Meet Mike Jones, A Hometown Hero and Salvation Army Board Member

Friday, January 14, 2011

Remember Mike Jones, the hometown hero who saved the lives of several Florida school board members taken hostage in their own meeting? The dramatic video of Jones thwarting the gunman was all over the internet and TV.

Most people recognize Jones from the recent news coverage of the event, but the more you get to know him, the more you realize he wasn’t just a hero in the moment. He’s been helping change people’s lives for years.

Jones currently serves as Bay District Safety and Security Director, and he’s also served 35 years in law enforcement as a police officer and detective. On top of that, he’s a local Salvation Army Advisory Board member.

While he was still in law enforcement, Jones worked several cases which led him to The Salvation Army. He helped many female domestic violence victims and abused children find shelter and assistance at our facilities.

Though at that time he generally knew of The Salvation Army’s work, he wasn’t fully aware of the many programs and services we offer. But now that Jones is a local board member going on his 4th year of service, he gets to see The Salvation Army from the inside out. His main role is to provide guidance and vote on issues related to finances, procedural policy, or other significant proposals.

“When you’re not a board member, you may not know everything [The Salvation Army is] doing,” Jones says. “But when I got in there and learned what they’re doing, it strengthened my faith even more…I could go on and on about how our community benefits from their work.”

Mike Jones with several refurbished bikes for his Salvage Santa program.
While he gives back through his service at The Salvation Army, Jones also heads another significant initiative called Salvage Santa, a program focused on refurbishing toys to donate to children in need. He started it more than 27 years ago as a hobby when he saw many great toys going to waste. Now he’s known all over the area for the work he and his wife do fixing up bikes, dolls, and games, and community members regularly drop by with donations. It’s gained so much attention that Jones was interviewed on Oprah in 1995! Check it out here under the video section. Jones is now serving 800 – 1,000 kids a year through Salvage Santa.

But for all these admirable things that Jones is known for, being forced to face off in a deadly gunfight is not the way most people would prefer to become known as a hero. I asked him how such a life-changing situation has affected him, especially his outlook on this new year.

“All the credit and glory goes to the good Lord. I’ve been through a lot of training in 35 years of law enforcement, and all of that kicked in, but Somebody guided me,” he said, describing how he was supposed to be on vacation that day, the seeming-coincidences that led to him be at the building at the right time, and narrowly avoiding the gunman’s shots in the meeting room. “I’m fortunate to be here today so I give all the thanks to God and what he does.”

During our phone conversation, Jones praised many of his colleagues on The Salvation Army Board and described them as “pillars of the community. ” While he probably wouldn’t say it about himself, it seems clear that those words easily describe Jones as well – not for a single heroic act highlighted on the evening news, but for the heroism he’s displayed through decades of service to others. The Salvation Army is extremely grateful to have him as a part of our organization.

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For a Haircut and Inspiring Story, Lamont’s Your Guy

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Last week I had the immense pleasure of speaking with Lamont, a 36 year old Salvation Army client residing in our men’s shelter in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The energy in Lamont’s voice is contagious. Though he’s fallen on hard times, his perspective on life is more hopeful than most people’s I know, and I couldn’t help but feel inspired after meeting him over the phone just minutes earlier.

After spending some years in prison, Lamont says he wanted to live a changed life when he got out, and he knew The Salvation Army could help him do it. Before serving time, he had volunteered everyday in one of our kitchens as a way to stay off the streets, so he knew firsthand about the help we offer.

Upon his release, Lamont went to The Salvation Army with a plan. He told the local staff about his goal of going to cosmetology school full time to earn his license and eventually find a job that would allow him to support himself. They gave him a bed at the men’s shelter, and now Lamont says it’s put him in a better position to cut off his negative relationships from his past and meet new people.

He’s also focusing on school 100% as a student at the American Institute of Beauty and using his barber skills to benefit the shelter’s many other residents.

