Doing the Most Good- Alaska
Doing the Most Good in the “last frontier”
by Sue Schumann Warner –
Morgan Fulton learns guitar with Captain James Lee during 2006 Music Camp held at The Salvation Army King’s Lake Camp. Tiara Kingsik sorts and tags wedding dresses at the Anchorage ARP.
Doing the most good has been the hallmark of the Western Territory’s northernmost division ever since the turbulent Gold Rush days when, in 1898, eight Salvationist pioneers—six men and two women—set out from Skagway on a perilous journey to bring the gospel to the mining camps.
The Salvation Army has been meeting basic human needs in Alaska ever since—last year alone touching the lives of nearly one in every 14 residents—and all in a state stretching over 586,400 square miles, with a population of only 650,000.
“In this last frontier, The Salvation Army is alive and well and meeting both the spiritual and material needs of people,” stated Divisional Commander Major Doug Tollerud. Serving with him is Major Sheryl Tollerud, divisional director of Women’s Ministries.
The Salvation Army has long been known in many of Alaska’s small villages and larger cities for its ministry of compassion and practical assistance. Its red shield became a common sight in the aftermath of the massive 1964 Good Friday earthquake as Salvationists carried out widespread relief work. It’s been reported that almost before the earth had stopped shaking, The Salvation Army was “here, there, and everywhere, giving needed help.”
Two officers whose devotion to others has made a significant difference were admitted to the Army’s highest honor—the Order of the Founder. Major Dolores Rivitt, a legend in the division and the Western Territory, spent nearly all of her Army service in Alaska, and received the award in 2000.
Alaska Native Captain Charlie Newton, in charge of the Army’s work in the Native Alaskan village of Kake, was admitted to the Order of the Founder in 1944.
Woven throughout the Army’s many ministries are those that benefit youth. “We’re recognized in Anchorage as a leader in working with young people in crisis,” said Tollerud, “whether through our Booth Home or the Cares for Kids program. We also have had a very successful after-school program in Fairbanks.”
Alaska has a unique need for after-school programs: during winter hours, communities may have just five hours of daylight—children go to school in the dark and return home in the dark. “It’s important to have some sort of activity to keep kids busy,” Tollerud stated. “They need a positive atmosphere in a safe environment.”
Women have always played a key role in the Army’s work here, meeting needs through programs—Women’s Ministries or League of Mercy—or through caring friendships. “Many of our ladies are actively involved in reaching out in their communities and beyond,” said Major Sheryl Tollerud. “In Juneau, for example, the Women’s Ministry group has established a tradition of packing Christmas shoe boxes to share with children living in some of the remote villages. It is a wonderful way to help brighten the holidays, as they often feel isolated from the outside world.”
As in other divisions, obtaining resources and finances to accomplish the work is a challenge. “It seems the Army always gets just enough—not enough money to dream, not enough money to be creative. We are able to raise enough money to keep the programs going,” Tollerud said. “Sometimes we have to pray a little harder to get the bells and whistles. Warehousing kids isn’t enough. We need activities to excite them.”
The division has a $22 million budget for programs; it receives $11 million a year in government funding—the highest per capita in the territory, notes Tollerud—which represents 50 percent of their budget. In addition, the division receives $600,000 per year from territorial headquarters as a missionary grant for its nine missionary corps.
“In many of the missionary corps—located in villages and communities of 400, 800, or 3,000—we have wonderful opportunities to make a real difference,” noted Tollerud. With young people migrating to Anchorage and Fairbanks for employment and schooling, however, villages are becoming smaller, and the Army’s ministry is diminishing. With an aging population, needs are changing. For example, the Alaska Congress, once a yearly event, is now being held every other year to allow families to attend a Native Alaskan bi-annual cultural congress held in Canada. The Army’s Congress will be held next in 2007 in Haines.
The stories below reveal a variety of ways in which The Salvation Army is meeting practical and spiritual needs in the “last frontier” of Alaska.
Anchorage Adult Rehabilitation Program
“This is a place of healing,” said Major Kathy Reed, ARP administrator/divisional women’s ministries secretary, as she takes us on a tour of the Anchorage Adult Rehabilitation Program. She greets by name the men and women working on the warehouse floor who are sorting, tagging, hanging, and bundling donated items ranging from clothing and shoes to furniture and household items.
A few are employees; most of the men are clients who are changing their lives through The Salvation Army’s work therapy program. Currently, 40 men are in the program. “Most of our group started using drugs at age 10-12; once they start using drugs, they stop growing mentally and emotionally,” noted Reed. “They have no work skills and don’t know how to work with a supervisor, get up, and be on a schedule. Once they start working a full day, though, they find it feels good.”
Many are from the Native population. “We’ve had doctors, lawyers—they come here and then return to their villages,” said Linda Warren, director of production. “They continue to go to church, are reunited with their families, and continue on with their lives.”
The Army receives no government funding for this program, which is a licensed treatment center. It costs $3,500,000 per year to run; income from thrift stores provides $2,500,000. A new component, a 20-bed Veterans Rehabilitation and Transitional Housing Program is set to open soon, with all funding provided through a Veterans Administration grant.
