peak Camp in Estes Park, Colorado. The pilot camp welcomed 12 young adults with disabilities, adding to some 1,000 children who attended across 10 weeks of summer camp there, The Salvation Army’s only camp surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. “We’re taking this mentality of: Why say no? Somebody shows up and they’re not the same as us. And why do we say no? We need to be able to find spaces and ways to say, yes, we can make this happen,” said Assistant Camp Director Mitchell McWilliams.
When Micronesians migrate to Hawaii through the Compact of Free Association, which allows admissible citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) or Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) to live, study and work in the U.S., the transition can be jarring. Ways of life in Hawaii differ from places like Chuuk, and the language barrier adds another layer for those working to make a way forward. That’s where The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Hawaii’s Micronesian Assimilation to
Islands (MAHI) program comes in.
Led by Kroc Ambassador for MAHI Mesina Refilong, the program aims to provide the resources and guidance needed to help those coming from Micronesia adjust to life in the U.S. The MAHI program began with a few par-
During Street Level outreach days in King County, Washington, team members work to engage those living in vehicles by meeting immediate needs through items like snacks and hygiene kits and identifying next steps. Sometimes it’s something like getting a car key replaced that would allow someone to work again, other times it’s getting an ID or finding the right landlord who would work with someone with an eviction in their past. They’ve found that while resources exist, it’s often the process of obtaining them that’s filled with barriers. “That’s the secret sauce of Street Level: We’re going to people who are never going to find us…And then we walk with them on that journey until they’re successfully housed,” said Northwest Divisional Commander Lt. Colonel Cindy Foley.
In the Pico Union community, children come to The Salvation Army Los Angeles Red Shield Community Center from diverse backgrounds and heritages. One thing that unites them? Mariachi. “Mariachi is tapping into a community of Hispanic communities, for them to feel connected,” said Los Angeles Central Corps Officer Lt. Angel Amezquita. “That’s The Salvation Army really trying to be intentional in reaching out to them.” In the “Rayos Del Sol” program, kids can choose between a variety of instruments from violin to guitar to trumpet. There are even options for traditional Mexican instruments, like the vihuela and guitarrón. On top of learning how to play an instrument and joining an ensemble, Amezquita said the classes also focus on music theory and singing lessons.
From intake to aftercare, SEEDS of Hope clients coming from human trafficking situations receive trauma-informed care focused on safety and building trust. Since coming on board, Human Trafficking Coordinator Jennifer McQuaid said she’s also helped to increase mental health services by requiring each client to seek an initial therapy assessment. “We had a handful of clients with mental health issues and they weren’t able to achieve their goals until the mental health and emotional health needs were met first,” she said. Out of 10 nominees, The International Anti-Slavery Commission voted the program as best in Survivor Care, recognizing its efforts to provide shelter, re-homing services, repatriation and other means of assistance in anti-human trafficking services in Las Vegas.
Every Salvation Army officer around the world is required to have continuing education in their first five years of service.
Previously, the West’s lieutenants would take classes biannually, in seminars. Now, they can learn from an array of courses, both asynchronous independent student learning and synchronous online classes, with the instructor and students meeting virtually in subjects including Finance and Budget—Fiscal Responsibility; Conflict Management and Interpersonal Relationships; Property Maintenance and Stewardship; Human Resources Management; Development and Fundraising Strategies; Public Relations, Communications and Social Media; and Missional Outreach, among others. “Being a Salvation Army officer isn’t just about church on Sunday,” said Major Stacy Cross, Director of Education for the College for Officer Training (CFOT) at Crestmont in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
With the rise of thrift influencers on social media, Nicole Wessendorf, Public Relations and Community Engagement Manager of The Salvation Army of Southern Nevada, said she wanted to find a creative way to get people involved in the thrift store’s mission. “I know these influencers shop at Salvation Army stores, but they may not realize what that actually benefits,” she said. Proceeds from Salvation Army thrift stores fund The Salvation Army’s cost-free, six-month Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) programs to help those struggling with drug and alcohol use. To help raise awareness of the thrift stores’ mission, Wessendorf said she invited local influencers to help pull 1,000 items to be tagged as free in the five days leading up to National Thrift Shop Day in 2022. After celebrations ended, Thrifters Anonymous duo Shana Dahan and Edwina Registre approached Wessendorf with the idea to curate an expertly thrifted clothing rack, so instead of scouring through every item in the store, shoppers can head straight for their hand-picked selections. | C |
Nestled in Malibu Canyon northwest of Los Angeles, The Salvation Army’s Lawrence M. Daley Camp and Conference Center with Camp Daley, Camp Gilmore and Wilderness welcomes some 2,000 campers during an average summer. For Brittanye Joseph, the camp is “literally my favorite place on earth.”
Joseph, a self-proclaimed Gilmore kid, said going away to camp at age 7 marked her first time away from family. She remembers the anxiety she felt initially and said it sometimes resulted in her acting out. In time, she found she loved camp, and the experiences and mentors she had there. She kept coming back.
Joseph, now 18, is someone Camp Director Marty Brown wants on the team—last summer she was one of the staffers directly responsible for creating Jesus Theater, one of what Brown considers to be camp’s most powerful evangelistic
programs. “Brittanye is full of life,” Brown said. “She is outgoing and eager to get involved. To watch Brittanye go from a somewhat difficult camper to a must-hire staff member has been a pleasure to watch and speaks to her growth and how hard she has worked.”
That growth is a large part of the camp experience, said Divisional Camp Program Manager David Schwarm, a mentor of Joseph’s. “Camp provides a safe space for young people to get away from the craziness of their daily lives and to learn there is a God who loves them no matter what…by being surrounded by staff that love them and God’s creation that they may have never experienced,” Schwarm said.
Joseph has her sights set on college out of state, applying for schools in Arizona, Texas and Virginia, but this summer, she’ll be at camp—her first as a cabin leader. Here, Joseph shares more about the impact of camp.
What do you remember about your first time at camp?
The first time was when I was 7 years old. I think that was 2012. I was very nervous. I was really scared. The morning I got to the corps, I was really excited because I was like, ‘OK, this is my first time really being away from family and everything.’ But when we got on the bus and started getting closer, I started getting really nervous. Back then, when I was nervous, I didn’t know how to control my anxiousness. So I would tend to act up. I just remember being really hyper for the whole time, just jumping around and talking to everybody.
So you kept going every summer after that first one?
Yes, I would go every summer. When I was 7 and 8, I would go maybe two or three times, like three to four weeks. And then, once I got older, I started going every single week. I used to hunt for corps going to camp. I live in LA, and so sometimes I would go to Inglewood and then I end up all the way in Whittier just to go to camp. I would try to find corps that would take me to camp every week.
What is something you love about camp?