“I’d go on the streets giving people free haircuts,” Lamont says. “Then my name started circulating that I was the guy to come to when you need a haircut. I’m always playing around, cutting, blow-drying with these guys. They say, “I got a job interview tomorrow. Can you help me?” So I shave ‘em, trim ‘em, do their nose hairs, whatever. If you make people feel better on the outside, they become more employable, so I do hair.”

As much as he helped his male bunkmates, Lamont wanted to do more for the women at The Salvation Army’s family shelter. Then one day, when he saw his school getting ready to toss out some old nail polish bottles, he asked to take two back to the family shelter. The school told him they’d contact The Salvation Army directly to make sure it was ok, and Lamont never expected what happened next.

Rather than giving the two bottles, the school donated loads of new nail polish to The Salvation Army, plus items for complete manicure and pedicure sets, hair products, and makeup for the women, as well as socks, body wash, toothpaste, and many other hygienic items for the men.

“It was beautiful! It was incomparable! I’m giving praises to God. I was just a vessel he used,” Lamont gushed remembering it. “It makes me feel good. I really accomplished something. I did something. I’m still smiling about it right now!”

Lamont’s dream is to have his own salon one day that is full of his personality. It’s a plan he says he came up with more than ten years ago and is still trying to execute to this day. For him, doing hair is a job in which his clients won’t hold his past against him as long he can make them look and feel good. He loves the way a simple haircut or style can transform a person’s attitude and make them shine.

Lamont has several months of hard work ahead before he gets his license. Classes began in August and he’s on schedule to graduate in May 2011. He’s out the door every morning before 6:30am to take a 2.5 hour bus ride, and he doesn’t get back to The Salvation Army shelter until after dinner time. But his joy and determination are undeniable.

“I want to utilize my own hands, brain, and the senses God gave me to get myself out of my situation. I’m gonna share the good things that God has put in my heart. I thank God He has given me the knowledge, ability, and power to plant the seeds. That’s all I am. A sower of good seeds.”

In regards to The Salvation Army, Lamont told me, “It’s a blessing to be a part of this organization. I think that someway, somehow, with the will of God, together we can always make a difference. I would love to try to be a part of this organization for the rest of my life.”

We’d like that too. Good luck, Lamont, with school, you career, and beyond. We’re rooting for you!

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Turning Leftovers into Abundance

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ryan Cox is a 14 year old from Jacksonville, FL who has found a unique way to support the needy in his community. The teenager has provided thousands of pounds of food for hungry, impoverished persons in Northeast Florida through his “gleaning efforts.”

Gleaning is an ancient, biblical practice that involves gathering leftover crops that would otherwise rot from fields that have already been formally harvested.

Ryan has gleaned and donated more than 3,000 lbs. of fresh produce to The Salvation Army and other non-profit agencies. He started at the age of 12 when he needed to complete several service hours for his church confirmation. During his first gleaning experience, he harvested potatoes from a farm in Hastings, Florida with other 7th grade boys. Despite being hot and dirty after many hours of hard work, they were thrilled to have harvested hundreds of pounds of potatoes!

Having previously served meals at a Salvation Army soup kitchen, Ryan knew first-hand that they could use more fresh produce, so he made it his personal mission to continue gleaning as much produce as possible.

In 2010 alone, he gleaned more than 2,000 pounds of potatoes, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and citrus which he and his parents delivered to The Salvation Army. The value of Ryan’s donated food is worth more than $4,200 and has provided more than 1,600 nutritious meals for homeless men, women and children. According to Ryan, this is only the beginning. He continues to set personal gleaning goals and well surpasses them.

[Produce]

Head Chef for the local Salvation Army, Anthony Mosely, cannot say enough about Ryan and his gleaning efforts.

“Ryan has literally saved us thousands of dollars in produce costs and had added variety and freshness to our meals. He is an enthusiastic kid with an abundance of energy and ambition. He is the kind of kid they should make a movie about. How many kids his age do you know that set personal goals of helping to feed homeless people – and then actually follow through on them? This kid is amazing!”

