CELEBRATING SALVATION ARMY VOLUNTEERS FROM KENTUCKY AND TENNESSEE
This week is National Volunteer Week, an annual celebration organized by Points of Light that promotes and shows appreciation for volunteerism. In honor of this, we are celebrating volunteers from a handful of Salvation Army corps in Kentucky and Tennessee. These volunteers help with everything from Angel Tree to feeding programs to disaster assistance to organizational support.
Nathan Brockell is a fairly new volunteer, having started at the Louisville Salvation Army just last fall; however, in that time, he has helped with programs including the Red Kettle Café and Angel Tree and is now the president of Echelon, the Salvation Army’s young adult auxiliary.
“I really wanted to get involved in the community,” Brockell said of his volunteerism. “My wife is from here and wanted to move back when we had our first kid. I came and didn’t know much about the city, but I knew I wanted to get involved in the community as fast as I could.”
To help with that, he signed up for a course in his University of Louisville graduate program called Community Outreach and Consulting, which examines the interworkings of non-profit organizations. Through it, he met Jeremy Warf, the Salvation Army’s Volunteer Coordinator.
At The Salvation Army, he started with the Red Kettle Café, followed by helping with clients at intake and game nights with children. He also assisted with both the renovation of the new Angel Tree warehouse and the Angel Tree client interviews.
“I really got to see a lot of what The Salvation Army was doing, and it was really eye opening; there are so many different things they do that I didn’t know they do. So the more I did, the more I wanted to get involved.”
Warf put him in contact with Echelon, which is for people age 21-40 to serve The Salvation Army through networking, fundraising and volunteering. Brockell started working with them towards the end of the semester, attending meetings and later joining the executive committee. Then, around the beginning of March, the president resigned; Brockell, with his marketing background and previous charity experience in Dallas, was named to the position.
“They thought I would be a good choice,” he said. “There’s nothing special about me other than I have a hunger and a passion to help people. I’ve always wanted to get involved and get people more excited about getting involved with their community.”
Currently, Brockell and his team are working on an Echelon re-launch event, set for June 8. It will build buzz and introduce the organization to potential new members, including those Brockell calls influencers, who “have tentacles and can reach out to bring others on board.”
“We want to motivate, inspire and really push people who are trying to find themselves,” he said. “We want to get the people who are hungry to do something and make a difference.”
Though he has nothing official, Brockell said Echelon is planning a service event for shortly after the re-launch. One idea is to take a Salvation Army canteen (mobile kitchen) out to feed the homeless.
“The end goal is to be deeply entrenched in our community and help people,” he said. “That’s why we’re having a re-launch event. I just want to let people know that we’re going to do good things.”
STEVE AND DEB LAFORGE
Steve and Deb LaForge have been volunteering with the Nashville Salvation Army for about 7 years. They first got involved because they are part of Hope Force International, a Christian disaster response organization, and Hope Force suggested they take some training classes, including one from The Salvation Army on food prep and understanding disaster services.
The LaForges began volunteering at The Salvation Army after learning of a need for canteen drivers. They drive the canteen not only in emergency situations, like the 2013 flash flooding in Nashville, but also once a month for the weekly Soup Wagon homeless feeding program under the Jefferson Street Bridge, as well as special events.
With the flooding, Steve said, “We were supposed to go serve food to some Red Cross shelters, but the flooding was in a roughly small area and most of the people affected had friends and family to stay with instead of the shelters, so we took all the food directly into the neighborhoods and just went door-to-door feeding them. The flood was on a Thursday, and we went out that night helping deliver food. Then, Friday through Monday, we were out with Hope Force, helping muck out houses.”
As for the Soup Wagon, they prefer to man it towards the end of the month because that’s when the need is higher. Deb explained, “They’ll have funds from the VA, Social Security disability or some other source that get paid at the beginning of the month. They’ll use that to rent a hotel room or bunk with somebody and be able to purchase food, but by the end of the month, those funds have run out, and that’s why we see more of them.”
This year, one of the special events they attended was a memorial, where the city honors the homeless people who died during the course of the last year. Another special event, which they’ve done for a few years, is serving food to people who visit the National Cemetery in Nashville on Memorial Day.
Finally, Deb has helped the Angel Tree program for the past several years by volunteering regularly at the Angel Tree booth at local malls and making gift deliveries to the warehouse. She and a friend also shop for Angel Tree gifts throughout the year.
“Angel Tree only takes new items, but it’s amazing how much you can find,” she said. “For instance, Easter is over and all the stores put all those toys on sale for 50 to 75 percent off, so you can get very nice toys for very cheap.”
Stephanie Jensen isn’t exactly sure how long she’s been working with the Nashville Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, but she estimates 10 years. In that time, she’s worked in all aspects of the program, from signups to adopting out angels at the mall to collecting and sorting gifts at the warehouse to distribution day.
