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.”

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

Marco’s life was anything but easy. At only 13 years old, he had lived with five different foster families.

Each time he moved into a new foster house, he was forced to transfer to a new school and leave his friends behind.

One day, Marco’s foster parents, who are supporters of The Salvation Army, came to us for advice. They explained that Marco wasn’t adjusting well at his new school and was shy around his classmates. We informed them about our summer camp and told them Marco would be more than welcome.

His first day at camp was tough because he had never been outside the city before. But by the time he left, Marco had made new friends and gained the self-confidence he needed to interact with the kids in his new school.

“I love camp!” Marco says. “I made so many new friends and experienced a whole new world that I never saw before.”

Every year, summer camp provides an escape for millions of disadvantaged boys and girls like Marco. It’s a safe place to learn, have fund, make new friends and experience new adventures.

Click here to help The Salvation Army continue to serve children like Marco. On behalf of all the children who attend our summer camps, thank you!


This story originally appeared in The Salvation Army Good News Newsletter. Please contact Jennifer Renfroe at 727-725-9777, ext. 105 to begin receiving the newsletter in your mailbox.






600 children left to be adopted in Tampa Bay Area

TAMPA BAY, FL (December 4, 2015) – The Salvation Army is seeking help fulfilling wishes of local children in need this Christmas. In the Tampa Bay Area, The Salvation Army serves approximately 17,000 children every year through the Angel Tree Program.

The Salvation Army relies on companies and groups to provide toys and clothing for a majority of the children. Individuals may visit Angel Tree displays across the Bay Area to select children and purchase gifts.

“In Hillsborough and Pinellas County alone, there are still 600 children that need to be adopted for Christmas,” says Captain Mike Harris. “The deadline of December 11 is fast-approaching to get the gifts returned. We are relying on the generosity of our community to help make Christmas brighter for these kids.”

Primary locations to adopt Angels:

  • Countryside Mall in Clearwater, 2nd Level near Disney Store
  • Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg, in front of JCPenney
  • University Mall in Tampa, former JCPenney store space
  • Any Winghouse Restaurant

For more information on how to adopt Angels in the Tampa Bay Area, visit
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 About The Salvation Army in Tampa Bay

Last year, The Salvation Army in Tampa Bay served 169,086 individuals through a wide variety of programs and services, including utility, housing, and food assistance. 72,684 people were visited in hospitals, nursing homes and elderly residential homes to let them know that their community cares for them. 114,870 nights of sheltered were provided to homeless men, women, and children. The Salvation Army served 233,959 meals. In addition to these services, The Salvation Army continues doing the most good in Tampa Bay through youth character-building activities, summer camp, outreach, and various other programs. For more information, visit

The Salvation Army is partnering with Bright House Networks to provide Back-to-School supplies for local children in need.

Supplies can be dropped off at The Salvation Army, Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at:

1625 N. Belcher Road, Clearwater, FL 33765 and 340 14th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Supplies needed include: backpacks, pencils, glue sticks, composition books, colored pencils, 3-ring binders, crayons, paper, and erasers.

Want to help but don’t have time to drop off items? Click here to shop online and the items will ship directly to The Salvation Army!

Help The Salvation Army prepare local children in need to go back to school.

Each week, nearly 100 children from across Upper Pinellas County gather at The Salvation Army for character-building activities. For many of these families, purchasing Back to School supplies is considered a luxury.

Throughout the month of August, The Salvation Army is accepting donations of new school supplies for these children, as well as those who come to their Social Services offices seeking financial and food assistance.

Needed items include:

3-Ring Binders
Composition Books
Glue Sticks
Colored Pencils

Items can be dropped off, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., at The Salvation Army, 1625 N. Belcher Road, Clearwater, FL 33765.

The community’s support will help ensure that local children in need will start the school year off prepared and confident.

For more information our The Salvation Army’s youth programs, click HERE.

Questions? Contact Lindsay Crossland, Director of Development, at 727-725-9777, or e-mail

Walmart and The Salvation Army have announced the start of the second annual Fill the Truck Toy Drive, which will bring hundreds of thousands of toys to children across the country.