With the holiday season approaching and the potential for colder temperatures, a fourth-grade student named Zoey Brown sprang into action.

Zoey, who attends PVPV-Rawlings Elementary School in Ponte Vedra, Florida, was inspired by The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program and, with a bit of help from her family, she created the “Tree of Warmth,” attracting attention from across the Jacksonville area.

Zoey, whose grandmother, Pam Brown, is the sister of Major Candice Biggers, drew her initial inspiration from an otherwise innocuous conversation during a family dinner. Majors Keath and Candice Biggers are the administrators of The Salvation Army’s programs and services in northeast Florida.

“From my understanding, the trigger for this initiative was a conversation we were having during dinner with Pam, her husband, Steve, and their grandchildren,” said Major Keath Biggers.

“We were discussing the Angel Tree, and one of the children, Bronx, began calling it the ‘Homeless Tree’ by mistake. We shared how cool it was that he called it that, and how it would be great if something could come from his ‘mistake.’ Out of the mouths of babes – although he’s in elementary school – came an inspiration that the Brown family took to make a ‘Homeless Tree’ expression into the ‘Tree of Warmth,’ providing clothing accessories to protect against the cold.”

From there, Zoey urged her relatives to help, and the family purchased a Christmas tree, along with gloves, hats, and socks. They used the items to set up the “Tree of Warmth” at The Salvation Army Towers Center of Hope in Jacksonville. Since then, hundreds of winter items have been hung on the tree for shelter residents and homeless individuals to take and use to stay warm during the cold-weather season in the region.

“Several hundred men, women and children have already been recipients of the tree, and it will continue serving during the winter months, especially when the temperature drops those cold nights,” Major Biggers said. “We thank God for Zoey, Bronx and the family making this a reality and a great service to those we serve in Jacksonville.”

Zoey’s family has been a long-time adopter of angels through the Angel Tree program and, with that backdrop of experience and the familial connection, the pathway was clear. Still, the inspiration was centered on improving the lives of others by any possible means.

“Knowing that you truly can make a difference in someone’s life is huge,” said Pam Brown. “I want the children to grow up feeling that way. I want them to know how wonderful it feels to help others. We can’t thank Candy and Keath enough for allowing the children to do this and helping them to get it set up. It really means so much to our family to participate in giving back.”

By: Brad Rowland, original article

By: Brad Rowland

With Hurricanes Hermine, Irma and Michael making landfall in the area within the last half-decade, The Salvation Army of Tallahassee, Florida, is all too familiar with on-the-ground disaster work. With that as the backdrop, The Salvation Army saw an opportunity to both maintain its readiness for emergency disaster services (EDS) and serve the population of Leon, Gadsden, and Wakulla counties on a regular basis.

The result is the “Feed the Need” program, deploying each week to serve hot meals in the community and address an emerging local issue of food insecurity. Simultaneously, these deployments allow The Salvation Army to stay sharp, expanding a volunteer base and maintaining crucial equipment for a time when an immediate need arises.

“Our goals for ‘Feed The Need’ are two-fold,” said Julie Smith, Social Services Program Coordinator in Tallahassee. “First, we can meet the needs of people in our community that are in need of a hot meal. The other side is that the program is operated by our EDS volunteers. There is a lot that goes into it and there is a lot that people can learn by doing, rather than only going through the typical training, even if that part is also necessary.”

In addition to vital disaster response training that must take place with any volunteer, the “Feed the Need” program allows for a hands-on experience that also opens the door for regular engagement with The Salvation Army. Four teams of four individuals operate on a rotating basis, going into the community on Thursdays to serve after important preparation takes place. There are four distinct positions held by team members, ranging from crew chief to food service specialist, and deployment locations are predetermined, in conjunction with social services, to meet the greatest local need.

“This is a great way for us to meet a need in the community but also to simply be prepared for the future,” said Lieutenant Ryan Meo, Salvation Army Administrator. “We’re praised often for our response times in The Salvation Army and how quickly we’re able to respond on the ground after an incident. With that said, people don’t always realize the work that went in before it and all of the training and team building it takes to do it well.”

The program launched in 2018 on a four-month basis, experiencing real success both in volunteer recruitment and critical service to the community. After a brief hiatus, “Feed the Need” launched in August 2019 with an expanded, four-team format, and plans include a year-round utilization.

