Character Building Taught Early at The Salvation Army

Captains Matt and Danielle Cunningham enjoy leading youth in The Salvation Army.

Moonbeams, Sunbeams, Corps Cadets Programs Show Youth How to be Leaders

As the nation celebrates Youth Leadership Month, The Salvation Army focuses on its character building activities for young members.  One of the ways The Salvation Army Kentucky-Tennessee Division does this is through the work of Divisional Youth Leaders and Captains, Matt and Danielle Cunningham.

“Our character building program starts at ages two to five. They are called the Moonbeams and it’s for boys and girls.  Older girls progress to Sunbeams, then progress to Girl Guides.  The boys are Explorers and progress to Boy Guides.  It is similar to the Boy and Girl Scout programs. If you are familiar with the American Heritage program, their program is similar and uses some of the same materials. The kids earn badges and patches as they progress and learn skills,” Captain Matt Cunningham said.

Corps Cadet campers enjoy the vacation experience at Camp Paradise Valley.

The Salvation Army offers these positive ministry programs and events for young people to help them develop a strong character while also helping them understand God’s love for them through a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ.

The youngest children in the character building programs, the Moonbeams, make a pledge that if followed by all would make a wonderful world:  “I promise that I will try to love God, to help everyone, and to always do my best.”  The Moonbeam Prayer is equally inspiring: “Help us to do the things we should, to be to others kind and good, in all we do at work or play, to grow more like Jesus every day.”

“Kids in the program are often underprivileged and often don’t have home or life skills.  These programs have a Christian faith background, help kids to develop a vision, and show them the steps to get there,” Cunningham said.

The programs offer a holistic Christian education experience for girls and boys with the goal of helping them to develop positive social and communication habits, artistic flare and giftedness through a Biblical worldview, Christian values and Biblical principles.

The beauty surrounding Camp Paradise Valley is an inspiration to the Corps Cadets.

The Explorer and Sunbeam programs are organized into individual troops, and sponsored by the local Salvation Army corps. Volunteers and Salvation Army personnel provide leadership. Meetings are usually held in corps community or service centers.

“It’s a way we get to see them every week at youth programming night, usually Wednesday nights. The kids also get a week at Camp Paradise Valley in the summer where they get to work on earning the harder patches.  We don’t charge the kids anything to come to the meetings or to go to camp.  For many of the kids, it’s an opportunity, maybe their first, to have a vacation and be away from the responsibilities or troubles at home,” Cunningham said.

Having fun is a great way to teach leadership and character building skills.

“We are teaching them character building but also giving them a chance to relax and be kids.  They are getting fed both physically and spiritually. They are learning how to look outside themselves and to be community citizens,” Cunningham said.

Honoring our country through raising the American flag is one of the experiences in which campers participate.

The purpose of Adventure Corps, Sunbeam Corps and Corps Cadets is to provide a program that gives a child an opportunity for personal growth spiritually, mentally, physically, socially; and to increase their understanding of service to others by exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

“These programs are the place we come to gather and train for our mission. Junior Soldiers in first to sixth grades.  They go to classes and learn history and how the church works. Corps Cadets is from seventh grade on through twelfth grade. It is a five-year disciple training course. The Corps Cadets are members of The Salvation Army Church where you first become a soldier. It teaches them to be leaders in the church and the community,” Cunningham said.

The programs help young people develop leadership skills and character by providing real-life opportunities to practice.

“They do community services like help at the soup kitchen or visit a nursing home.  They give an account of that experience and give a written statement,” Cunningham said.

Making s’mores is something Moonbeams especially enjoy at Camp Paradise Valley.

Many Corps Cadets go on to take roles in The Salvation Army as adults – as did Dan Duncan with the Christian Education Division of Kentucky-Tennessee Division.

“I did Corps Cadet as a teenager. We talked a lot about the biblical leaders and studied the apostles. During those years, I learned leadership and engaged in evangelism through teen nights. From personal experience, I understand the importance of these groups in developing leadership skills in youth,” Duncan said.

Learning a Biblical worldview by encouraging a sense of personal identity and character through Christian values and Biblical principles is one of the biggest goals of the program.

“Providing an example from scripture and applying it to today’s culture empowers the Corps Cadets to look at the truths in the Bible to find solutions to today’s challenges. The greatest challenge for today’s young people is finding a community and engaging in community life and discovering how to interact in it. The Corps Cadet program helps youth find their place in the world,” Duncan said.

Kids, however, aren’t the only ones benefiting from the youth leadership programs at The Salvation Army.

“It’s restorative to adults working in the programs, too, because they get so see the positive impact their leadership and teaching have on the youth. The process, the methodology of applying biblical principles to the culture is important. The strength is not in finding a simple answer but realizing how difficult the challenges are and coming up with a solution,” Duncan said.

Dan Duncan teaches archery to Corps Cadets from the Owensboro, Kentucky Corps.

In today’s world of school shootings and rampant drug abuse, many children are confused and feeling hopeless.

“These programs enable them to not feel so powerless. You feel less powerless when you are part of something, a community, and you know your place in the community.  That’s what the Corps Cadent program does. It gives kids a community,” Duncan said.

If you know a child who would benefit from these programs, getting involved is easy, simply ask.

“Anyone interested just needs to contact their local Salvation Army, inquire about when they have youth programs and character building, and ask to speak with the Corps officer,” Cunningham said.

If you are interested in volunteering or donating, go to for additional information.

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