A new task for her last year was Toy Field at the Tennessee Titans’ Nissan Stadium. There, a miniature football field is created inside the arena, and people drop toys off on one specific day during the holiday season.
Of all her jobs, signups and adopting out angels at the mall are the two she has done consistently since she started volunteering with Angel Tree. Signups for the Senior Angel Tree for the elderly start early, in June or July; the general family signup is in October.
“I love the signups because I like getting to know people and being able to speak to a family that’s maybe having a hard year and giving them hope or a refugee who has finally made it to the US from wherever. I’ve had both of those scenarios.
“Once, I got the same elderly gentleman three years in a row. He wanted a robe and a fishing pole; he was very specific on it – the tackle as well. Some people just stick with you. It’s nice to be able to make somebody smile.”
At the mall adoptions, where Jensen currently works almost every Sunday afternoon of the season, she is joined by her young children. “My 6-year-old will be doing it for his fourth time this year. He helps by handing people the bag, and he seems to love it.”
She added, “I think everybody should give more chances to children to volunteer, and Angel Tree is a good way to do that. It’s important for people to understand that you don’t have to be an adult or rich to help. You just have to have the ability to do so. ”
Angel Tree, she said, is one of the easiest volunteer jobs you’ll ever love. Because it’s simple to do, it makes you want to do it again.
“Everybody should try it,” she said. “If you’re going to try Angel Tree for the first time, depending on your level of chaos, go to the warehouse first. See what happens when the community pulls together. If you don’t care for chaos, try Toy Field.”
Toia Harvey got her start with the Memphis Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program about 13 years ago. It initially began as a way to teach her 5-year-old a lesson.
“My son told me we were poor. He said some of his friends have houses they go to in Florida when it gets cold. So it was originally to teach him a lesson on how blessed he is, especially coming out of a single-parent household.”
She thought the experience would impact her sons, but she was the one whose mind was blown, and she has volunteered ever since. “I look forward to it, and I just love the whole Angel Tree experience.”
Harvey helps beginning with the phone banks to sign up for the program in late August or early September, followed by client interviews, sorting and distribution. Her favorite activity is distributing gifts to the senior angels.
“I have always been drawn to senior citizens just because of their wisdom,” she said. “A lot of times, the gifts that the Angel Tree gives are the only gifts they’ll receive. They’re just so grateful. I had a lady actually cry and thank us over and over and over again for her gifts.”
Harvey has also had some meaningful interactions during client interviews. She recalled one woman from two years ago, who had lost her husband and daughter in a car accident, lost her job and was working a temp job and still had six kids at home.
“She did not know how she was going to be able to have Christmas for them,” Harvey said. “But listening to her, she just never lost faith. All through the interview, her whole message was that in spite of it all, she was just standing on the fact that God is still good.”
Harvey works at a large company, International Paper, and she has recruited many co-workers to help her with Angel Tree. They assist with everything from adopting the company’s 100-125 angels each year to shopping for gifts to helping get gifts to The Salvation Army to sorting gifts at the Angel Tree warehouse.
“Normally, we make sorting into a team-building exercise,” she said. “We’ll take three or four hours out of a day and make sure everyone has gifts. If they don’t, we’ll go to what they call the toy store, which is a portion of the warehouse where there are extra gifts people have donated, and we will make bags from those items.”
Harvey is so passionate about Angel Tree that it shows to everyone. “I had a manager who once told me that when I talk about Angel Tree, it’s like my eyes just light up. I just love it! Angel Tree is my purpose.”
Maxine Pimienta is one of the most dedicated volunteers at the Knoxville Salvation Army. She’s been volunteering there for six years, after encountering a bell ringer at a grocery store who told her about other Salvation Army volunteer opportunities throughout the year.
Pimienta is a key volunteer in the kitchen, helping mostly in the Emergency Assistance program’s food pantry three days a week. As part of the food pantry, her job is to sort and store incoming food for distribution, pack bags of food for families and manage Emergency Assistance clients as they come in for food vouchers.
“Maxine plays an integral role in the day-to-day operations of the food pantry,” said Emergency Assistance social worker Selena Nolasco. “Not only does she organize and distribute the orders, but she brightens everyone’s day with her laugh and smile.”
Pimienta also helps kitchen staff prepare sack lunches for residents staying with The Salvation Army to take to work, as well as serves residents lunch and dinner. Head cook Kevin Long often refers to her as an MVV – Most Valuable Volunteer.
Pimienta said she volunteers with The Salvation Army to support the mission behind doing the most good in her community and also to be a listening ear when an individual or family is in critical need. She finds her rough days are uplifted by those being served.
Because of all her hard work and dedication, Pimienta was named the Knoxville Salvation Army’s February 2017 Volunteer of the Month.