Salvation Army training college officers serve survivors of Maui wildfires

Salvation Army training college officers serve survivors of Maui wildfires

Efforts support The Salvation Army’s ongoing disaster response in Maui.

A group of Salvation Army officers (pastors) from the College for Officer Training (CFOT) at Crestmont traveled to Maui during the 2023 holiday season, spending the academic downtime serving wildfire survivors through The Salvation Army’s ongoing Emergency/Disaster Services (EDS) response.

Working out of the disaster recovery center at the Lahaina Civic Center, the group met with people to assess their needs and distribute gift cards for necessities, like food and gas. They also provided emotional and spiritual care.

“The CFOT officers were very much the unsung heroes over the holidays,” said Stacy Dertien, Western Territorial Director of EDS Volunteers and Training. “They worked so hard.”

The group included Captain Joy Groenleer, CFOT Assistant Training Principal; Major Katina Hanson, CFOT Personnel Officer; Major Dean Lee, CFOT Personnel Officer; and Captain Travis Yardley, CFOT Business Officer.

For three weeks, the officers volunteered in Maui and from an EDS standpoint, it was good timing, said Western Territorial EDS Director John Berglund.

“Our ministry of presence makes us unique—that we stop and listen to people’s needs, to what they’re feeling.”—Stacy Dertien

“November and December are the most difficult months for a catastrophic incident to occur since our corps community centers are distributing toys, serving meals and standing kettles,” Berglund said.

Having the officers who typically serve in the classroom and in the college’s administration available to aid in the response helped continue the efforts of all who have volunteered in Maui. Salvation Army personnel were largely able to travel to the island thanks to a territorial partnership with Airlink, which provided more than 40 emergency deployees with round-trip tickets from the U.S. mainland to Maui.

“Emergency Services is incredibly grateful for the officers from other departments and commands who stepped up to fill the emergency service gaps on Maui during this time,” Berglund said.

Groenleer, who grew up on Kaua`i, said she loved returning to her home state to serve `ohana (extended family) and to kokua—lend a helping hand.

“It’s about extending help in a sacrificial way, helping without getting anything in return,” she said, adding that it was a blessing to sit with survivors, hear their stories and pray with them.

Groenleer recalled praying with one woman after giving her a Walmart gift card. The woman told her she could now purchase a rice cooker. “Rice is something we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” the woman said.

“To her, this signaled a sense of normalcy,” Groenleer said. “This small gift honors what she values—something as simple as having rice every day.”

Salvation Army training college officers serve survivors of Maui wildfires
Courtesy Joy Groenleer.

Yardley shared a similar story of giving a gift card to a woman who said missed and would now buy a bottle of soy sauce.

And in almost every instance, the individuals agreed to prayer.

“That’s what sets us apart from other agencies,” Dertien said. “Our ministry of presence makes us unique—that we stop and listen to people’s needs, to what they’re feeling.”

Hanson said she let people know she was there to allow them to express whatever they were feeling.

“We are here to listen, to allow them to be who they are,” she said. “This can be very freeing for them. We love people right where they are.”

Lee said as he prayed with people, he shared his own testimony of surviving two near-death experiences. It gave him a chance to share the gospel, too, and invite them to Jesus.

Serving in the midst of the continued disaster response, the CFOT officers said God’s presence was clear. And they returned to the College with a fresh perspective.

As Groenleer said, “I will remind the cadets that we are bringers of hope to a world that is full of loss, grief and hopelessness.”


Do Good:

  • See how The Salvation Army fights disaster.
  • Have you ever found yourself wanting to volunteer but unsure of what to do or how to go about it? Here’s the key: You can make an impact for good with whatever time and skills you have. Whatever your interest, there is a you-sized need for goodness in the world. Get the guide on How To Be An Impactful Volunteer with nine habits to make a difference when giving back.
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