I liked how it became so familiar to me. I call it my zen zone because when I go to camp, I never really think of everything that goes on at home and all the stress and all the problems and everything that I have to deal with…At camp, my main focus is camp. That’s the only thing I can think of, is what I have to do at camp, and it’s not too much. It’s never stressful; it’s always a peace. It’s always been a safe space for me, a second home. It’s really a place where you can just figure out so much. The atmosphere, it just helps you. When you’re around everybody who believes in God or trying to find God, it’s just something where you can all relate to the same thing. So it just helps you build a community, especially as a staff member. You guys are all there for two months, almost three months, and you are just all working toward the
same goal. And even when it gets challenging or a little bit rough, you’ve still got each other, like a community, like a family.
When did you decide to come on staff?
I’ve always wanted to work at camp, even when I was younger. It was kind of difficult because of my behavior. I felt like I wasn’t ever going to get the chance to be on staff because I know first impressions are really important, and once I make my mark, people start to think of you as only that one particular thing. I didn’t ever think I was really going to get to the point where I wanted to be. And I always wanted to work at camp because I’ve always seen people who worked there who helped me make a difference in my life. I wanted to do the same thing for kids that I could help. When I started doing weekend work at camp, they started to notice what kind of worker I am and what I can do to help, and then that’s when I applied and I got the job.
Who were those people who made a difference?
I think my favorite person at camp would have to be Dave. He plays a significant role in my life. I genuinely look at him as a role model, and I consider him family in a way because he’s been there. He’s seen my journey and he knows who I am. And he knows my character and I really appreciate everything he says to me or everything he does for me, because I don’t know what I would do without him. Honestly. Dave is a big figure for a lot of people I know that work at camp. He’s been there for them.
Does having been a camper help you now as a staffer?
Yes, it helps me sympathize and empathize toward them a little bit more—especially when we have campers who have a harder time behaving at camp because I know what it’s like to not be the best camper with the best behavior. I never see any of the kids there as bad because
I feel none of the kids are bad. They just have things that they need to work on and improve on just like I did. I wouldn’t call myself bad either. I just feel like I just had to work on some things. So it helps you to see them in a different light, I guess. And I can empathize with them and find ways to engage with them better, because I know what it’s like to be that camper who had a hard time engaging.
How has going to camp impacted you?
It helped me realize who I am as a person. Every day, I still learn more about myself, and I feel like a lot of times I learned a lot more about myself at camp. When I first started working at camp, that was my first time really being independent on my own in a way. And I got to really see how being by myself is. I was with everybody, but I was away from my grandparents, who take care of me. I really wasn’t underneath their care. I was on my own, in a way. And it helped me realize who I am. Camp also helped me realize that I can do more than I think I can. | C |
The cabins at Gilmore—I feel like I’m actually in the wilderness.
Any of the repeat-after-me songs. I feel like it gets the kids more engaged.
I started going [to camp] every single week. I used to hunt for corps going to camp. I live in LA, and so sometimes I would go to Inglewood and then I end up all the way in Whittier just to go to camp. I would try to find corps that would take me to camp every week.
The Salvation Army Stillman Sawyer Family Services Center in Harbor City, California, distributes some 400 monthly grocery orders to individuals and families in need. And in the 11 years Center Director Ernesto Madrid has worked on the frontlines here, he’s learned that sometimes needs are best met outside “business hours,” especially when it’s a first-time request for help.
“A lot of people are eating their pride just to show up here,” Madrid said. “Some even ask us, ‘Can I make a special arrangement? Can I come at six in the evening—you know, when nobody’s there? Can I be there at seven in the morning?’”
He is willing to accommodate their requests. “I do it because this gives me a chance to hear their stories,” he said. “And that’s everything. That’s how I learn how to help them further.”
Madrid doesn’t just hand out food and send people on their way. He invites them to sit down
The Salvation Army provided more than 171 million meals to individuals and families in need last year—always with a goal to not only help but connect
These are a few of their stories.
RITA DABECHIE EMIGRATED from Nigeria with her three children in 2018 and settled in Southern California. She said they came to the U.S. in search of “greener pastures.”
“I want my children to have a better education,” she said. “I want them to grow up in a more civilized, more developed country than where I came from.”
Dabechie is working on her own education, too, at Southwest Community College in Los Angeles. While she was getting on her feet, she heard that she could get help at the Stillman Sawyer Family Services Center in Harbor City, California.
“This Salvation Army, they’ve been more of a blessing to people,” she said as she loaded her car with food after also receiving new school backpacks for her kids. “Not only to people that live here, but even immigrants, people that came in that don’t know their left from right when they come here. They don’t discriminate. They give things to people.”
FOR ADAM MCLAREN and Danielle (Dani) McLaren, times were tough. Following a disabling work accident in 2020, Adam McLaren searched for a new career after 20 years in the flooring business. By 2022, he was in school full time, studying accounting. In February 2022, the couple welcomed baby Jazlynn, who joined 12-year-old brother, Keith, and 9-year-old sister, Mia.
During this time, Dani McLaren, a full-time mom, heard from an acquaintance, Heather Kennedy, who had started working at The Salvation Army Gresham (Oregon) Corps.
“Heather said, ‘I know you guys are struggling. We have this food pantry here.’ And I took her up on that,” Dani McLaren said.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 25The Salvation Army Stillman Sawyer Family Services Center Director Ernesto Madrid |PHOTO BY JOHN DOCTER
and asks about their life, digging deeper to get beyond the immediate physical need.
And he’s not alone. At The Salvation Army, help might begin with food, but it doesn’t end there. When someone feels safe enough to tell their story, they reveal their humanity—the face behind the food box. From these kinds of connections, The Salvation Army can offer more hope and practical support.
Hunger, though, is often what compels people to first seek help. Nationwide, more than 33 million people, including 5 million children, are food insecure, according to the USDA. Of those people, some 13.5 million don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
The Salvation Army is uniquely positioned with a presence in nearly every community across the country to combat hunger and food insecurity wherever it persists. Last year, the organization provided more than 171 million meals through food pantries, meal programs, disaster mobilizations and even community gardens to individuals and families in need.
Each food box or grocery order represents a family or an individual in need—a truth sometimes lost amid such staggering statistics. And while hunger is often associated with homelessness, many experience it: immigrants, single parents, seniors and families affected by job loss, health issues or inflation. At-home food costs alone increased more than 10 percent in the last year, according to the Consumer Price Index.
So just because someone is housed doesn’t mean they are fed.
“Shockwaves from the pandemic, international market forces and the on-going housing crisis continue to reverberate, manifesting in the form of misfortunes such as the recent waves of layoffs, spikes
in inflation and rising rental costs,” said Christopher Doughty, Western Territorial Social Services Research Specialist and Territorial Pathway of Hope Director. “Consequently, we are seeing more people coming to us for help who have never needed to access social welfare before—people having to choose between whether to pay the rent or buy groceries, who are just short of making ends meet. Whether it’s providing food directly or covering another expense like a utility bill, we help plug in the gaps in their budget to ensure all of their needs continue to be met in an increasingly expensive environment.”
For Madrid, it all comes down to relationships.
“Hunger—it goes beyond the physical hunger. A lot of people are spiritually hungry…We’re not just giving out food, you know. It’s really the engagement—the trust you slowly build,” he said.