Early returns have been exceedingly positive for volunteer engagement and the overall impact of the program and, with the dual purpose of aiding those with immediate needs, success is being achieved.

“These people are now ready to go when an incident occurs and, in the process, we’re serving our community,” says Smith. “This has motivated individuals in a fantastic way and people are getting involved.”

“I think our disaster services program is uniquely able to engage stakeholders in the community as volunteers that other programs and services don’t always seem to reach,” Lieutenant Meo said. “Our disaster volunteers are sometimes people that we aren’t able to engage with in other ways and, when we’re able to allow people to be a part of The Salvation Army through a program like this, people serve with a sense of agency.”

To learn more about The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services, please click here

Mejean had always loved everything about space, NASA, and technology, but her dream to go to college kept getting postponed.

First, she began a career in law enforcement to help her family with finances, and then she became a mother of two. She always held on to her dream of becoming an engineer and joining NASA, though. She decided to pursue her dream shortly after becoming a mom.

Her family had always been “just okay” living paycheck to paycheck, but after Mejean quit her job to become a full-time student, things became harder for her family. Her husband, Ray, became the sole breadwinner.

Then tragedy struck.

Mejean was hit by a car. Ray quit his job immediately to take care of his wife and tend to her every need. At the time, Mejean was a University of Houston student pursuing a computer engineering degree. The bills began to pile up, and their finances spiraled out of control. They lost everything.

“We didn’t have a car, and we had to depend on the bus to get everywhere,” said Mejean. “At one point, I had to make the decision, am I going to make it to class, or am I going to have enough money to eat?”

Eventually, the family could not pay bills or rent, and the electricity was cut off. They had to move out of the apartment they’d called home for eight years. That is when Mejean did a Google search to find a shelter, and she found The Salvation Army Family Residence. Mejean and her family moved into Family Residence, and things began to come together for the family.

“Everything we needed was there, and I don’t know if I would have had that anywhere else,” explained Mejean. “They talked to us about nutrition, meal planning, finances, and budgeting. I was even seeing a doctor regularly for the first time in 10 years.”

The Salvation Army provided Mejean with a safe space to breathe, self-evaluate and process everything that was happening. When Mejean was ready, The Salvation Army connected her with the United Way who assisted the family with career placement, apartment down payment assistance, and furnishing their first apartment.

“What I remember most about [The Salvation Army] Family Residence is how great they were with my kids. The kids loved their time there. They remember playing guitar with First Baptist Church, playing games, and going on field trips to Cirque du Soleil.”

Mejean was able to go back to school and went on to graduate in summer 2018, with a job waiting for her at NASA. Currently, Mejean is a Linux developer and configuration management analyst for NASA at the Johnson Space Center.

“People think you are brave when you go through things like this, but when you’re actually going through this, you don’t feel brave. When I moved into [The Salvation Army] Family Residence, I was falling into pieces. But, I left Family Residence with resources and an entire village to help my family and me get to where we are now.”

To help us continue to serve people like Mejean, consider making a donation at www.SalvationArmyFlorida.org/give.

respite program

Meet Rick and Jane | Rick and Jane experienced financial difficulties which caused them to lose their home and relocate to Florida. While living in a motel, they had a traumatic experience where they were robbed at gunpoint. The thieves took everything Rick and Jane had. After calling the police, they were taken to The Salvation Army’s Day Respite and Resource Center.

The Day Respite Center offers a place for people experiencing homelessness to take a break from being on the streets. Case management is provided to them with the main goal of eliminating the barriers to stable housing.

The Salvation Army case manager met with Rick and Jane to talk through the events that led them there. While participating in the program, they were able to get new social security cards, Florida state ID cards, and clothing vouchers. Their case manager provided them with low-income housing options and connected them with an employment specialist.

The Sheriff’s Office was able to find and return some of their stolen possessions, but their progress took a turn when Rick’s health declined causing him to be hospitalized for a week. Their case manager was there to encourage them not to give up and provide more resources to help them receive permanent housing.

In just a matter of weeks, Rick and Jane were able to find an apartment. They’re both planning to become volunteers with The Salvation Army after they get back on their feet so they can help others facing hard times. Jane still calls their case manager once a week to keep her posted on their progress.

To help The Salvation Army continue helping people in your community like Rick and Jane, please consider giving today.

Pathway of hope family

The Quintana-Arroyo family (husband, wife, and three sons) met The Salvation Army through Emergency Disaster Services after being displaced from Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, forcing them to relocate to Florida.

