Salvation Army frees hearts with Free Arts

Partnership allows shelter clients access to new programming.

By Samuel Hill –

Last summer, 16-year-old Niya Jones was homeless, along with her mom, two sisters and brother. Some tough life challenges left the family without a permanent place to stay, and they were in need of help.

“It was nerve-racking,” said Charline Jones, Niya’s mother. “You hear all the stories about homelessness and it scares you. We never expected to be homeless in the first place.”

The family was admitted into the Phoenix Family Services emergency family shelter. The shelter provided them with a small apartment living space, along with lunch and dinner every night, Charline said.

“At first it was very scary,” Niya said. “But after a while, I felt like it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It gave me a sense of hope that we can move on.”

Some of The Salvation Army’s most-involved outreach programs are for those experiencing homelessness, with emergency family shelters all across the world. Sometimes staying in a Salvation Army shelter also leads to connections with resources and involvement with Salvation Army partners in the community.

One day, Niya was working on some drawings, and Ryan Weitzel, the activity coordinator at the shelter, suggested she join the Free Arts Multicultural Arts Camp (MAC).

MAC is one of The Salvation Army’s partner agencies that has provided participants Free Arts programs for years, and Weitzel has worked with Free Arts for 10 of them.

“It seemed like a good chance for her to be a kid and enjoy herself,” he said.

Despite not initially wanting to get involved, the MAC experience proved to spark an interest in Niya.

“I did not want to go at first at all but ended up loving it,” Niya said. “I have everyone at MAC to thank for everything I have learned and know.”

Niya attended her fourth Free Arts camp this summer, and will soon become an ambassador for the camp, a title she will attain thanks to her involvement with the camp through volunteering and attending.

The Joneses are now in a housing project called Homeward Bound, but will be moving on this September to continue their journey.  

“I count my blessings every day,” Charline said. “I know just how fortunate I have been and I thank the Lord every day for providing me and my family with what we now have.”

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