He shared the story of one unhoused, 70-year-old man who visits the Stillman Sawyer Center. Big and strong, the man has a “tough guy” image and a secret. He writes poetry.
“He comes here and shares some of his poetry with me,” Madrid said. “We always remind ourselves that we must be ready to listen…If all we did was give out food, we wouldn’t really be doing our job. There wouldn’t be progress in people’s lives. Helping someone implement change requires connecting with them and listening to their story, building a relationship grounded in trust.
“If we’re actually helping them, the connection becomes a partnership and that partnership uplifts them from their situation.” | C |
The Salvation Army provided more than 171 million meals to Americans in need last year. See more at caringmagazine.org/fight-hunger.
This gives me a chance to hear their stories. And that’s everything. That’s how I learn how to help them further.
—ERNESTO MADRID, STILLMAN SAWYER FAMILY SERVICES CENTER DIRECTOR
Kennedy didn’t stop there. She told McLaren about the corps’ family night, something McLaren had already been searching for so her middle-school aged son could get connected somewhere.
Today, the McLarens are regulars at the Gresham Corps’ Wednesday family night, where McLaren hangs out with the baby and attends Bible study while the two older kids participate in various activities. During the summer, both kids attend Camp Kuratli at Trestle Glen, a Salvation Army camp in Boring, Oregon.
Her husband loves Wednesday nights, too. “It gives him a chance to do his homework,” McLaren said. He just has one year of school remaining, and recently received straight A’s. McLaren said the experience has changed her outlook on receiving assistance, which she developed experiencing homelessness as a child.
“When I’d think of getting help from the church, it’s people not really wanting you there and being proud of themselves for helping but not actually wanting to help you,” she said. “Then, going to The Salvation Army, I was constantly surprised that they’re just looking for ways to help. And they didn’t ask me for anything; they didn’t expect me to do anything for them. They were really kind. And that was really amazing.”
TYLER TRIPLETT WAS experiencing homelessness in Newport, Oregon. He’d been unhoused for several years, he said, after losing direction and hope following a divorce. He first came to The Salvation Army Newport Corps to pick up food boxes.
“That was a huge help,” he said.
What he didn’t expect was the connection he developed with Corps Officer Major Jennifer Erickson-King, who made an effort to get to know him when he stopped by for food. “She was very personable,” he said. “We ended up talking, visiting a bit….She had a different take on things. You know when you go talk to somebody, just to get a different perspective?”
A few months ago he was feeling down after applying for several jobs and getting nowhere.
“I was looking for somebody to talk to,” he said, and he went to The Salvation Army.
Major Raymond Erickson-King asked him if he needed anything and offered him a sandwich. Al-
though Triplett hadn’t interacted much with Raymond Erikson-King before, he shared his frustration.
“He suggested I go to the Dollar Tree—said they were hiring,” Triplett said. “I had never worked in retail. And it wasn’t something that I ever thought I would do. But then like a half an hour later, I found myself in front of Dollar Tree. I went in and applied and two days later got the job.”
After working two months as a part-time stocker, he got a promotion—he’s now assistant manager. And he’s confident he’ll be a store manager soon.
“I’ve got a solid place to stay now, two blocks away from work which is perfect,” Triplett said. “I don’t know. It just all seemed to fit, right about when I needed it.”
When Triplett stopped by the Newport Corps to announce the news, Jennifer Erickson-King gave God the credit.
“We shared with him that this was all God’s amazing plans for him and for all his children, and that we always thank God for his many blessings upon our lives,” Erickson-King said.
For Triplett, it wasn’t the food that made the biggest difference. “What means the most to me about The Salvation Army is the genuine compassion,” he said, “the caring and the friendship that’s developed down there.”
MARTIN AND SUN PARTIDA needed help after Sun Partida became disabled and could no longer work, leaving the household with just one income in Anacortes, Washington. While they qualified for food stamps, what they received was not enough to handle rising costs. Sun Partida knew people were receiving help at The Salvation Army and decided to give the client-choice food pantry a try.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” she said. “I didn’t want to be seen as a charity case. But they don’t—they don’t treat us like that. They are very open and welcoming, and helpful.”
Martin Partida said they receive a lot in one visit to the food pantry, enough for three nights worth of meals. “And that sets us up for the week,” he said. As a U.S. Army-trained dietician and chef, he makes good use of the food.
“I know there’s religious services also, and nobody has tried to pressure us to come,” he said. “That’s pretty refreshing. No pressure at all here.” | C |
“Going to The Salvation Army, I was constantly surprised that they’re just looking for ways to help. And they didn’t ask me for anything; they didn’t expect me to do anything for them. They were really kind. And that was really amazing.”
—Danielle (Dani) McLarenBY LAUREL MILLER
As one half of a long-haul truck driving duo, Christine Kennerknecht logs an average of 200,000 miles a year on the road. She drives 10-hour day shifts and come nightfall, her longtime partner and fiancée Kerry Padberg wakes up from the bunk behind the cab and takes the wheel.
The couple have worked for their current trucking company for three years, and Kennerknecht is still enthralled with the job. “It’s hard work, but I’m so fortunate,” she said. “I get to see the country, and so many beautiful places.”
It’s difficult to believe that just four years ago Kennerknecht and Padberg were experiencing homelessness and abusing methamphetamine. The couple had been living with an ailing friend in Las Vegas when Kennerknecht was laid off and she and Padberg ended up on the street.
Growing up in Southern California, Kennerknecht said she chronically struggled with feelings of emptiness, and that her later substance abuse was an attempt to fill a void. She notes that her chaotic life also affected her now-grown
daughter, who lives in Pahrump, Nevada. “Her life wasn’t the best because my life wasn’t,” she said.
At the time she became homeless, Kennerknecht was semi-estranged from her daughter. Still, her daughter told her she’d offer support if Kennerknecht got into recovery.
“She’s in recovery herself, and knew some Salvation Army Captains, which led to my being admitted to the Adult Recovery Center (ARC) in Las Vegas.” Padberg subsequently entered a program at the Las Vegas Rescue Mission.
Kennerknecht ultimately spent 10 months at the ARC.
“Christine was very raw when she came into the facility in March 2018,” said Las Vegas ARC Chaplain Vickie Young. “Watching her transformation was incredible. The rewards of this job are endless and indescribable, when people can move through the world with a light in their eyes, able to feel good about what they’ve done to change their lives for the better.”
For her part, Kennerknecht said that Young and her husband, Chaplain Ray Young—who are both in recovery
themselves—were essential to her recovery, providing individual and group counseling and spiritual guidance. Although she attended church as a child, Kennerknecht said rediscovering God through The Salvation Army has also been part of her journey. She and Padberg have since become soldiers at the Las Vegas Citadel Corps.
It was there that Captains Ty and Heather Baze also became an integral part of the couple’s support network. “They were instrumental in our becoming soldiers and strengthening our relationship with God, and they also taught us that there are people out there that you can count on,” Kennerknecht said.
