One big family

In the USA Western Territory, The Salvation Army has the Harvest Initiative. In the U.K., it’s called “integration,” and it’s this year’s territorial watchword, but at the Braintree Corps they’ve been stepping up integration between the corps and New Direction Lifehouse for some time. Salvationist took a closer look at this successful integration.
The United Kingdom’s Braintree Corps and New Direction Lifehouse show how they’ve integrated.
By Lauren Jeans –

New Direction Lifehouse 
“The corps is part of New Direction and New Direction is part of the corps,” says corps member Derek Gooding, neatly summing up the relationship between the corps and the Lifehouse. “We are one; there’s no separation. Even if our corps building was attached to the Lifehouse, we couldn’t be any closer than we are now.”
This connection has been growing steadily for the best part of five years, under the leadership of Captain Rob and Lieutenant Clare Davis, corps officers at Braintree and chaplains at New Direction. [Braintree, U.K., is located about 56 miles northeast of London; The Salvation Army New Direction Lifehouse is a homeless shelter/resettlement center.]
“When we first arrived there was a tiny link,” Clare explains. “But we feel we’re here to serve the whole community, whatever is in that community. Even if we hadn’t had chaplaincy responsibilities, the Lifehouse is part of the community so it was key to get involved.”
So, what exactly have they done at the Lifehouse? The integration began with their chaplaincy role, for which Rob and Clare visit the Lifehouse at least two days a week.
“What we do there depends on what the residents want,” Clare reveals. “Mainly we’re just around to talk to residents and staff and help them where we’re needed.”
While this service might be a job requirement for the corps officers, through Clare’s and Rob’s encouragement the corps folk began to chip in, too.
“I suppose what I offer is pastoral support,” muses Paul Fargua, who regularly visits the Lifehouse and chats with residents. “There’s no A to Z of pastoral care—we have to meet everybody where they are.”
New Direction residents grow their own vegetables in four allotment plots funded by a grant from Tesco. | Photo courtesy Salvationist
Fellow corps member Sylvia Wren agrees, noting how proud she was when one of the residents shared something with her. “I felt privileged that he felt he could talk to me. Getting involved shows that we care. The residents have just hit hard times for some reason, and that could happen to any of us.”
The corps also offers spiritual support, with 92-year-old Elsie King showing that age needn’t be a barrier; Elsie writes individual prayer cards for each resident every six weeks. Care is taken, however, not to force religion on people.
“I’m not religious, although I’m quite open to religion,” says Richard, a resident at New Direction since December. “But they don’t shove it down your throat either and I think people appreciate that. Everyone knows The Salvation Army is a church, but it’s not just about that. What the Army does show is humanity.”
This is borne out in physical ways. For example, every Wednesday the Lifehouse hosts Sarnie Army, a session where residents and corps folk join together to cook and eat bacon sandwiches. Recently the Lifehouse also began work in four allotment plots funded by a £10,000 [about $13,000] grant from Tesco, and corps member Bruce Wilkinson has lent his green fingers to the project, showing residents how to grow their own vegetables.
“The residents have a kitchen,” he says, “and if they have some fresh vegetables they can do their own cooking so they don’t just come back from town with takeaways and frozen pizzas.”
Clare has run cooking classes alongside this to teach residents how to use the produce as part of the Lifehouse program to provide them with the life skills they need to move on.
The corps and Lifehouse also hold joint social events at least once a quarter, which can range from film nights to trips out to the West End, and the corps organizes Christmas gifts for each resident and toys for their children.
New Direction Project Co-ordinator Adetunji Falekulo is adamant that all this integration is vital in making the Lifehouse a success.
“It’s just one big family,” he says. “I’ve never worked with an organization that believes so much in its clients, and the help from the corps really goes a long way. Residents used to wait almost two years before they moved on. Since we’ve had all the extra activity in the center, on average they move on after three months. In social housing that just doesn’t happen, but at New Direction they’re ready to look for jobs and places because they’ve learnt so much with the cooking classes, the gardening and the computer classes.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ll sit in meetings with other, bigger organizations and they can’t move anybody out. They say, ‘What are you guys doing?’ It’s the atmosphere—everybody is happy. This is not just about moving people on. These are people who are genuinely interested in the person. It’s incredible!”
It seems the residents agree, with Richard stating that the Lifehouse is one of the best places he’s been to. “They take into consideration what you are like now,” he enthuses. “Although they’re staff, they’re more like friends. They have a laugh with you and it’s less patronizing so it’s easier to get along with everything. I see this as a home.”
According to Rob, it’s not just the residents who are benefiting from this increased integration. “We see ourselves as empowering our corps folk to go and be the face of The Salvation Army,” says Rob. “Around seven members are regularly involved at the Lifehouse, and two have even led meetings there when we’ve been away.”
“Officers come and go,’ says Clare, “but the corps people will pretty much be there forever. If you can empower them and get them involved then there’s a link that’s constant in the corps.” Indeed, the corps folk have steadfastly agreed that this link won’t be broken, even when Rob and Clare take up new appointments in the summer.
“It goes back to our covenant as officers,” concludes Rob. “We’re to love the unloveable, feed the hungry and care for the poor. If you have a deep conviction of being called by God, why wouldn’t you want to go out and meet the Lifehouse people? Let’s go and meet people wherever they may be.”
Reprinted from Salvationist, 1 April 2017

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