The family stayed in The Salvation Army’s Emergency Shelter and learned about the Pathway of Hope Initiative.

Over time, the wife found employment, followed by her husband, who began working at a Salvation Army board member’s construction company.

Through affiliation with a local community partner, the family was gifted a vehicle.

With one son recently graduating high school and another in college, the family has been able to save more than $7,000 and are now in the final stages of purchasing a home.

The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope Initiative has helped the family to become financially stable, increase their credit score, and position themselves to become homeowners.

The Salvation Army provided the necessary tools and services to help this family re-establish their life while working cohesively with community partners toward meeting their goals.

Through the support of donors, The Salvation Army is able to help families like this every day. Your gift today will help The Salvation Army serve families in need in your community.

By: Antoinette Vitale

Richard Stetina has fond memories of going to parks as a child. He still can recall every detail of the ones that are most special to him. When he took a tour of The Salvation Army’s Towers Center of Hope and the Red Shield Lodge shelter for women and families in Jacksonville, Florida, the playground made an impression on him – but not for the right reasons.

It was old, in disrepair and clearly in need of some love. After he went home, the playground kept coming up in his mind. Finally, he decided that he needed to do something about it.

“I went home, and I guess it was two or three days before I started thinking about it again,” Stetina said. “And I thought, you know, I could so something that would be better. I made my proposal, it was accepted, and here we are today.”

Stetina could have just written a check and felt good about the difference he made. But he isn’t that kind of fellow. He researched the best playgrounds and the best building materials and imagined what would provide the best playground experience for the children, drawing from his own happy memories. When the time came to tear out the old playground and build the new, Stetina put in hours of his own sweat equity.

The result of his labor of love is incredible. Hope Park is now a vibrant and engaging playground of the highest quality. The children who stay at the Red Shield Lodge now bound out of the doors and play with abandon on a playground created with an enormous level of care. Stetina designed the entire experience of the playground with intention.

“What I tried to do here was to incorporate some of the things that I remember from the days that I visited parks,” he said. “We’ve incorporated a mural on the perimeter wall which has some phrases and inspirational words that hopefully the children and parents can take with them. Maybe it will be inspirational enough that it will change their lives a little bit.”

Hope Park is not the only thing Stetina has created that will change the lives of shelter residents and other Salvation Army clients in the Jacksonville area. He is also providing funding through his two endowments to enable veterans and other adult clients to continue their education or job skills training so they can build a better life. Stetina’s sustaining gifts support The Salvation Army’s local Pathway of Hope program that offers participants the opportunity to break the cycle of generational poverty. The overarching goal of the program is to provide participants the order to become more stable and self-sufficient. In addition to creating Hope Park, Stetina has also created a third endowment to provide for the future maintenance of the park, ensuring its preservation.

At the center of the Hope Park project for Stetina, from the start, was the children.

“Really, the kids here are the innocent victims of their particular situation,” he said. “I thought if I could turn a frown into a smile, that would be an achievement. Who knows, maybe they’ll be brought back someday having remembered the good times that they had here and want to be a part of this organization in some fashion. You never know where things like this will lead.”

pathway of hope bradenton
pathway of hope bradenton

Meredith (right) with her Salvation Army Pathway of Hope counselor Lynn (left).

The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative is an approach launched by The Salvation Army in 2011 to provide targeted services to families with a desire to take action to break the generational cycle of crisis and enable a path out of poverty.

With locations across Florida, The Salvation Army is able to help families in need find a clear path to self-sufficiency.

Here’s a note from Meredith, a recent graduate from the Pathway of Hope program:

My sons and I moved to Bradenton a little over a year ago. I had no direction and zero dollars saved. I heard about the Pathway of Hope (initiative) from my mom and was encouraged to contact the program.

While participating in the program I have had an amazing accountability partner and a new friend, Lynn.

As of now, I have a savings account and I have paid one of my credit cards off in full! I am forever grateful for the kindness and support I have received from The Salvation Army.

To help us serve people in need in your community, please consider giving today.

“Overcomer” is a production of Affirm Films, the faith division of Sony Pictures World Wide Acquisitions and is produced by Stephen Kendrick and Aaron Burns and is directed by Alex Kendrick.

In 1999, Kendrick became associate pastor of media at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. He took his brother’s sermons and made them into movies.