Heather Baze has seen the change in Kennerknecht. “Christine was always looking for ways to better herself,” she said. “We’re very proud of her; she has her toolbox now of when and how to contact people when she’s struggling.”
After her graduation from the ARC, Kennerknecht was accepted into the vocational program at The Salvation Army Las Vegas Owens Campus. Offered a choice between pursuing studies in culinary arts or obtaining a commercial driver’s license, she chose the latter. “I’d heard there was great need for truck drivers,” she said, adding that at the time, her Class B license was expired. The Youngs loaned her their car so she could take her driver’s test.
“It was such a wonderful moment when I walked out of the DMV with my provisional license,” she said. For her Class C commercial license, Kennerknecht spent two weeks in the classroom, followed by two weeks driving with an instructor, after which she was offered a job. By this time, Padberg was renting an apartment and obtaining his own Class C license.
Just two weeks after being hired, however, Kennerknecht lost her job when she failed a backing test. “The old me would have just said, ‘Forget it, I’m done with this,’ but the ARC gives you the tools to deal with life’s problems and setbacks, even when you’re doing what you need
A Salvation Army soldier is a local citizen in communities throughout the U.S. who gives allegiance to the doctrines and disciplines of The Salvation Army. There are some 450,000 soldiers in the United States.
The Salvation Army’s “handup” employment services programs provide skills and strengths assessments, job-search counseling and support, and several programs that teach new job skills.
to do,” she said. “My sponsor also passed away during this time and it was really hard, but I maintained my sobriety.”
In late 2019, Kennerknecht and Padberg were offered a job with their current company. They earn more money by driving as a team and cover an average of 4,000-5,000 miles a week, driving in 70-hour blocks.
When they’re not working, the couple stays with Kennerknecht’s daughter in Pahrump. “We have a wonderful relationship now and talk two to three times a day,” she said. The couple is saving money to buy their own home—a goal Kennerknecht never believed possible. She notes that she and Padberg still have their respective issues to deal with, but sobriety has provided them with “a foundation upon which to build a new life.”
“This entire process has made me realize I want to give back and help others,” Kennerknecht said, “so I’ve been talking about getting my counseling licenses. Anything is possible.” | C |
The Salvation Army helps more than 150,000 people every year to combat addiction, regain health and stability, build work and social skills, and restore families. See more at caringmagazine.org/fight-addiction.Kerry Padberg and Christine Kennerknecht |COURTESY CHRISTINE KENNERKNECHT
Last year, Tim Mackay celebrated his 61st birthday in his apartment in Aurora, Colorado. For some, it would be a routine happening, but for Mackay, the moment signified more. After having undergone a season of being unhoused, he was home.
While Mackay was still in the process of accumulating furniture and making the finishing touches, he said having a home of his own means a lot—it’s given him some solitude and a sense of security.
“I love it,” he said. “I can’t quit smiling enough. It took a long time, but I’m back to having a permanent address. My own place with my own things in it—don’t have to worry about curfews, nothing.”
Mackay said he was homeless for two years following a series of events that resulted in him and his roommates not receiving an invitation to renew their lease after their apartment complex was sold.
Eventually, he said he ended up in several temporary shelters before finding the Restoration Christian Ministries (RCM) Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) in March 2022. The Salvation Army in Au-
rora runs the RCM SOS site that’s named for the property it’s on. At the time, the space featured all-weather fishing tents as the lodging option.
Later, pallet shelters—tiny homes complete with space to sleep and store belongings along with amenities like heat, air and electricity—replaced the tents, and Mackay got a unit of his own. He said he immediately decorated it with Hot Wheels cars, which he collects.
The RCM SOS site is one of two tiny home communities The Salvation Army operates in Aurora, along with the Peoria Warehouse site in the parking lot of The Salvation Army Emergency/Disaster Services warehouse. Between the pair, The Salvation Army provides services to 96 pallet homes.
More than 580,000 people are experiencing homelessness in America, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ 2022 “State of Homelessness” report.
The Aurora sites are part of a growing number of tiny home communities The Salvation Army has across the Western U.S., and are part of a larger trend among local governments and social service providers to embrace the option as a solution in the growing epidemic of homelessness.
Tiny homes, while not a one-size-fits-all solution, address many of the common barriers associated with more traditional congregate shelter models, like privacy. Instead of sharing a room with a number of other individuals, Mackay said it was refreshing to have a solid door and his own key along with the fact he could come and go as he wanted.
“Life was good for what they provided. I loved it,” he said. “Anybody that is homeless that doesn’t go up there to put yourself on the list. They’re stupid, if they don’t do it.”
The list Mackay referred to is the waitlist for the Aurora sites. Program Manager Austin Foote said about 50 people are waiting for a pallet home to open up. In addition to the privacy and safety the tiny homes afford residents, Foote said a number of other factors have driven the demand, including
access to resources, consistency and lack of affordable housing available.
In the Denver Metro area that includes Aurora and nearby Lakewood, the fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,538 in 2023, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Residents of the tiny homes work with case managers to achieve permanent housing, often beginning with sourcing vital documents that sometimes go missing during times of homelessness, like IDs, social security cards and birth certificates.
This kind of engagement allows staff members to build relationships, Foote said. “When people are consistently here, we can touch base with them, we can have conversations with them,” he said, highlighting the difference of living in a tiny home community versus a traditional shelter, where residents typically exit the space during the day but return to sleep. “They’re engaging with case management. They can get to know our staff, get to know us.”
For Mackay, who lost most of his personal documents with his storage unit when he became homeless, the process took around eight months before he received word the Aurora Housing Authority had awarded him a lifetime housing voucher that covers a majority of his rent. Today, he said he still remains in contact with his case manager from the RCM SOS community, who he said helps him “keep things in line.” He even returns to the community periodically since his new home is a short bus ride away.
In addition to the consistency people need to achieve permanent housing after sleeping on the streets, tiny home communities have other benefits, Foote said.
“It allows for hope to finally come into the picture…this is a possibility because I can actually be safe. I can actually stay warm or stay cool,” Foote said. “In a community like this, you begin to see your neighbors moving forward, they are
The needs of families and individuals experiencing homelessness vary widely, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with common barriers to housing ranging from:
• No rental history
• Poor rental history
• Insufficient savings
• Poor credit history
• Sporadic employment history
• No high school diploma/GED
• Recent or current abuse and/or battering (fleeing domestic violence housing situation)
• Head of household under 18 years old
• Large family (three or more children)
• Criminal background
• No income
• Recent history of substance abuse or actively using drugs or alcohol
• Serious health problems/conditions
• Severe mental illness
• Living on the street
• Unable or unwilling to participate in supportive services
getting housed, and that creates a kind of a culture or a motivation, I think, among the community to be like, ‘Oh, this is possible, we can do this.’”
He’s found with engagement and time spent, individuals typically spend 6-9 months in the community before achieving housing. In the first year of the homes, Foote said about 40 people were housed.
“That can seem small, but that’s actually a pretty extraordinary number, given the length of time it takes,” he said.