And amazing he is! Ryan will be entering high school in the fall and shows no sign of slowing down in his efforts to help others.

From all of us at The Salvation Army, thank you Ryan for your outstanding work and leadership! You are a true blessing and role model.

Information submitted by The Salvation Army Florida Division.

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Homeless Man with the Golden Voice Inspires Other Homeless Citizens

Thursday, January 6, 2011

By now you’ve all heard of the homeless man with the golden radio voice, Ted Williams. (To view the YouTube video that started it all, click here.) In just a few days he’s gone from panhandling to becoming an internet sensation with prestigious job offers pouring in.

Ted’s amazing turn of events, not to mention his humble and charismatic personality, has inspired an instant and growing fan base.

Interview with CBS’ The Early Show

Now Ted’s second chance at life is inspiring other gifted homeless people, including Salvation Army clients. In Minneapolis, Stu and Laporsha are both talented and educated individuals who never expected to be homeless, but they have hope that they will be able to once again get back on their feet, just like Ted.

Fox 9 spoke with them about how The Salvation Army is helping them pursue their own second chances:

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Great News for Our Residential Facilities

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Salvation Army residential shelters just got some great news to start off the New Year.

Stearns & Foster (owned by Sealy) announced it’s donating $1 million worth of new mattresses to our facilities across the country. The bedding manufacturer teamed up with retailers during the holidays to offer $100 in donations per mattress set sold, and, to our excitement, they reached the maximum amount of donations.

Stearns & Foster’s generous gift will fulfill a basic need for men, women, and children who need a safe place to stay and comfortable night’s sleep at The Salvation Army.

We have shelter programs operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Last year we provided more than 10 million lodgings to Americans in need.

We can’t wait to get these mattresses out to our communities and see the impact a good night’s sleep will have on the people we serve every day! Thank you to Stearns & Foster and participating retailers for your generous support!

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I Resolve…to Not Resolve?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Are you one of the 33% of Americans who made a New Year’s resolution this year? Or do you wonder why people even bother?

Some of this year’s top resolutions (which probably haven’t changed much since last year) are:

1. Lose Weight/Get in Shape
2. Quit Smoking/Drinking
3. Spend More Time with Family & Friends
4. Get out of Debt
5. Find a Job/Get a Better Job
6. Fall in Love
7. Get a Better Education
8. Help Others
9. Go Green
10. Get Organized

Helping others, volunteering, giving back – however you want to phrase it – appeared on most top ten lists. Did it make yours?

I-Volunteer.org, an editorial website dedicated to helping people find volunteer opportunities, encourages you NOT to make a resolution to volunteer more this year. Umm…what kind of volunteer website would do that?

Actually, they make a good point, especially for you resolution skeptics out there. I-Volunteer argues that “resolutions” are easy to let fall by the wayside as soon as the freshness of the New Year wears off. Instead of attaching your good intention to an idea that we expect would take a miracle to follow through with, make it something more meaningful. Make it a promise. Read more here.

As a sweet bonus, I-Volunteer says making a “promise” to volunteer can actually be a means to accomplishing the other items on your resolutions list. Want to find a new career, get fit, or heat up your love life? Find out how volunteering may help, here.

What do you think? Let us know your resolutions or why you didn’t make any.

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Mysterious Donations

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettles fill up with spare change and bills during the holiday season, but every year there’s a few unique and mysterious donations that appear. Here are a few that made our list in 2010:

South African Krugerrand

Krugerrands – A South African gold Krugerrand coin worth $1,100 was dropped into a Shreveport, LA Salvation Army red kettle. Two more Krugerrand coins were dropped into Salvation Army red kettles in Fort Collins, CO. Yet another was anonymously donated in Kauai, Hawaii. Who knew so many people have Krugerrands?

Wedding Band and Diamond Ring – This surprising donation was found wrapped around a $1 dollar bill in a kettle in Indiana.

