Hoonah Corps born again

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Community, with help from Western Territory, constructs new facility.

by Jenni Ragland –

After overcoming many obstacles, the tiny island village of Hoonah, Alaska, celebrated the completion of its new Salvation Army corps building.

Having the new building finished is a wonderful blessing and will help us better serve the needs of our community as well as providing a safe place for our youth programs to grow,” said Corps Officer Major Lonnie Upshaw.

A look at the past
In June 1944, a fire destroyed the town of Hoonah, Alaska, including The Salvation Army corps building. With a spirit of determination, however, the community rallied and began the process of rebuilding their town. On Easter Sunday, 1945, a dedication celebrating the completion of the “new” Salvation Army corps was held. “New” is a term loosely applied to the structure—a building shipped by barge from an abandoned military camp in Juneau and refurbished by volunteer laborers.

Through the years—with many coats of paint and small additions added to the building—the Army’s soldiers and friends have faithfully ministered in their community, in spite of challenges including a sinking foundation, plumbing issues and lack of space. All the while, they held firm to a vision of a new corps building, one that would meet their needs well into the future as The Salvation Army serves the tiny community of about 850.

Challenges to meet
With fundraising efforts underway—but not as quickly as the corps building was deteriorating—Territorial Commander Commissioner Philip Swyers last year, during the annual Alaska Congress, pledged the support of the Western Territory to ensure Hoonah would have their new corps building.

Making the process difficult is that Hoonah is an island—the closest Home Depot store is located in Juneau, nearly 40 miles by ferry or plane. Everything from lumber to flooring to fixtures was shipped by boat, requiring extra planning and extra time. Add the unpredictable weather, and you have a sense of the challenges that Major Lonnie Upshaw, who has faithfully served in Hoonah for over eight years, encountered throughout the building process.

Celebrating success
It was, therefore, with great excitement and thanksgiving that the community of Hoonah again gathered to dedicate the new Salvation Army corps on March 1. The chapel was packed to capacity, with chairs borrowed from other churches since the chairs ordered didn’t arrive in time. Swyers, accompanied by divisional leaders Majors Doug and Sheryl Tollerud, participated in the service. Mayor Windy Skaflestad also attended, sharing his appreciation for the Army’s significant role and commitment to the people of Hoonah. Other guests included Majors Jos & Reikie Govaars (R) and Major June Nicloy; all had previously served as corps officers in Hoonah.

Swyers reminded soldiers and friends of the Army in Hoonah that “God is our focus, and the world is our platform,” as he challenged them to steadfastly carry forward God’s message and bring lost souls to a saving relationship with the Master.

Serving the community
Salvation Army programs in Hoonah include a thriving Community Care Ministy that engages both youth and adults in serving others. Corps members help clean homes, shovel snow and provide firewood for village elders; Major Lonnie helps with grocery shopping as needed. Her tent-making ministry provides funds to support the services to the community. She is active in Hoonah: serving as a substitute teacher, a cook in the school cafeteria, and helping at a local restaurant during the cruise ship season.

The corps operates a food pantry that is vital during the winter months. The new building includes a room where victims of domestic violence or those stranded (which does happen in Hoonah) can find safe shelter.

Since the new facility opened, several new families have started attending the corps—during the last month 35 – 45 people have been in church every Sunday.

To God Be The Glory!” So proclaims The Salvation Army in Hoonah, as they continue to serve the community and bring people to God.

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