Across the U.S., more than 580,000 people are experiencing homelessness, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ 2022 “State of Homelessness” report. Notably, the figure is from the 2020 Point-in-Time Count due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It could happen to anybody,” Mackay said. “It was out of our control…I was donating plasma on a regular basis and using all that money to pay for a hotel room just so I wouldn’t freeze outside.”
Both Mackay and Foote emphasized the misconceptions surrounding people experiencing homelessness—that it’s harmful to assume all are criminals, violent or addicted to substances.
“I think there is a stereotype there that really hurts people experiencing homelessness and creates an invisibility when we need to bring more visibility to it,” Foote said. “I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve made in my life, and if I didn’t have access to resources or a family member or a friend, I would be in a similar situation…There’s a lot to it, and a lot of it comes down to just the lack of support in people’s lives…It’s complicated.”
In California, The Salvation Army is on a mission to double the number of beds it has available to those experiencing homelessness in the next five years through the Way Out Initiative, named after Salvation Army Founder William Booth’s vision for helping those in poverty, contained in “In Darkest England and The Way Out.” Currently, the nonprofit has a little over 9,000 beds in the state, said California State Director for the Way Out Initiative Dr. Vince Beresford.
The effort pools resources across The Salvation Army’s three California divisions—Southern California, Golden State and Del Oro—to address the homelessness crisis, which grew over the pandemic to more than 173,000 people in California alone, according to Cal Matters.
Beresford said he receives consistent calls from city officials throughout the state asking for The Salvation Army’s help, often after the city had gone with a different, smaller service provider who had over-promised and under-delivered.
“We’re really being invited to the table,” Beresford said. “We’re really put in a position of influence, maybe more so than we’ve ever had.”
Through these interactions, Beresford said leaders from The Salvation Army can pull from its deep experience and heritage of serving those experiencing homelessness, like in the case of the Salvation Village in Harbor City, California, The Salvation Army’s first tiny home community in the Western U.S. that opened in June 2021. Salvation Village has served as a case study for other areas considering tiny homes.
“The learning curve that we’ve had here that we’ve been able to apply up and down the state to be able to address and help save cities and counties money as well as us in being able to get things done and built faster and better,” he said. “It’s just been part of the process that’s really helped us move forward as well.”
Tiny homes fit in with The Salvation Army’s range of shelter offerings that provide a continuum of care, from getting people off the streets, into shelter, to self-sufficiency, Beresford said. While the Way Out Initiative uses the metric of beds for progress, the effort is about much more.
“I think when we look back in years from now in our nation’s history, and realize that we’re going to look back and be able to say ‘The Salvation Army was uniquely placed at this time, at this state, for such a time as this,’” Beresford said, quoting the biblical story of Esther, and noting that California has about half of the unsheltered population in the U.S. “We have an exceptional challenge and a mountain of opportunity here. And yet we really can consider ourselves the people that come with a very unique approach.”
As Program Director of the Salvation Village, Stacie Washington has led a number of groups who are interested in replicating the model through the site. She said she sees tiny homes as “a new era” for individuals experiencing homelessness, adding that “economically it’s affordable, and it’s something that I believe that the participants will be able to maintain on their own.”|PHOTO BY JOHN DOCTER
Washington said one group who visited had five acres of land they were considering creating a tiny home village on, and were looking at budgets. She was able to show them what a $1 million project looked like, compared to the Salvation Village’s $5 million, 75-unit village.
“Economically, it’s probably more efficient than waiting years and years for more structure buildings to be available,” she said.
While other tiny home communities The Salvation Army runs exist in California, some utilizing Tuff Sheds, Salvation Village, like the Aurora sites, was constructed with units from Pallet Shelter, an Everett, Washington-based housing solutions company that constructed its 100th village in 2022.
“Our mission is to end unsheltered homelessness, and so we’re doing that through the production of our shelters and building these villages,” said Pallet Communications Manager Lisa Edge. “It’s a serious problem, and we want to offer another solution to something that’s innovative.”
Initially the idea for a pallet home was inspired by the number of people housed in New Orleans’ Superdome following Hurricane Katrina, according to the Pallet website. Pallet’s co-founders thought people who were displaced needed better options.
Edge said the design for pallet homes was informed by its
employees, more than half of whom have lived experience with homelessness, substance use or incarceration—sometimes all three. The result? A range of offerings, including an individual shelter unit that can last 10 years and can be constructed rapidly—in an hour.
That speed, and relatively low price point (before infrastructure elements like electricity, each 64 square foot unit runs $7,500, according to Business Insider) is, in part, why the tiny home has become an attractive solution in addressing homelessness. Each Pallet community has 24/7 case management from a service provider, like The Salvation Army, in addition to access to a bathroom and showers, laundry and meals.
Residents of the tiny homes work with case managers to achieve permanent housing, often beginning with sourcing vital documents that sometimes go missing during times of homelessness, like IDs, social security cards and birth certificates.
In Longview, Washington, the 50-unit HOPE Village pallet home community now inhabits land where an encampment of some 150 people stood for three years in the Highlands, a lower-income neighborhood.
Longview Temple Corps Officer Major Phil Smith said amid outcry from residents and business owners, who voiced concerns at city council meetings, The Salvation Army was approached by the city about operating the tiny home village. He recalled officials saying they believed The
In a community like this, you begin to see your neighbors moving forward, they are getting housed, and that creates a kind of a culture or a motivation, I think, among the community to be like, ‘Oh, this is possible, we can do this.’
– AUSTIN FOOTE, AURORA PROGRAM MANAGER
Salvation Army was “deep and wide enough to take this on.”
It wasn’t all downhill from there, Smith said—as plans came together for the project, residents hadn’t changed their tune. “They were objecting to the cost. They were objecting to the Army. They were objecting to the project period,” he said. “But more than anything, they were just objecting to the fact that the homeless were still there at all.”
With a timeline of under three months from receiving the city’s letter of intent to the village’s opening, Smith said The Salvation Army first pulled together a Mission Impact Team that worked closely with the city. The group, including Site Manager Sandra Schmaltz, flew to LA to visit the Salvation Village, and Schmaltz, who was hired about three weeks before opening day, said they adopted a large amount of policies and procedures from the site.
“Because we had very, very minimal time to get up and running… that visit to LA definitely made the job possible for me,” said Schmaltz, whose previous work was in housing case management—bringing experience in housing navigation, subsidies, the local housing climate and building relationships with landlords.
The $1.4 million village, opened Dec. 19, 2022, seeks to address chronic homelessness—which the National Alliance to End Home-
lessness defines as when people have experienced homelessness for at least a year along with having a condition like mental illness, substance abuse disorder or physical disability.
“Tiny Homes provide an option for shelter for individuals who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not fit into a traditional shelter environment,” said Schmaltz.
Smith and Schmaltz said it can take time for someone who’s experienced chronic homelessness to acclimate to having a tiny home and the case management that comes with it. The target length of stay at HOPE Village? 90 days.