In a similar incident in Minnesota, a woman donated her husband’s wedding band to a kettle, but it was on accident. Thankfully, she recovered it from The Salvation Army when she noticed it was gone from her coin purse. Whoops!

[Double Eagle Gold Coin]
Double Eagle Gold Coin

Gold coin, donated “In Loving Memory of Mimi.” For the past six years, an anonymous donor has dropped a $20 Double Eagle gold coin – wrapped in a note honoring Mimi – into one of South Florida’s Red Kettles. The coin, printed in 1928, is valued at $1,400.

Several other rare gold and silver coins have been donated to kettles all over the country!

Secret Santa donates $100,000

$100,000 from the North Pole – The Salvation Army received several extremely generous, anonymous donations in our kettles this year. One however, in Joplin, Missouri, came from “Santa Claus.” Five checks totaling $20,000 came from the jolly old elf, hidden in folded dollar bills.

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The Good Steward

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today we’re sharing another moving story from The Salvation Army Massachusetts, as told by Donor Relations Director Larry Grazio. It’s an amazing account of a boy who truly had nothing. But now that he’s grown up and successfully established, he never forgot the support and love shown him by The Salvation Army during his darkest times.

He got his clothes from a Salvation Army thrift store. He got his food from a Salvation Army pantry and the first Christmas gift he ever received came from a Salvation Army Officer. He literally has walked in the shoes of the poorest of the poor. These experiences as a child had such a profound effect on him and created empathy so deep that, today, he is one of the most generous donors to The Salvation Army of Massachusetts. So modest is this man though that he does not want his name publicized – so I’ll call him Michael.

Michael escaped with his mother from an Eastern European Communist country. Unfortunately the Communists killed his father, older brother, three uncles and a nephew. He immigrated to New York City because he had been told that the streets there were paved with gold. When he got there, however, he quickly learned differently–to survive, he had to eat out of garbage cans. Then he found The Salvation Army, and his life began to change.

Eventually, he moved to Boston where he got his first job: selling magazines door-to-door in the Uphmans Corner area of Dorchester.

Today Michael is an extremely generous, Godly man who owns a successful investment company. He has always told me if we need help, just let him know; and he has always come through. His concern for the basic needs of the poor is so real that if Michael makes a designated gift for a special capital project, he will always make a gift of equal size for basic services. Michael puts people above projects.

As a young boy, Michael was given a scholarship to attend The Salvation Army’s Camp Wonderland in Sharon, MA. He told me that in those days all the boys put Brylcreem or Vitalis Hair Tonic in their hair to slick it back, but because he was so poor, he could not afford that. So one day he put lard in his hair and combed it all back. Getting on the bus that day for camp, he was very proud. He sat down in his seat for the ride to camp, and then….the sun shone through the window…. and the lard melted all down his face. He was mortified by his desperation to hide his extreme poverty.

However, he proudly told me this last story: he was playing baseball at camp; it was the 9th inning, two outs, his team was losing. He came to the plate. With a full-count, he hit a dramatic game-winning walk off home run– but fell rounding second base and broke his arm. The camp counselors took Michael to the hospital. When he got there, the Red Sox were also losing in the 9th inning with three men on. At that moment, Ted Williams came to the plate – just like Michael – and hit a game-winning walk off grand slam – just like Michael – and won the game – just like Michael! Michael was feeling pretty special right about then! Despite having broken his arm that day, Michael will tell you that “that baseball game was one of his single best childhood memories”.

This past August, TSA of MA had a matching gift challenge that Michael participated in with a generous gift. Now, as the year is coming to a close, he read that gift income is down, need is up and more people than ever before are asking for our help with the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing.

In yet, another act of extraordinary kindness, Michael called to offer us a $175,000 matching challenge grant to encourage other donors – first-time or long-time — to continue to help those in need because he knows what it’s like to feel that kind of pain, fear and desperation.