“The Lord gave Alex story lines, while at the same time, He gave me scriptures about that same topic,” said Stephen. “So, the Lord gives him the ‘Fireproof’ story line while I’m studying marriage, covenant, and love; the Lord gives him the ‘Courageous’ story line, while I’m studying fatherhood at the time. When I was leading the prayer ministry at the church, the Lord gave Alex ‘War Room,’ and so, we’re working together.”

“Flywheel,” their first movie featuring a used car salesman, came about after church goers donated $20,000 and volunteered their time and talent. The Kendrick brothers have since produced six films.

“On ‘Overcomer,’ I’ve been studying Ephesians 1 and 2 for the past few years,” said Stephen. “Then the Lord gave Alex the story line about identity.” Two years in the making, the project is all about what it means to have an identity in Jesus Christ. “The more we understand what it means to have our identity in Christ, the richer our relationship with Him becomes,” said Stephen at a recent showing of the film. “When you know who you are, it settles a lot of other things.”

Personal impact

“There’s quite a bit that I actually drew on,” said Cameron Arnett (“Meet the Browns,” “Stand Your Ground,” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) who plays an amazing supporting role in “Overcomer.” “My father, who is now deceased, wasn’t there for me in my young age.” The Haitian–born actor continued, “I had to chase him down, which is the opposite of what happens to my character in the movie.

“When I finally got to my dad, the reception wasn’t exactly what I had wanted. So, I pulled back from him. But then, he died. So, in that process, I realized that I had that opportunity to get to know him when the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, but I wasn’t listening.

“Today, I tell young people that regardless of what’s going on or how painful it may feel right now, make sure you keep your relationships intact. I keep a special bond with my mother. I make sure we have that connection.”

A tool to reach souls

Stephen Kendrick said, “We try to include the gospel in all of our movies because we know that non–believers are going to see them. We want to make every movie a tool that the church can use to reach their communities and neighbors and friends for Christ. We’ve seen thousands of people come to Christ through the films.

“Secondly, we hope you will enjoy and be impacted by the emotional journey, and that the Holy Spirit will speak to your heart while you’re watching the movie. We’ve prayed, ‘Lord, will you put Your hand on this so that, regardless of where people are in their journey, the Holy Spirit will speak to their hearts?’

“I think that at this time, people desperately need to discover who they are in Christ. We’re facing harder and harder opposition; we’re being attacked at every level. Regardless of what’s happening in our culture, we need to come back and say, ‘I know that I am my heavenly father’s beloved child. I’m adopted, and chosen, and forgiven, and sealed, and equipped, and empowered—by His Holy Spirit.’”

by Warren L. Maye

Original Article

The Salvation Army Pathway of Hope initiative serves families in need

The family was homeless: Brian was living in a car with the three boys while Hannah was staying elsewhere. There just wasn’t space for all of them to be together. Dealing with ongoing health issues, Brian was unable to work consistently, so Hannah had to be available to look after him and the children. They were without hope and couldn’t see a way out of their situation.

The Salvation Army received a referral for the family from a partner agency, both organizations have been involved with the family ever since.

“The Salvation Army was able to help right away,” Hannah said.

Christy, their Salvation Army case manager, developed a personalized action plan and meets with them regularly. “They were an ideal fit for Pathway of Hope, a nationwide Salvation Army initiative that assists families, ultimately helping them to be self-sufficient,” Christy said.

She helped Brian apply for disability benefits and continues to meet with the family twice each month. “Hannah is working as a bus driver for the school district, securing a steady income and health benefits for the first time. Once they receive disability payments, the family will reach a new level of financial security and be able to plan for the future,” says Christy.

Additionally, the partner ministry continues to provide financial support and a coach, who is like an emotional cheerleader, and also meets with the family regularly.

It’s been really helpful to have people to talk about what is going on in life. I’m not used to that kind of support network,” Hannah said. “I feel like there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m learning to deal with stress and pressure in a completely new way.

“We’re living paycheck to paycheck, but that’s OK. I’m hoping we will soon have a little money left in our account at the end of each month,” she said. “I want to eventually take the kids on vacation and do stuff other people do. For now, we’re paying the bills and have a roof over our heads.”

Hannah said she is grateful for The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope program. “They helped pick us up and kept us working toward our goals,” she said. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to The Salvation Army for being there for us.”

Find out more information The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative HERE.

To help The Salvation Army continue to serve families in need in your community, GIVE TODAY.