By Kyle Farber–
It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of difficult situations for businesses. Restaurants have been forced to make changes, markets have had to put new policies in place, and people have had to live according to the changes in services as well. Similarly, The Salvation Army has also had to make changes to the ways it serves the community and provides services to those in need, including youth.
While most youth activities are typically in-person, the Reno (Nevada) Corps has been able to continue its youth services—and keep youth engaged—despite the pandemic through an innovative way: Twitch.
Twitch is a live video streaming service that primarily focuses on playing video games. Individuals can watch streamers play as well as join in on games themselves. The streamer is also able to engage with those who are watching the stream. The stream typically has a player who broadcasts themselves as well as the game they are playing.
Before the shutdown, the youth program in Reno had been successful. “It was going really well. It was very strong. We had a steady attendance,” said Youth Director Sean Keser. “We were growing. We were going to pass possibly 50 children.”
Despite the success, coronavirus forced the program to shut down. “It happened pretty abruptly,” Keser said. “We saw that it was coming…and we ended up cutting it all the way off and we started changing over to a ministry where we could reach the children at their house.”
Salvation Army Reno PR and Social Media Specialist Christopher Hall had the idea for the Twitch stream back in January and when social distancing emerged, an opportunity presented itself. “When COVID-19 hit, we shut down most of our in-person programs but wanted to still connect to our younger generation in a ministry sense and also use it as an opportunity to fundraise for the corps and bring in a new demographic and new donor base that is not typically reached or looked at.”
The streaming has attracted both individuals associated with The Salvation Army and those not previously affiliated but who have found the corps through the Twitch streams.
Participants can also donate through Twitch. The Salvation Army will receive 75 percent of any donation made via the platform once it reaches 50 followers; it currently sits at 45. The first stream kicked off April 14 with streaming for around four hours on Tuesday, Friday and sometimes Saturday. With its potential for fundraising and outreach, organizers say the program will continue after the COVID-19 shutdown is lifted.
The ability to reach kids through something they enjoy doing has proven beneficial to The Salvation Army.
“Twitch is very community oriented. You always want to engage in the chat,” Hall said. “There’s something about being able to communicate with somebody on chat and with something they enjoy watching, there’s that engagement and comfort knowing that they are in a safe place…Because it is something that most young adults use and enjoy, they are more willing to open up than to me coming up to you in a typical social gathering like at a party and asking how they are doing.”
Keser agrees. “It’s almost like they feel freer,” he said. “It’s almost like they take on the avatar and they get courageous enough to speak about what they’re afraid to speak about.”
The conversation is two-way as well, as Twitch has allowed organizers to introduce the ministry of The Salvation Army. In one instance, a viewer of the stream was not previously associated with The Salvation Army and Keser was able to guide him to the local ministry.
“One young man who was talking with Sean…basically he was won to the Lord through that conversation on Twitch,” said Corps Officer Major Darren Trimmer. “So people are even getting saved.”