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.”

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.

Florida Camp Keystone Conservatory Dedication

For three decades, The Salvation Army has hosted the Longino Music Conservatory at Camp Keystone for children across the state of Florida, centrally operating in a building constructed in 1990. In late June 2019, current leadership joined forces with dignitaries from the past in dedicating a new, state-of-the-art facility.

“Today, we dedicate this house of glad remembrance for the youth of the Florida Division to gather to do three things,” said Commissioner John Busby, retired national commander and former divisional commander. “First, to improve their musical ability; second, to draw closer to their Heavenly Father; and third, to surrender their enhanced musicianship, developed here, to his honor and glory.”

The new building, constructed on the site of the old structure, includes purposely dedicated space for creative arts, percussion, vocal training, brass instrumentation and recital/concert hosting. In conjunction with the opening of the space, the final concert of The Salvation Army’s Florida Music Institute (FMI) took place, with six bands, five choruses and three creative arts ensembles comprising nearly 200 young people performing in a moving and uplifting way.

Within the dedication ceremony, thank-you messages were distributed to those who took part and FMI delegates commemorated the event with an artistic tribute. Stirring testimonies came to light, citing the impact that the division’s music programs have made and looking ahead to what is a bright future.

“I believe with all of my heart that this is a life-changing program,” said Major Elizabeth Birks, divisional secretary for business. “I can attest to the personal impact it had on my children and what I’ve seen myself. It’s an incredible blessing to see these young people rehearse, perform and grow, and we’re so grateful to all who made this project a dream come true.”

“As a product of The Salvation Army’s music programs myself, I’m excited for the opportunities this new facility will open up for our young people,” said Darryl Crossland, assistant divisional music director. “When children see an investment being made in their future in such a way, it gives them confidence to keep pursuing their dreams.”

The division’s Longino Senior Conservatory program began just hours after completion of FMI and the new facility is being utilized in continuous fashion, all with an eye toward the glory of God and worship through the arts.

“It’s a red-letter day for the Florida Division,” said Lt. Colonel Ken Luyk, divisional commander. “We’re here to celebrate the progress being made but, really, what it’s about is discipleship through musicianship and artistry. All of those are expressions of worship unto the Lord, and that’s why we’re here.”

To learn more about the programs offered for children in your local community, click here to find the location nearest to you.

 

By: Brad Rowland

ray kinder hope for the future

 

Love and acceptance helps Florida man reconnect with hope

Just a few months ago, Ray Kinder could not imagine being clean, being out of jail, being hopeful. When you look at him today, you could not, for one minute, imagine him being anything but.

Ray grew up in a church-going family, but all was not right. His father was a career criminal, coming and going from prison. When his father was not in jail, he was abusing his mother and modeling the alcoholic lifestyle. He eventually ended up with a life sentence for armed robbery. People would speak over Ray that he would be just like his dad. It had its effects.

Ray was in juvenile detention 12 times. He got addicted to drugs in middle school and continued to make bad choices for the next two and a half decades. Kinder was in jail, some maximum-security ones, 23 times. Each jail time was just a pause from his crack addiction, and the pause button would be reset when he got out.

“My reality was too hard to take,” he said. “I knew how much pain I was causing my mom, my family. It just pushed me deeper into addiction. It was the loneliest, most isolating, tumultuous nightmare. I was just a zombie that didn’t care about anything. I stepped off the cliff into hopelessness.”

Last year, while out on bond, Ray went to visit his aunt. He was totally out of his mind, high and incoherent. His aunt called the police, who took him to a local addiction recovery program. While there, he learned of The Salvation Army. He was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and he was willing to give The Salvation Army a try.

When Ryan from The Salvation Army, came to pick him up a few days later, Kinder’s brain told him not to get on the bus. He said something, maybe God, pushed him to get on the bus.

Ryan told him everything was going to be OK, this was a new beginning for him, and he was going to find his purpose and a plan. Ryan was his first exposure to the love and acceptance that he was about to receive.

During December, Ray volunteered to help pick up Angel Tree gifts and said he “overdosed on the love” that was shown to him at each location. He also realized that at The Salvation Army, he was surrounded by people who truly understood him and his addiction. He was also among other people who were just like him. He “was not as unique as (he) thought. They showed me there was a way out I could never see before. There is a reason they call this the Center of Hope; I do have hope now.”

Kinder is taking things one day at a time. He remarked that “The Salvation Army gave me my hope back; it saved my life. If God can do this for someone like me, he can do this for anyone.” Kinder is protective of the “precious and valuable gift he has been given and is not going to give it up.”

The biggest challenge for Ray now is employment. He will commence soon and is praying someone will give him a chance.

His advice in the meantime for others like him: “If you think for one second that your life is gone and you’ve tried everything else in life, but it never worked for you, there is a place, and the name of this place is The Salvation Army. If you are truly ready to live, give this place a try.”

When Hurricane Matthew made landfall in 2016, The Salvation Army of Daytona Beach, Florida, sustained damage to its Center of Hope, specifically in the form of roof issues and broken windows. With that said, the structure managed to escape without catastrophic impairment. The arrival of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, however, did cause significant problems.

Though Daytona Beach was not struck directly by the storm in a way that neighboring areas were affected, storm surge flooded the Center of Hope’s first floor after a full evacuation had taken place in the area. As a result, The Salvation Army was unable to return to the building, and programming – including social services, dormitories and a computer lab – was displaced.

After more than a year of obstacles and a gradual period of re-acclimation, however, the Center of Hope reopened in January 2019 and a rededication of sorts took place in late March. The newly-minted building includes space for a renovated social services office, veterans programming, Pathway of Hope, residential services, job training and a food pantry.

“With the resources that we had, we kind of gave the building a facelift,” said Major Caleb Prieto, corps officer. “The comments we received at the open house were very encouraging. I think it looks amazing and that was backed up by the feedback. Not only were we able to restore what we had previously, but I think we’re in the best place we’ve been.”

The arrival of Irma and the damage sustained forced The Salvation Army’s social services efforts into a time of transition and flexibility. A partnership was struck with a local hotel to house residents displaced by the building closure and, while service delivery had to operate at less than full capacity, both the corps building and additional space at the hotel were turned into offices equipped with the tools to perform case management and other essential activities.

The period of displacement wasn’t navigated without hiccups, including a partnership in concert with the Department of Corrections that was placed on hold due to the structural challenges. Still, the community rallied around the work of The Salvation Army during a trying time, and the future is bright as a result.