“To find somebody housing, especially somebody who’s coming to us that’s maybe never had housing, or has been homeless for 10 or more years…within 90 days is nearly impossible,” Schmaltz said, noting these individuals often don’t have vital documents like an ID or a source of income or housing subsidy, which take time to procure.
“As long as they are here abiding by the rules that we’ve set forth, and they are participating in their case management activities…then they can be here as long as they need to be… Of course, we want that to be as short as possible, because we want to help as many people as possible.”
Despite the challenges, in the first three months of the village, Schmaltz said five people achieved housing, with others moving out of their units after reconnecting with family or friends they could live with. Smith noted The Salvation Army still has a presence at civic and homeowner meetings, aiming to be accessible to those with questions and concerns—but the same population who was opposed to the village has stopped coming to meetings, something he believes is indicative of a lack of need for them to.
Now, the HOPE Village has received inquiries about best practices and policies from others who are in the process of creating tiny home communities, Smith said. In February, Washington Governor Jay Inslee toured the site ahead of proposing $62 million for 500 additional tiny home units to be created statewide as part of an $800 million spending package toward housing and behavioral health efforts.
“We need all of these things, but this tiny home approach is extremely effective, because it’s fast, it’s private and it’s secure. And those things allow people to get back on their feet,” Inslee told Big Country News Connection. “The advantage of a tiny house is you don’t have to wait five or six years. We want housing in months. And that’s what these do.” | C |
The Salvation Army has group homes, emergency shelters and transitional living centers that provide housing to displaced individuals and families for varying amounts of time. But it’s not just a bed. See more at caringmagazine.org/fight-homelessness.
An in-depth look at how The Salvation Army helps survivors of domestic violence.
To prepare herself for working at The Salvation Army West Women’s and Children’s Shelter (The West) in Portland, Oregon, each day, Domestic Violence (DV) Advocate Carol Hendrix said she puts on her “shelter thinking cap,” a goal-oriented thought process.
“We’re just trying to get to a goal. That’s what helps every day, asking clients ‘what’s your goal today?’” she said. “That’s what guides you and gets you started for the day.”
The West is one of two confidential transitional housing programs The Salvation Army operates in the Western Territory, along with the Hickman House in Seattle, where DV clients can stay housed with their children. Navigating the network of DV services available is “often complex and complicated,” said Justin Moshkowski, Executive Director for Salvation Army shelter services in Multnomah County, Oregon—including The West.
You’re always worried about people…while trying to keep them encouraged.
–LORI MACKOWSKI, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ADVOCATE
“We like to be the shortcut for them to get those services and to connect their needs with what’s available,” he said.
By offering confidential emergency and transitional shelters, The Salvation Army’s clients can sleep safely and work toward independent living while healing emotional scars through mental and spiritual counseling. For many, finding permanent housing away from an abuser is a primary goal.
For others, it’s working through the trauma with a counselor or connecting with legal support to gain child custody or a restraining order. No matter what a client’s goal is, assigned DV advocates like Hendrix are there to help clients understand the system and guidelines in place to acquire resources and services available to help them heal.
The advocates work one-on-one with clients to move through specific, self-directed goals after addressing immediate medical and safety concerns. At The West, Moshkowski said he considers the advocates the “heartbeat of the program” because they provide immediate support to those in distress who call the facility’s 24-hour crisis line.
For Hendrix, answering crisis line calls is like “being on the frontlines of battle,” where advocates have to remain calm and provide an immediate plan of action for the caller.
After performing or receiving a Safety and Stabilization Assessment (SSA), a county-wide nonprofit collaborative that assesses danger levels and needs for shelter, advocates then use a collaborative bed tracker that lists available bed openings within the shelter system
to determine the best option for a client’s specific situation.
Safety planning, support groups, job search assistance, educational classes and child services are also provided in addition to referrals for mental health and addiction counselors and financial vouchers to cover necessities like transportation and rental and utility assistance.
“It can wear on you mentally…you want the best for clients, but then it’s their life…I can only do what I can do as a worker and they can only do what they can as a client to keep themselves going,” Hendrix said.
When working with a client in distress, Hendrix said she will often try to reshape the conversation by saying, “Let’s start again. We’re alive and we’re breathing, right?”
“It’s very upsetting sometimes when you hear people’s stories,” said Lori Mackowski, also a DV advocate at The West. “You’re always worried about people…while trying to keep them encouraged, hoping that everybody can start to move into something more safe and stable.”
Domestic violence affects millions of people in the U.S. each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. Yet, those seeking help still encounter judgment based on harmful stereotypes, making it more difficult to access the tools needed to heal.
“The public always thinks, ‘well, why don’t you just leave?’” Mackowski said. “People think it’s simple, but it’s so complicated…Leav-
To love beyond measure—that’s what I’ve learned.
–CAROL HENDRIX, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ADVOCATE
ing is difficult. There are so many reasons why people don’t just leave.”
A woman in a situation of abuse may not leave because she still loves her abuser, Mackowski said. “She doesn’t leave because she doesn’t want to live on the streets…She doesn’t leave because she doesn’t want to get her children taken away from her.”
Ciara Murphy, Northwest Divisional Director of DV Programs, added that while many people think leaving a relationship ends the violence, that isn’t true in most cases.
“Many people don’t realize when they leave the relationship, that’s when the real violence starts,” Murphy said. “There’s no leaving…Particularly if you share children with that person, you’re constantly coming into contact with them.”
To leave an abusive relationship is “a process where people have to test the waters and see what resources are out there if they need to break up the family,” Murphy said. “For most people, in the interest of keeping their family together, they will try everything before they leave.”
Whether they stay or go, the danger is real. Roughly 1 in 5 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner, according to the CDC. Further, more than half of female-identifying homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by a current or former male-identifying intimate partner.
Clients who experience poverty are also at higher risk for “extreme violence” due to the lack of affordable resources “to get up and go to exit the relationship early,” Murphy added. “It’s shocking, but it’s really commonplace.”
Violence in relationships can also manifest in patterns “used to gain or maintain power and control,” including “any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound someone,” according to the United Nations.
“We see it all here, unfortunately,” Murphy said. “From people who are suffering verbal and emotional abuse to people who’ve experienced recent strangulation to people who’ve been shot.”
She emphasized the need for advocates to be grounded in a thorough understanding of domestic abuse, how it manifests and its impacts on both adults and children. “A lot of what we do is just being relatable and kind to people who are in a bad situation,” Murphy said. “We want to practice a very non-judgmental, open communication style and a trauma-informed approach to everything.”
For one woman, who moved into the West Women’s shelter with her two children in May 2021, that intention is felt. “Being here has really helped me find hope for my future,” she said. “From the first day, I just felt relieved and safe. That’s been the biggest thing, being able to feel safe.”
And even on days when advocates reach their “personal capacity,” Mackowski said there’s always another advocate who can “swoop in” to help. “It’s really great the way everybody supports each other,” she said.
