Lieutenants Dominic and Ivelisse Blanford are the new Corps Officers for the Jacksonville Citadel Corps.
We caught up with them and asked how they like their first post so far.
Welcome to the Jacksonville Citadel Corps! I know you’ve only just arrived, but what are your thoughts at this moment?
Lt. Dominic: I feel humbled that God has given us this opportunity. There is such a rich history in The Salvation Army, especially here in Jacksonville, and I can’t help but think of all the officers who have come before us here. Now we get to be on that list. It’s a humbling experience, and we don’t take it for granted.
Lt. Ivelisse: I feel like it’s a privilege to do something like this. Maybe some people see it like a vocation or a job, but I see it as my purpose in life – to serve God while serving others. I was so excited to find out that this was the first corps established in Florida. Wow, the history! Also, we were just so excited to get out into the field after training and just focus on what God has prepared us to do. It feels really good to be at our first appointment, and it will be special because it’s our first.
How long is officer training and what was it like?
Lt. Dominic: Training is two years. 730 days, to be exact. It could be intense at times, but when I look back on it now, I think the reason for that is to truly equip you for officership. Because when you’re an officer, circumstances will arise and you need to know how to respond. I’m glad they did that.
Lt. Ivelisse: It was especially intense for us because when we went into training I was pregnant with my daughter Sarai, and I had Sarai while we were in training. So having a newborn, a two-year old, adjusting to school, balancing being a mother, wife, student, leader – all those things were quite a lot.
What are your dreams for this corps?
Lt. Ivelisse: We see so much potential. We have a lot of space in this building, we have resources like the Towers Center of Hope for social services, and the Adult Rehabilitation Center. We have places that are willing to work with us. We want the corps to grow. We want to inspire the corps members and encourage them, equip them and train them, and then bring in new members. Spiritual growth is key. We want to prepare the nursery area so families can feel welcome here. We want to rejuvenate this place.
Lt. Dominic: My dream is to have a corps that is thirsty and hungry for the Lord. I love the saying that you can’t give people what you don’t have. If we are a corps with a full cup, then we can give that away to others. It’s also important to me to be good stewards of what we have here in this building.
Lt. Ivelisse: We want to ignite the fire here in this corps. That’s what’s been on our minds and in our hearts lately.
What are your first impressions of Jacksonville?
Lt. Ivelisse: It’s a beautiful city. A huge city! There are so many doors of opportunity here. I fell in love with it, and I’m not a city girl at all. He’s a city boy, because he’s from Orlando, but I’m not used to the big buildings and all the bridges. But I felt at home here right away. I feel that God placed us in Jacksonville for a reason. I feel really good being here.
Lt. Dominic: Downtown is the perfect location for The Salvation Army. There’s so much history in this city. Driving around downtown looking at all the old buildings, and the river, it’s so exciting.
Lt. Ivelisse: There’s also such a big opportunity to reach out to the homeless community here. It’s grabbed our hearts. There’s potential for some really great outreach and to bridge the gap and make them feel loved and included.
Tell us how you came to be officers with The Salvation Army
Lt. Dominic: I grew up in Orlando and we lived maybe three blocks from The Salvation Army. My older brother would ride his bicycle there and joined their youth activities with some of his friends. Then my brother started going to the church there, then my older sister started going, and then I started going at the age of three. I’ve been a part of it ever since.
The Salvation Army was a resource that God placed in my life to save me from either being dead or in jail. In the community where I grew up all you saw was drugs and drug dealers. We were told the only way you’ll ever make it out of here is to play sports or sell drugs. I wanted out of it. I knew God had so much more in store for my life. So after I got done with high school and was in community college – you know no one in my family had gone to college before – I wanted to be different. I practically grew up in my neighborhood corps. I was so involved with youth programs, I went to Camp Keystone and later worked on staff there. I wasn’t at home a lot because my father was an alcoholic. I love my father and I believe in forgiveness, and I’m not bitter about it, but I wanted to be different. I wanted to be a father who showed love to his children. I wanted to be a husband who treated my wife differently.
I felt like God was tugging at my heart to become an officer, even at 15 years old. Year after year I felt like God was saying “I have something great in store for you”. But in the environment I was raised in I felt like people like me weren’t supposed to come out as a success. But I always knew God called me to be different. As I got older I got more involved with the Army. What really clinched it for me was when I served in Haiti, before the earthquake. That put the icing on the cake for my calling.
Lt. Ivelisse: Every time I hear his story I’m just so proud of him. For me, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved here when I was 18 after I graduated from high school. But while I was growing up I would come up to the U.S. every summer and stay with my second cousin, who was a Salvation Army officer. I came to know the Army through her. I saw the Army in her eyes; it was more than just an organization.
I really love kids, so I would help out with the Army youth activities each summer when I visited. One of those summers Dominic was working at Camp Keystone, and we met briefly. It was love at first sight, but our meeting was brief. Then a few years later when he was in college and was a camp counselor, we saw each other again and I remembered him from that first meeting. I had left Puerto Rico by that point – I wanted to continue my education and I felt like if I stayed in Puerto Rico I wasn’t going to do that. My grandmother took me in, and I never looked back. I already had my calling to be an officer by the time we started dating. I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.
I was nervous to tell Dominic that this was my calling, because if it was only my calling and not his too, this relationship wasn’t going to go anywhere. But finally one day I decided I needed to tell him, and that’s when we realized that each of us independently had been called to this ministry. It was an amazing moment. I knew then and there he was the one.
The Blanfords have two children, 4-year-old Malachi, and 1-year-old Sarai. The Citadel Corps is located at 15 E. Church St. in downtown Jacksonville.