Although Michael no longer gets his clothes from a Salvation Army Thrift Store or his food from a Salvation Army food pantry, he has never forgotten the help The Army gave him. He just wants to make sure that The Army can continue to provide help to those in need – the way they provided for him so many years ago.

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Brett and Deanna Favre Come Through for Salvation Army in Big Way

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

[Brett and Deana Favre pose with one of the families they sponsored through The Salvation Army.]
Brett and Deana Favre pose with one of the families they sponsored through The Salvation Army. (Photo: Craig Dirkes)

The Salvation Army’s Northern Division (serving Minnesota and North Dakota) shared this story of holiday generosity with us and we couldn’t pass up sharing it with you.

This Christmas the Salvation Army Northern Division wanted to give needy families and individuals in the Twin Cities food baskets with all the fixings for a proper Christmas dinner.

However, they knew it wouldn’t be easy. Their food pantries have seen a 30% – 150% increase in demand since 2008. Plus, they received assistance requests from 1,000 more families this year than they did last, but donations were down nearly half a million dollars.

So the Army launched a fundraising effort with a goal of $60,000 in order to provide food for 2,000 families…but they only raised $300.

Then they received a call from Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre’s and his wife Deanna’s community outreach rep. The couple wanted to adopt some families through The Salvation Army’s Adopt-a-Family Program and wanted to know what other ways they could help. After hearing about the Army’s food baskets plan, they donated the entire $60,000 out of their personal funds to cover the project. Thanks to their generosity, 2,000 families and individuals received two boxes stuffed full of food.

[Brett and Deana Favre hang out with families at a private meet and greet.]
Brett and Deana Favre hang out with families at a private meet and greet. (Photo: Craig Dirkes_

Plus, they adopted four families in need, all of whom were in some way battling cancer, an issue close to Deanna Favre’s heart.

Not only did Brett and Deanna purchase generous presents for each sponsored family, they set up a meet and greet at the Vikings practice facility where kids and parents got to hang out with the star couple.

When asked why he supported The Salvation Army programs, Favre said he strongly believed it’s much better to give than to receive.

The Salvation Army Northern Division posted photos here on their Flickr page.

We don’t know how to say thank you enough to the Favres for their kindness! The Salvation Army is blessed by their generosity and it helped bring a very happy close to the year for thousands of our clients.

Favre chats and signs an autograph for a young fan. (Photo: Craig Dirkes)

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A Sudanese “Lost Boy” Finds New Family, Home with The Salvation Army

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Do you ever wonder, “Who are those people who so faithfully ring the bells alongside Salvation Army Red Kettles every holiday season? What is it that motivates each of them to serve?”

What makes many of these faithful servants unique is that many bell ringers have been on the other side of the social service system. They have first-hand experience at homelessness and going without – bell ringers like Peter Adup, one of the “lost boys” from Sudan who escaped to the U.S. as a teenager when his entire family perished due to political strife. He has no immediate family left, but The Salvation Army has become his family.

He currently resides at a Salvation Army homeless shelter, where he’s working to get back on his feet with gainful employment – perhaps even as a Salvation Army officer one day! In his free time, he volunteers every chance he gets, including as a bell ringer.

Peter Adup is recognized as Southern California’s “Bellringer of the Year.” (Photo from Salvation Army of Southern California’s Facebook album.)

For three years in a row now he’s been stationed at one of the highest trafficked kettles in Los Angeles.
Due to his contagious smile and amazing energy, his has one of the most successful kettles in town.

Despite all of the hardship Peter has faced in his home land – or perhaps because it – Peter’s desire is to pursue full-time ministry and return to Africa as a missionary.

His amazing attitude and contagious energy are evident to all, and those are just a few of the reasons the Southern California Division has named him “Bell Ringer of the Year.”

His is an inspiring story of triumphing despite all odds.

Information submitted by Dawn Wright from The Salvation Army USA’s Southern California Division. Thanks Dawn!

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