After working as an advocate for more than 20 years, Hendrix said at the end of each day, there’s one thing that continues to resonate with her: “To love beyond measure,” she said. “That’s what I’ve learned.” | C |
The Salvation Army strives to bring hope and healing to people who find themselves in extremely difficult situations. See more at caringmagazine.org/ fight-disaster.
If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 by calling 1-800-799-SAFE, texting “START” to 88788 or visiting thehotline.org.
Every second, three people in the U.S. become a victim of domestic violence. That means each year, more than 10 million Americans experience domestic abuse.
The Salvation Army provides immediate assistance to victims of domestic violence, putting them on the path to independence in shelters designed for women and children escaping domestic abuse.
Salvation Army advocates work one-on-one with clients to move through specific, self-directed goals after addressing immediate medical and safety concerns. They are “the heartbeat” of The Salvation Army’s shelter services, providing immediate help to callers in distress.
Cameron Helms attended his first summer camp last summer at age 29.
Helms—who is deaf, has cognitive delays and cerebral palsy on one side of his body—was one of the campers at The Salvation Army High Peak Camp adaptive camp for young adults in Estes Park, Colorado.
The pilot camp included 12 young adults with disabilities, adding to some 1,000 children across 10 weeks of summer camp there, The Salvation Army’s only camp surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.
“It’s been a journey of many disabilities and many learning opportunities and a way to see the world and even the Church in ways I probably never would’ve if it weren’t for Cameron,” said Major Nancy Helms, Cameron’s mother and
a Salvation Army officer who now serves as the Disabilities Ministries Director in the USA Western Territory.
In her role, Helms aims to provide training on disabilities ministry and opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
“There’s a lot of fear behind disabilities and misunderstanding of the unknown, and we want to bring along resources and elements of training that will help people feel comfortable being a part of the disability community,” Helms said. “We want to figure out ways of providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities to be a part of every facet of The Salvation Army ministry—everything we do.”
One of those facets is camp.
“Cameron has never been invited to anything, and by comparison, Nick has been affirmed over and over and over
The Salvation Army is working to better belonging for everyone, starting at camp.
again his whole life,” Helms said of two of her four children, including Lt. Nicholas Helms, Divisional Youth Secretary in the Intermountain Division, who helped organize the pilot camp. “So this is really exciting—experiencing kingdom life as it was meant to be experienced.”
Held alongside the summer’s teen camp, young adults with disabilities were welcomed as campers and integrated into the programming, giving both groups the chance to interact. For the first time, Cameron slept in a camp cabin and went on the zip line.
“We took this mentality for that week of ‘why say no?’ Somebody shows up and they’re not the same as us, and why do we say no?” said Mitchell McWilliams, Assistant Camp Director of High Peak Camp. “We need to be able to find spaces and ways to say, ‘Yes, we can make this happen.’”
With that in mind, the trails around High Peak Camp were made ADA compliant and staff secured additional gear, such as adaptable harnesses for use on the challenge course.
“What I’ve learned over the years is we may have this fantastic program plan, but maybe they just want to go to arts and crafts for three or four hours, or maybe they just want to sit on the porch and rock and that’s it,” said James Johnson, High Peak Camp Director, of adaptive campers. Johnson came to The Salvation Army in late 2021 with experience running many such adaptive camps. “And we just have to welcome that and know that it’s going to be a little different, but it’s going to be an amazing camp for all involved.”
It’s that adapted mindset Helms says is key.
“That’s probably the hugest thing. We can spend millions of dollars adapting our facilities and making them ADA accessible, but until we remove the barriers in our minds that disable people even more, we’re never going to get around making people feel like they belong,” Helms said. “So I think it’s understanding disability theology—that everybody deserves a place to sit at the table.”
Helms pointed to Luke 14:12-14 with Jesus speaking at a Pharisee’s house:
“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.”
“Jesus taught the Church, the Acts 2 Church, is a place where you come, you sit at the table together, you fellowship. You have everything in common, disabilities, non-disabilities, and you share that together,” she said. “And it’s key for The Salvation Army to understand this. It’s in alignment with our mission statement, ‘to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.’”
“We have so many different services we offer—everybody would have a chance to be included if we were willing to adapt and put our minds, and not just our minds, our hearts—it’s a
• Focus on a person’s abilities, what they can do.
• Use affirming language and watch out for offensive words, like “lame.”
• Ask questions and learn about disabilities and the needs surrounding them.
• Remember not all disabilities look the same— many you can’t even see.
• And most importantly, start with friendship.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO FURTHER BELONGING, ACCORDING TO MAJOR NANCY HELMS :
We can spend millions of dollars adapting our facilities and making them ADA accessible, but until we remove the barriers in our minds that disable people even more, we’re never going to get around making people feel like they belong.”
—MAJOR NANCY HELMS
change of heart, too—to why we do what we do,” she said. “The most practical way is through friendship. I think that’s what Church is. It’s relationships with one another.”
Helms noted Cameron has a couple of friends who will take him out to ice cream or coffee or play basketball with him.
“We don’t think of that as Church, but for Cameron that’s Church—the people of God coming alongside him and sharing life with him in community,” she said. “And it’s not hard. There’s no rocket science to it. There’s no curriculum for it. It’s just being with people and loving people. And I think that goes beyond disabilities. That’s for all of us. It’s being in community and relationship.”
That’s why she’s hoping to pull up a seat—at the campfire, for relationship building; in the workforce, for job training and meaningful work; in the band, for a powerful outlet and growth opportunity; at the gym, for challenger leagues and physical activity; at the banquet table, for worship through participation and acceptance; and at “still waters,” for respite and care for parents and caretakers of individuals with disabilities.
In 2023, both High Peak Camp and Camp Arnold in Eatonville, Washington, are hosting a week of adaptive camp. Additionally, Redwood Glen Camp
in Santa Cruz County, California, is hiring three employees with diverse needs, and the Western Territory hosted its first adaptive retreat on the Crestmont Campus in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.
“By adapting our methods and our attitudes, we become a more inclusive sanctuary of belonging,” Helms said.
Her practical advice? Focus on a person’s abilities, what they can do. Use affirming language and watch out for offensive words, like “lame.” Ask questions and learn about disabilities and the needs surrounding them. Remember not all disabilities look the same—many you can’t even see. And most importantly, start with friendship.
“I think we will realize that what we have to gain will be far greater than what we have to give,” Helms said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to be a better parent. I’ve learned the true definition of unconditional love. Cameron loves without bias and he just lives life without bias. And I learn a lot by watching him do that. He has no pretenses, which I do have, so I can look at him and think I can be better. I can be more like Cameron and be a better person.
“And it’s led me to try and figure out how to navigate beyond those biases and bring equality to this population.” | C |
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ary had one question on his mind when staff at the Broomfield, Colorado, Silvercrest residence, came around.
“When are the kids coming?” he asked. “I’ve got a whole stack of pictures for them.”
The kids he’s referring to attend the elementary school across the street from the Silvercrest, one of 33 Salvation Army senior residences across the USA Western Territory.
