Salvation in the Heart of the Valley
The Salvation Army is a beacon of hope for Knoxvillians in need.
Down on North Broadway in the city of Knoxville, the team at the Salvation Army are working hard to kick off their yearly holiday work. The Red Kettle campaign, perhaps one of the most well-recognized of the Salvation Army services, begins in November and will continue through Christmas Eve. And between that and the organization’s Angel Tree program, it’s an all-hands-on-deck time of year for the staff.
“It’s a tremendous undertaking,” says Major Sarah Nelson, one of the local organization’s new commanders. “The way people bless us through donations and gifts for families in our community, it is critical. We rely heavily on the support of our community.”
To the public’s eye this is “busy season” for the Salvation Army, but the organization is actually bustling throughout the year, providing essential services.
“That kind of basic need assistance has always been a part of the Salvation Army’s work, and how it looks in the community will vary from place to place,” says Captain Dan Nelson, who serves alongside Maj. Nelson as area commanders. The two are married. “When you know that a Salvation Army is in the community, you know that they are there to connect with people’s needs.” And that’s exactly where the Salvation Army’s story started.
A History Steeped in Service
The local chapter of this organization opened about 120 years ago in Knoxville. But its parent organization predates that. It was 154 years ago that the nonprofit started in London, England with William Booth, ministering to individuals during the Industrial Revolution who found themselves in less than desirable circumstances. “He saw folks and saw the need to reach out to them first on a spiritual level, to minister to their need for faith in the Lord, but then recognizing that if that need was to be met, they would also need to have their physical needs met, too,” Capt. Nelson says.
Booth’s work grew from there into the Salvation Army organization we know today. Its mission is “to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
“The Salvation Army has grown over time,” Capt. Nelson says. “It’s lead to the development of food, clothing and shelter…You’ll always find that at the base of the Salvation Army and anything beyond that comes out of, ‘How do we best serve the needs of our neighbors?’”
The Salvation Army of Today
Today, the organization tackles a host of challenges facing many residents in the Knoxville region: domestic violence, unemployment, homelessness, even lack of education. “If you were to visit our building right now on North Broadway, you wouldn’t even have to pull onto our property before recognizing the need that we’re addressing,” Maj. Nelson says.
The organization offers traditional worship services on Sundays, along with weekly ministries for men, women, and children. Above their administrative office is the Joy D. Baker Center, a shelter for women and children impacted by domestic violence. “We have professional special-case management staff that addresses their specific needs and are also very mindful of the children’s needs,” Maj. Nelson says. “We’ve worked with local schools to make sure we keep a somewhat normal rhythm going in the lives of these kids.” Aside from housing and meals and aid for the children, the center additionally works with the court system and assists women in job placement.
Above the Joy D. Baker Center is an emergency women’s shelter. There is also a men’s shelter, Bridge of Hope Manor, through which the organization helps residents get back on their feet. In total this building sees about 100 people daily, providing them each with three meals a day. Transitional housing, a type of housing that helps constituents work toward long-term solutions to their challenges, is what the Army focuses on, helping their neighbors who may be struggling, to reach their goals.
Their Pathway of Hope program addresses the causes of poverty with families and works to help them overcome those challenges by providing them all the support they need to do so. The organization additionally works to provide emergency assistance, assistance to families around the holidays (ie. the Red Kettle campaign and the Angel Tree program), and disaster relief.
Getting the Work Done
With a small nonprofit staff, they somehow get all of this work done. Fifteen people give oversight to social services, sheltering, case managing, rapid rehousing, residential aid, and food services. There are additional team members working on finance, grant writing, development, church ministry, and volunteer coordination. “In the nonprofit world you have to operate as lean and mean as you can but still provide a meaningful work experience for the folks that work with you and the mission that you’re doing,” Capt. Nelson says.
During the holiday season, those numbers grow, but only temporarily. Volunteers are critical to this work.
Roger Frazee started as a volunteer in 2013. “The things that I really love about the Army is that they are working with the people they serve, and they work with these people face to face to provide basic needs,” he says.
Transitional housing and the focus on combatting homelessness and stabilizing lives is what touches him the most. “To see the appreciation of the people when you do something so small…They follow up with thank you letters and give hugs, and that makes it special.”
Many of those who have utilized services have become volunteers at the Salvation Army. “It’s very easy to get involved as a volunteer, and we need every volunteer we can get, especially at this time of the year.”
A Timely Partnership
Perhaps most interesting in the way this chapter of the Salvation Army tackles serving the community is their willingness to partner with other organizations right in their neighborhood, mainly the Knoxville Area Rescue Mission (KARM) and Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC). Both organizations deal with homelessness on very different levels. “It just makes sense to partner when addressing needs,” Capt. Nelson says. “When the three of us work together, there’s a stepping stone way of getting housing.”
In fact, this holiday season the Salvation Army and VMC are partnering on a new project to turn one of the Army’s vacant lots into a low-barrier shelter. “That means that there are not as many rules to stay there, but it’s right next to the overpass where the need is very visible,” Capt. Nelson says. The shelter will be where the former Salvation Army Thrift Store once stood, but with the help of the city of Knoxville and VMC, the property will turn into something addressing an immediate need. VMC will manage the shelter. “It’s adding one more stop in the process of securing a long-term solution for this community,” Maj. Nelson says.
The new shelter, which began renovations in September, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. It will serve 48 individuals a night. “It’s exciting because we have the resources, and they have the program. And the city also sees value in addressing the need here,” Capt. Nelson says, with Maj. Nelson adding, “It really is the end result of an entire community coming together, leveraging the resources of one another to achieve something that the community really needs.”
Continuing Critical Work
Homelessness, domestic violence, unemployment: these are all challenges that can touch individuals from every walk of life. And the help that the Salvation Army provides ensures that each individual is supported throughout their challenges and beyond. “Each person here is assigned a case worker,” Frazee says. “Once they leave a program, the case workers follow them even after they transition.” It’s all part of the Salvation Army’s mission to serve, and with the help of dedicated volunteers, it’s a mission that will continue to be carried out in the years to come.