Not always reacting

So much of what The Salvation Army is known for is its timely and dedicated disaster response initiatives.  From mud slides and tsunamis to earthquakes and tornadoes, the Army is always there to provide a warm meal, an attentive ear and a firm shoulder.

Sometimes though, the stories of what the Army does to preempt and prevent heartache, despair and hopelessness, get lost.

The Chicago Tribune ran a story yesterday about a group of siblings from one of its roughest neighborhoods that are now “blossoming” in one of the Army’s music programs.

Destiny Jones, center, turns in an art project at the Salvation Army center on 69th Street in Chicago (Credit: Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)

Destiny Jones, center, turns in an art project at the Salvation Army center on 69th Street in Chicago (Credit: Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)

The siblings were initially featured in a Tribune story that detailed their life in one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

The three-girls-and-one-boy sibling group was offered scholarships to The Salvation Army’s Adele and Robert Stern Red Shield Center where they participate in the camp and after-school programs.

Julian Champion, who oversees the center, said he was moved after reading the Tribune story about Dewine, 10-year-old Destiny, 7-year-old Dynasty, and 7-year-old Courtney Mims.   The story did not list the family’s address, but it did include a photo of the children playing in their front yard. So the day Champion read the story, he gave the picture to his program director and sent him on a mission to find them. He wanted the children immediately enrolled in the center’s programs.

“This is why we exist,” he said. “Our children are just as gifted and talented as kids anywhere. We want to provide opportunities for kids here that they don’t normally get.” They get get help with their homework, learn about art and drama, have physical activities and take music lessons.

How the children came to be a part of the program is truly a testament to The Salvation Army’s commitment to meeting human needs right where people are.  Champion’s desire to reroute these youths from a life of drugs and violence is the same passion with which the hundreds of Salvation Army camps, before- and after-school programs, and children’s groups are established and run.

“One of the things that most concerns us is children missing opportunities to do things,” said Brad Baker, the center’s program director. “Unless they have opportunities, we don’t know who we’ll have. We could have the next great clarinet player, the next Benny Goodman.

“These kids around here love to play basketball,” Baker said. “But in college there are only about eight basketball scholarships. There’s always a seat in the band for musicians.”

So maybe this work isn’t so different from an emergency disaster response: The Salvation Army stepped in in the lives of these children just in time, responding to an urgent, emergency call from their community.  They needed hope, they wanted to see another way out of the lives that they knew, and just like always, The Salvation Army was there.

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