On their school breaks, the students come by and deliver art projects to the seniors at the Silvercrest. And in some cases, the seniors reciprocate with their own craftsy creations. Gary cuts up calendars and makes special collages to share with the students. It’s something he and the other seniors eagerly await.
Programs like these allow Gary and other seniors at the Silvercrest to interact with people from other generations. And according to a wealth of research, it’s these very connections that allow both seniors and their younger counterparts to experience an increased sense of community, purpose and well-being.
“Unfortunately, many of our seniors don’t have family access anymore,” said Wendi Bishop, then coordinator for both the Denver and Broomfield Silvercrest properties. “The corps officers, the other residents in the building, the community—we become their family.”
Several studies have documented the impact of generativity, or investing in, caring for, and developing the next generation. One of them, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, began tracking more than 700 men in 1938 and continues to do so to this day. The most prevalent takeaway from the decades-long study: Relationships are the undeniable linchpin in well-being.
Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, who led that study for over three decades, wrote in his book “Aging Well” about the importance of spanning the generations.
“In all three study cohorts, masters of generativity tripled the chances that the decade of the 70s would be for these men and women a time of joy and not of despair.”
That’s right—older adults who kept up meaningful connections with people from younger generations were three times as likely to be happy as those who did not.
It’s no wonder.
When kids are young, they have adults around them, there to help them navigate life at every turn and show them how to engage with the world around them.
But as people move through adulthood, that dynamic begins to flip. Those in the younger generations, particularly children, grandchildren and neighbors, begin to care for the older adults who brought them up—and, in a way, help them navigate a world in constant flux.
As children, we need older, more mature people around us to share with us their sage wisdom and life experiences so that we might optimize our own life experiences. And as seniors, we need younger, vibrant individuals around us to help us stay active and engaged in our communities.
As Jo Stephanie Francisco, Silvercrest Management, said, we all need each other at every stage of life. That’s why there’s no quantifying the true impact of programs that provide meaningful connections on both ends.
“Intergenerational programs connect our senior residents to the community allowing young and old to learn about each other…which can enhance the outlook for both,” she said. “The seniors can provide their wisdom and knowledge. The young can provide up-to-date social and technological insights. It’s a mutual exchange of information. Our residents often request intergenerational programs because they love the exchange of ideas. The youth also love to hear about the seniors’ lives, their history and their experiences.”
Older adults who kept up meaningful connections with people from younger generations were three times as likely to be happy as those who did not.
It’s something with which Sarah Mixon is well-acquainted. As the coordinator of the 150-unit Eureka, California, Silvercrest Residences, she has an up-close view of how seniors and younger generations learn from each other and strengthen these intergenerational bonds.
“Up here in Eureka, especially since we’re really rural up here, our residents tend to be even more isolated than seniors in an urban area with more resources,” she said. “Fortunately, we have Cal Poly Humboldt up here.”
Just 10 minutes up Highway 101 from the Eureka Silvercrest is the northernmost campus of the 23-school California State University (CSU) system, nestled at the edge of a coastal redwood forest. The four year institution is home to just over 5,700 students, making it the second-smallest student body in the sprawling CSU network. But that makes for a tight-knit community.
The university’s Youth Educational Services (Y.E.S.) runs a series of student-led community engagement programs that provide opportunities for Humboldt students to volunteer in local school and community sites. One of those programs is a pen pal initiative between the student volunteers and the Silvercrest seniors.
“When we got the letters back from the students, I cannot tell you how amazing it was and how excited my residents were to know that they were receiving a letter and that they were writing back to college-age students,” she said. “And they could express their wisdom and their life experience. They were able to give real advice to adults who were a lot younger than them. It made them feel valued. Some of them were writing stuff like, ‘make sure not to ruin your credit!’”
Once pandemic restrictions eased, Mixon scheduled a meet-andgreet for the pen pal program so the seniors and students could finally put a face to the handwriting.
She set up the Silvercrest’s community room, expecting the
The Salvation Army Silvercrest Senior Residences—33 apartment-style communities across the Western U.S., ranging from 22 to 257 units—fill a critical need for housing for low-income seniors, supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
event would wrap up within an hour.
Yet, two-and-a-half hours later, the seniors and students were still there, swapping stories, deepening bonds they’d started forming months ago through the many letters they’d exchanged.
“Neither the residents nor the students wanted to leave,” Mixon said. “It was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen. And the beautiful thing about it was that the students came up to me afterward, and they told me how it touched their lives and how it brought back feelings of what it was like to talk to their grandma or grandpa. So they were really able to connect on a deep level. And some of the students told me they were surprised that they got so into it.”
That’s one of the secret benefits of such programs: particularly in western society, ageist ideas are far too ubiquitous. As a result, older people can feel neglected and become even more isolated. But with intergenerational programming, younger people can see with their own eyes how valuable and non-intimidating seniors really are.
Students help decorate the facilities for various holidays, local high school orchestra members came to play live “oldies Valentune” music on Valentine’s Day, and the young and old alike sing karaoke together on Fridays at the Silvercrest. Mixon even invited Gaining Ground, a local agency that works with developmentally disabled children and adults, to join in for karaoke.
“It’s a really awesome way of showing our younger generation that old people aren’t scary,” Mixon said. “They’re really cool, actually.”
Belonging is a fundamental human need, and one that is linked to many of the most complex challenges of our time, according to The Belonging Barometer: The State of Belonging in America, a new research tool and accompanying report from Over Zero and the Center for Inclusion and Belonging at the American Immigration Council.
The key takeaway? Without a sense of belonging, individuals and communities suffer; with it, they thrive.
The first-ever report, published in early 2023, detailed the association of belonging and critical life outcomes in:
• Health (showing better general and mental health; increased life satisfaction; decreased pain, stress and loneliness)
• Workplace (showing increased retention and greater willingness to recommend one’s job)
• Social cohesion (showing higher satifaction with local community; increased trust in one’s neighbors, other local residents, and local government; more civic engagement; decreased feelings of marginalization; decreased fear of demographic change; more openness to diversity; and greater desire to meet people who are different than oneself)
• Democracy (showing greater satisfaction with life and democracy in the U.S.; increased support for our democratic system of government).
Yet, researchers found a majority of Americans report non-belonging in the workplace (64%), in the nation (68%), in their local community (74%), in any life setting measured (20%) and in all life settings (6%).
What about you? Use this space to consider where you find belonging and how you can build it right where you are.
WHERE DO I MOST FEEL I BELONG?
WHAT DO I NEED TO BELONG?
WHERE CAN I BUILD BELONGING?
It’s simple: Good starts with you.
Not because of who you know, the kind of car you drive or your social calendar. It’s not in your strength, skill or status—the kind of accomplishments you’d place on your resume.
Good starts with you because God created you. He called you good. You bear his image.
You’re loved simply because you’re you.
That kind of love prompts action. And there’s a you-shaped hole in this Fight for Good. You’re not just here, you’re here to live out a story only you can.
So, come roll up your sleeves with us. In days filled with chaos and pain, we serve the hurting and helpless.
You can be the reason somebody believes in goodness. You can make an impact right where you are.