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Richard 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,” Richard 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.”

Richard 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, Richard 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. Richard 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 Richard 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. Richard’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, Richard 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 Richard, 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.”

By: Antoinette Vitale

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.