Caring for youth and seniors
At the heart of the Army’s mission is the commitment to serving those who cannot care for themselves. Programs like Booth Memorial Youth and Family Services, Cares for Kids, and Serendipity all exemplify this.
Booth Memorial’s tranquil setting is a place of refuge for girls ages 12-18, who need a residential treatment program for emotional or substance abuse problems. Girls may keep their infants with them up to age 11 months; and while there they receive treatment, counseling, and learn independent living skills.
The cheerful playroom, healthy meals, and snug bedrooms at Cares for Kids provide security for children up to age 11 who have been removed from their home because of concerns for their welfare or safety. Jen Clark, program director, states, “Substance abuse plays a part in half the children placed here.” Most children stay 30-90 days at the facility, which is licensed for 15. Adding a spiritual dimension, Anchorage Corps Officer
Major Larry Shiroma provides a Sunday school class once a month.
Nearby, seniors with cognitive impairments, like Alzheimer’s or dementia, find a nurturing setting and meaningful involvement at Serendipity Adult Day Services. From 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., five days a week, staff provides cognitive, physical, social and spiritual opportunities to grow and relate to others. Recently, Serendipity hosted “Tell the Story of Caring,” its first annual art exhibition, which featured art created by the participants. “Because over 4,000 Alaskans have Alzheimer’s disease, Serendipity is committed to providing exemplary opportunities for these individuals to live with hope and success,” said Program Director Jesalyn Stanton.
Housing solution: Eagle Crest
The Salvation Army’s Eagle Crest, located near downtown Anchorage, is a clean and welcoming “dry” hotel—no drugs or alcohol allowed. Here, guests find a safe, affordable place to stay at reasonable prices. Some of the 76 residents are graduates of Salvation Army recovery programs; others are foreign students working at hotels during the summer months. “All of our residents need a place to stay and don’t have much money,” said manager John Steurer. For some, staying at the hotel enables job seekers to have an address and phone number. Says Steurer, “Our reputation in the community is that if you live here, you are ‘good to go’—you’re a reliable person. It’s a great start on the road to success.”
Clean and sober: Clitheroe Center
For over 30 years, The Salvation Army Clitheroe Center has provided treatment for those suffering from substance abuse and its related problems. “This is the largest treatment center in the state,” said Executive Director Anne Choi, “and the largest detox facility in south central Alaska.” Last year, 1,500 clients were served in their programs, which include detox, intermediate and long term care, dual diagnosis, men’s and women’s residential programs, and outpatient care.
Funding is a concern. With a cost of $5.5 million to run all programs—which are 60 percent grant funded—cuts have had to be made in programming. The detox program was cut from 16 beds to eight; men’s beds were cut from 18 to 12. All clients pay for treatment, based on their ability to pay. And the need remains: there are currently 100 on the waiting list for the outpatient program, and the rest of the programs have a three to four month wait. “Clitheroe Center saved my life,” said one client. “If I didn’t stop drinking, I’d have been dead by now.”
Connecting with the community: Mat-Su Valley
It’s a 45-minute drive along rural, two lane roads from Anchorage to the Mat-Su Valley Corps. Located in the town of Palmer—the fastest growing area in the state—the corps has increasingly been reaching out to youth and families in the community.
Three years ago, Corps Officers Majors Daniel and Verna Hughes started an after-school program that provides a safe and fun place for youth—at no charge to parents. “A town librarian approached us about starting a program, because 50-60 kids were hanging out at the library after school,” said Major Daniel Hughes. From there, they got the city council on board. “Funds have come from T.L. Williams, and Fred Meyer Foundation gave $10,000, with an additional $11,000 from the Mat-Su Borough and $5,000 from the City,” said Hughes.
With the help of Tim and Kim Brown, who were hired through the territory’s youth worker’s grant last year, youth enjoy supervised and enjoyable activities including guitar lessons, football, and a big screen TV; computers are kept busy by kids doing homework.
“Our goal this year is to build up youth attendance,” notes Hughes. “We’ve had a number of families come to the corps through our youth programs.” Last summer, they sent 45 kids to camp.
In addition to youth activities, the corps has a Home League of 25. “It’s the best Salvation Army women’s group we’ve ever encountered,” Hughes stated.
Add to that the corps’ social service program, which serves 175-200 families a month through the food pantry, and the 500 families at Thanksgiving and Christmas who are served…in addition to Sunday services and small groups and Bible studies…and the youth who represented the Alaska Division in this year’s Bible Bowl…and the Thursday night Oxygen Tank dinner and youth activities…and it’s easy to see this is a corps on the move.
Doing the most good in Alaska: As Major John Reed, divisional secretary, says, “Alaska is a huge state with a huge heart. From Fairbanks to Ketchikan, people are being loved in Christ’s name and served by faithful officers who face physical and logistical challenges that few in the lower states will ever imagine.”—with reporting by Jenni Ragland