United Way Leader’s Path to Community Service Began in The Salvation Army
As a child, Letha “Annie” Catron didn’t think of her upbringing in The Salvation Army Corps as anything more than a place of love and safety. Now she sees things through an adult’s eyes and understands that those experiences positively changed her life and served as a foundation for personal growth and community service.
As Catron steps in to a leadership role in the United Way, she is grateful for all the lessons she learned in The Salvation Army of Hopkinsville, Kentucky – as a Corps member, a Camp Paradise Valley camper, and as an Advisory Board member.
“The Salvation Army is one of our agencies of the United Way so I am taking on another facet of helping them. The United Way of the Pennyrile helps improve the lives of Kentuckians every day,” Catron said of her new job with the United Way.
Until mid-April, Catron’s professional life revolved around journalism as the assistant news director at WKDZ in Cadiz, Kentucky.
“On the 16th of April, I’ll be officially taking over as the executive director of the United Way of the Pennyrile which serves four counties – Caldwell, Trigg, Christian and Todd. I’m very excited about it,” Catron said.
Attending Camp Paradise Valley and the Corps, led to Catron’s understanding that the hand of God is active in all the experiences of our life. It also led her to feeling open about opportunities to serve.
“About three weeks before this position opened, I was on my way to a conference for Kiwanis and I had just got to thinking about the good works that are done through the United Way organization and how it would be really cool if I could do something to help full time so obviously He was listening and put this there because I hadn’t even considered it until somebody approached me: ‘Hey I think you’d be perfect for this job. Would you consider applying for it?’” Catron said.
In October 2017, Catron began serving as President of the Hopkinsville Kiwanis Club.
“Kiwanis has a mission of improving the lives of children, one community at a time and I think that goes along very well with The Salvation Army’s mission of helping a community to thrive and of helping those most in need in that community. For me, those two missions are almost the same because if you can help the children in a community, then in generations, you’ve broken that poverty cycle. We talk about that a lot on the Advisory Board because of the Pathway of Hope program,” Catron said.
The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative provides individualized services to families with children who desire to take action to address the root causes of poverty. By helping families overcome challenges like unemployment, unstable housing, and lack of education, The Salvation Army leads families toward increased stability and, ultimately, self-sufficiency.
“It’s about breaking that cycle of poverty so if you can send a kid to camp and help them to realize that there are other things out there then maybe a kid that has nothing else gets to spend this week in a place where they’re the focus. They get to have fun and they don’t have to worry about when they are going to get to eat or where they are going to sleep that night, then you have helped improve their life,” Catron said.
Annie Catron’s passion for her work helping others comes from her own life experiences in The Salvation Army.
“I grew up in the church. My parents were married there in 1980. Then in 2000 on their twentieth anniversary they renewed their vows. My dad found the Captain that married them and he came back to perform the ceremony. So there is very much a history there. My mom attended the children’s chapel and I have pictures of that. So I have very fond memories of growing up in The Salvation Army and Easter egg hunts on the campus and attending Sunday school. I was probably about 10, 11, 12, when I attended Camp Paradise Valley in 1994 to 1996,” Catron said.
What she learned at Camp Paradise Valley ultimately led to her interest in a career in journalism.
“I had normal camp activities, games, making bracelets but I remember one night we were gathered to do some worship and the service reminded you of your purpose in life. I remember I enjoyed people telling stories. That is how I got into journalism to help people tell their stories,” Catron said.
This passion for helping people to tell their stories led Catron to studying journalism at Lindsey Wilson College. Her education then lead to her becoming a reporter and a news director in Kentucky and Missouri, where she covered every aspect of community life.
“I always had an interest in writing. It was at Camp Paradise Valley that I realized the importance of storytelling because you can preach to kids all day long but when you start telling stories that they can relate to, you really engage them and I feel like that is what happened at camp. So, there were stories that as a 10-year-old I could relate to and I thought I could do that, so I worked on the school newspaper in high school. I worked on the yearbook. It trickled from having that experience at camp. Then I entered the field of journalism and I’ve been doing it for ten years now,” Catron said.
Catron has some good stories about her own life as well.
“I’ve known several Captains since I’ve been back in the area but it wasn’t until Captain José Marquez asked me to serve on the Advisory Board that I told him a little bit of my history with The Salvation Army. After a board meeting in the new chapel, I informed him that I was in a picture they have hanging up there. It’s an Easter picture after a service. Everybody gathered behind the building there on East Seventh Street and just the whole congregation is in the picture. I’m sitting on Ursula Ellis’ lap. She works here in the office. She was my adopted mother if my mother couldn’t find me, I was usually with Ursula. My sister and my parents are in the picture. It was one big happy moment for the congregation and to see that hanging there, and to know that even though I hadn’t attended in a while, to know I am still part of the church family there. I am probably about six or seven in that picture so it would be right after we came back. My father was in the Army and we lived at Fort Knox. My parents are both from Hopkinsville so when he got out, they moved back,” Catron said.
Growing up in The Salvation Army and attending Camp Paradise Valley has made Catron passionate about promoting all the good that happens through the organization’s programs, especially the transformational experience that summer camp can be for a child.
“I would just encourage everyone that if your local Salvation Army has a camp where you can help send kids there, then your sponsoring a child will make an important difference in their lives. Our church will do a taco dinner fundraiser in a couple of weeks. That’s their way of helping to fund kids that will go to camp. So be aware and help. It’s not just The Salvation Army though, it’s all camps. At camp, a kid can spend a week and they are the focus. There will be someone there attentive to them and they are going to help them be a better person in the end,” Catron said.
Summer Camp is also a great place for kids to make a God connection while being with people who love and care about you.
“Camp is a great opportunity, which is why the Kiwanis Club, which I currently serve as president of, donates to The Salvation Army to help fund the scholarships there and sponsor camp trips. But beyond that I think that any contact with the church is going to help because you grow as a person and grow in your love for God. That’s part of the mission with The Salvation Army,” Catron said.
In her new leadership role with the United Way of the Pennyrile, she is hoping to revisit Camp Paradise Valley.
“Based on conversations I’ve had with the Captain (José Marquez), it has changed drastically in the last 20 years. He’s invited me to come back when I have some free time and hopefully I’ll do that soon,” Catron said.
Media expertise is a useful skill in the non-profit world and Catron looks forward to helping the area’s residents with her knowledge.
“Serving on the Advisory Board is a way for me to give back to an organization that had helped me in my formative years. My experience with the media will be very handy for them when we get to a place where we are starting our campaign for a new building. Hearing the monthly reports of the need in our community and then having experienced in Kiwanis the community leadership program we have here, it just hit home that there is so much to do in our community, so much need that is still here,” Catron said.
As the new leader of the United Way of the Pennyrile, Annie Catron is bursting with ideas of how to meet those needs.
“When I was approached about applying for the United Way position, it just reminded me there are other ways I can do good in our community. So having been on The Salvation Army Advisory Board for a year and being a member of Kiwanis since 2010, I just kind of knew it was there and if there were interested in having me I was interested in helping them. Through the United Way, I can help not only The Salvation Army, as one of the partner agencies, but the other 19 partner agencies in our four county area,” Catron said.
For additional information about the United Way of the Pennyrile, visit http://www.pennyrileunitedway.org/contact.html. If you are interested in volunteering or donating to The Salvation Army, go to http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/volunteer for additional information.