Tailoring programs to meet community needs

Doing the Most Good- Sierra del Mar

by Sue Schumann Warner – 

Captain David Leonard, University Avenue corps officer, works on a project with children in HopeShare.

It is a classic Southern California day at San Diego’s famed Mission Bay: clear blue skies, palm trees swaying in the breeze and in the distance the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean. Just past the luxurious Hyatt Hotel, however—over the bridge and in the parking lot at Mission Bay Park—the “hidden side” of San Diego emerges as Salvation Army homeless outreach team members Loren England and Margaret Wong park their Army van with its bright red shield and do what they do every Monday through Friday: provide coffee, pastries, and a listening ear for the homeless men and women who congregate there.

Starbucks donates the pastries; Wong and England provide coffee, compassion, caring, and helpful resources. Today, a couple of dozen homeless men are nearby. A number are regulars: Mike, whose blond dreadlocks flow out past his shoulders, has been coming for five years. Richard has come for 10.

“We’re here to give them hope, not to change them,” said England, who has been doing this for the past 13 years. “Maybe if they have hope, they will change.” During the course of the year, thousands of lives are touched here and elsewhere, and nearly 800 are able to move into short-term transitional programs.

Hope and change, it seems, are two of the hallmarks of Salvation Army ministry in the Sierra del Mar Division.

Efficient and effective

“I think the theme ‘doing the most good’ is an appropriate description of services throughout the division,” said Divisional Commander Lt. Colonel Doug O’Brien, who serves with his wife Lt. Colonel Diane O’ Brien (divisional secretary for program and divisional director of women’s ministries) as divisional leaders. “The division has had to be very careful about the use of the resources entrusted to it…we have worked hard to develop programs and use our resources efficiently and effectively.”
Some examples are:

• The Haven: located on the 6-acre Door of Hope campus, the 44-bed program is a structured group home for pregnant and parenting teen mothers and their babies. Often, the girls are victims of abuse, incest or rape.
• Senior Nutrition: The Senior Dining and Social Centers in San Diego County provide 6-700 hot meals a day, seven days a week, in congregate settings and home delivered meals. The Army cares for seniors, checking on them, seeing if they’re well, if they’ve gone missing, and provides activities to enrich their lives, as well as provide a nutritious meal.
• Bi-lingual ministry: the Army ministers in Spanish at corps in Chula Vista, El Centro, Cathedral City, and Ontario.
• San Bernardino County: Corps Officers Major Russ and Jacque Fritz have blended a payee program, an educational, transitional housing program for men, and a shelter program into a thriving corps ministry.
• Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center: The Kroc Center provides services, programs and facilities that encourage positive life-changing experiences for children and adults, strengthen families and enrich the lives of seniors. Salvation Army ministry is integrated into all the programs and activities of the center and includes traditional Army programming on the 12.4 acre center.

El Cajon

In addition, Divisional Secretary for Business Major Ed Loomis notes the Army’s work at El Cajon including an outreach program to the 2,500 square-mile poverty-stricken back country. “I see El Cajon, under the leadership of Captains Darren and Mary Norton, doing a marvelous job with youth, corps soldiery, adherents—there’s a lot of involvement.” Growth has been steady, he says, with four junior soldiers enrolled recently and a bell ringer who was enrolled as an adherent. “She had rung Salvation Army bells at different places for nine years and had been homeless at one time. After becoming an adherent, she said, ‘I feel like I’m at home—I have a feeling of peace.’ ”

Challenges to division

“We have a real problem with increasing expenses over which we have very little control,” said O’Brien. “We have struggled for several years to meet our current year operating expenses. Expanding or initiating new programs is tough when all your energies are expended paying this year’s bills.

“I’m told The Salvation Army opened the first shelter in town. We have about 700 beds now in San Diego County in all programs, which is a rather remarkable thing. But I think we should be doing more! The question is, how do we do more with the resources we have?”

Commitment to ministry

Salvationists throughout the division are committed to holistic ministry. At the Centre City Corps, for example, they are “finding beat up, roughed up people of the community, treating them with respect, giving them responsibility, telling them of a God who loves them, and making a real difference—physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially—in their lives,” O’Brien said. In El Centro, a growing transitional program is bringing men into the corps; in Redlands, clients from the feeding program and social services have been integrated into the full life of the corps.

The division puts a premium on youth development. Captain Shevaun Malone is responsible for corps cadets, jr. soldiers, TEAM and community care ministries, as well as training.

And a new organizational concept for program developed by Lt. Colonel Diane O’Brien is that of “like bands—vertical, not horizontal—not age bands.” This links youth to adult programs in an ongoing direction.

“It’s a very important concept,” said Lt. Col. Diane O’ Brien. “We lose people at a certain age. If we make a link, when youth step into the adult world, maybe we’ll keep them.” For example, in this new organization model, Captain Nancy Ball is the guard and sunbeam director and divisional women’s ministries secretary.

Captain Stephen Ball, divisional youth and candidates’ secretary, is responsible for candidates, boys, and men’s programs.

Major Joyce Loomis, O’Brien notes, is the one program officer in the business department.

Music notes

Music is another avenue for doing the most good. “My vision is latching onto youth ages 16 to mid-20s,” said Divisional Music Secretary Jason Burn. “I come across people in the Salvation Army world all the time who say, ‘I wasn’t a Christian when I played in the band—that’s where I became a Christian.’”

The divisional youth band was restarted recently, and monthly gospel arts weekends have just begun. “These are great ways to keep older teens connected with the Army,” Burn noted.

J.J. Opina, on staff at the San Diego Citadel Corps as Bridgebuilder corps community center director, said that music changed his life. “Music has been the most stable thing in my life. When going through my troubles, my real rebirth was at WMI (Western Music Institute) in 2003. He gives back to others through music, leading a music program weekly at Clairemont High School, offering free community music lessons in piano and guitar, and will soon start a community children’s choir. “For this corps, music is a major force in ministry,” he explained.

Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center

Without a doubt, the Kroc Center’s ministry is an important part of the ministry of the division. “We’re a mission station—a corps community center, like any other corps,” said Captain John Van Cleef, administrator. Each day over 2,400 men, women and children visit the center to enjoy physical activities, enrichment programs, and spiritual refreshment. “The center has transformed the community,” said Van Cleef. “It has reduced gang violence, become a meeting place in the neighborhood, and changed lives spiritually.”

Ifton School, a San Diego City charter school, meets at the center. The students are predominantly Muslim and most are first generation Somali immigrants. “They [the children and their mothers] wear cultural clothing,” said Corps Officer Captain David Leonard, “and at first they were apprehensive of us. Now, we greet them and chat. They know their kids are safe here.”

Leonard explained that the corps is growing, with 70-85 attending on Sunday. “Many are families who came in through the Kroc program. A number attend youth and troop activities during the week.”

The HopeShare program with its sidewalk ministry is changing lives as well. Under the direction of Lynnette Baker, the team meets kids in their neighborhoods to do Sunday school lessons. Most have Spanish-speaking parents, and live in the midst of poverty and gang activity. At 50th Street, they average 15-22 children and several of them are now junior soldiers. A number belong to Adventure Corps and Sunbeams. Recently, 25 children attended an Army youth rally. “They are really excited,” said Baker. “It’s the first time they get to wear their new uniforms and be inspected. They are so proud of their Bibles.”

El Centro

Under the leadership of Captains Jerry and Vicky Esqueda, creative solutions give homeless men a new lease on life. Seeing men at the corps’ transitional living shelter who had lost jobs and then lost hope, he has created a program—The Way—where those who work 100 volunteer hours a month at the thrift store are supported with counseling, training, encouragement and prayer. One man, who had built a shanty-home in the root base of a tree next to railroad tracks, came to the shelter for a shower one night and ended up staying—and having his life transformed.

San Diego Citadel
On a recent Reconciliation Sunday, Majors Warren and Dixie Dabis addressed the theme in their ethnically diverse corps. “How can I build relationships with others who are different from me?” Dabis asked the congregation. “God uses culture to shape us. We are all different, but we all make up this corps.” CSM Leslie Mukau, originally from Zimbabwe welcomed the congregation, a sea of faces with family origins in Africa, China, Jamaica, Korea, Mexico, Great Britain and the Philippines.

“This is a wonderful corps,” said O’Brien. “You’ve got mature people involved in monthly luncheons, high school and college age kids who are ethnically diverse and work well together and there is a viable outreach ministry to low income immigrants.”

Centre City Corps

Located in downtown San Diego, the Centre City Corps, led by Captains Thomas and Patricia Poochigian, has developed a ministry to low income seniors, people living on the streets, and others in need. Most days of the week, they serve a light meal in the morning, and in the evening they partner with other churches in town to serve between 150 and 250 people in their facility, a meal and caring ministry. There is also an emergency lodge on the property, which assists families, and a STEPS program, which helps homeless men and men recently released from prison find permanent jobs, save money, and return to independent living.

An Army of compassion

With scores of programs and never-ending needs, the Sierra del Mar Division is doing its best to do the most good. “Our leadership has made this division what it is,” noted Major Joyce Loomis. “We have great officers in the field. Our team has encouraged us to be independent, and has built a cohesive unit. I don’t know of anyone more compassionate than Doug and Diane O’Brien.”

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