According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) our nation’s childhood obesity rate has more than tripled in the last 30 years, yet many schools are eliminating or reducing recess, and it’s reported that almost 1 in 4 high schoolers (grades 9-12) do not engage in physical activity during their free time.
The Salvation Army of Atlanta is working to counter this problem by providing kids with exciting opportunities to get active! This past month they held the All Star Youth Basketball Workshop at The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center where children not only had the chance to hit the courts, but they also learned great skills and techniques from pro basketball legends!
Ikenna Ubaka, Program Manager for the Center, said they collaborated with the Atlanta Chapter of The National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) and INNER GOOD HEALTH & FITNESS INC. to offer two weeks of fitness sessions and basketball skills clinics for 6 and 7 grade youth.
Local boys and girls were able to learn firsthand from INNER GOOD fitness instructors, The Atlanta Battlecats (Women’s Basketball Team), and NBA Legends from the Atlanta Chapter of NBRPA. The sessions concluded with the Center’s Annual Julius “Dr. J” Biddy Ball Tournament with NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving.
Dr. J himself grew up playing basketball at The Salvation Army in Hempstead, New York and continues to support the Hempstead and Atlanta’s youth teams.
Other NBA legends involved with the event included Cory Blackwell, Vincent Askew, and Duane Causwell.
The Salvation Army Youth Recreational and Character Building Programs strive to meet the increasing challenges of Metro Atlanta youth by providing the essential recreational, social, educational, and social development tools they need to live happier and healthier lives. To find out more about The Salvation Army’s Atlanta youth programs visit www.salvationarmyatlanta.org.
Whitney Schraw told me what a difficult process it could be when trying to pass through military check points as she traveled in and out of the West Bank and how suicide bombers’ attacks were on the rise – not exactly an experience I’d expect to hear about from a young American woman. After college, Whitney worked in Jerusalem as a project coordinator to spur job creation in the villages of the West Bank. She was also involved in disaster relief as retaliatory attacks between Israelis and Palestinians were not uncommon. Clearly, she was making the most of her Middle Eastern studies and degree in economic development. Whitney never expected to be working for The Salvation Army one day back home in Michigan, but when her graduate studies in London were later cut short, she returned to Grand Rapids to figure out the next step in her life. When she came across an employment ad for The Salvation Army, she applied, not knowing what to expect.
Whitney Schraw (left) and her assistant Evelyn Olson at a Customer Assistance Day event during fall 2009.
Now, four years later, Whitney serves a much different group of communities, doing the most good as TSA’s Utility Program Manager for Michigan. The utility program is a part of the Salvation Army’s larger emergency assistance umbrella in Michigan, which provides aid for low income individuals and families or those who are newly in need. Whitney oversees the management of utility assistance funds and supports the approximate 110 caseworkers across the state who work directly with those seeking assistance.
Michigan suffers from the nation’s highest unemployment rate (14.1% compared to the national 9.7%) and bitter winter temperatures, ensuring that there is no lack of need. Whitney says their office has seen a flood of new families seeking utility assistance, with 20,000 families receiving aid last year, 75% of whom had never received assistance from TSA before. April is their busiest month, when clients receive “crushing” ballooned heating payments from the past 5 months as a result of a statewide optional deferral program for shut-off protection through winter. Whitney says the average utility bill they get is $1200, though it’s not uncommon in some areas for outstanding balances to be $5,000 – $7,000. She was shocked to see a bill this year for $32,000!
Whitney explained that while they address the immediate crisis by paying all or some of the utility bill, they also help a client make a comprehensive plan for the future by creating a budget, examining other areas where financial assistance may help free up funds for other bills, and determining if improvements to a client’s home would increase energy efficiency. Whitney described this “layering of services” as “a dignified way of approaching the financial missteps of the past.” She said, “That’s very empowering. As The Salvation Army, that’s one thing we can do. We can talk about a plan, and a plan is something that empowers people to move forward and believe their situation can get better. For many, having a plan means having hope.”
Whitney describes herself as social and a team builder. Though her job sometimes requires her to be stuck behind a computer, she has been able to use her personable nature to develop friendships and vital partnerships for TSA. She serves as co-chair for the Coalition to Keep Michigan Warm, a group of agency, utility company, state, and trade organization representatives who meet once a month to promote ongoing dialogue about challenges, resources, and solutions for low income utility assistance needs. She has also gained increased financial support, with the state’s 4th largest utility company Michigan Gas Utilities now soliciting their customers for utility donations for TSA. After trying for the last three years to get the support of propane vendors, Whitney’s perseverance finally paid off this year as Inergy Propane and its 30 Michigan retailers will donate all proceeds they receive from recycled bottle propane tanks to TSA’s utility program.
Whitney is undoubtedly helping TSA do the most good for local communities, but it is very different from her work in the Middle East. I asked her, what makes this job worth it for you? She pointed to the TSA caseworkers she serves on a daily basis and who in turn serve the state’s most vulnerable families.
“When I can represent such an amazing group of individuals that are serving families in crisis,” Whitney responded. “When I can represent what they do, tell others how they shine, and in any way support their day to day work…sometimes just to help them laugh… In their shoes, I don’t know if I’d be able to maintain my faith and commitment, but they do it in such amazing ways! Proudly supporting them – that’s what makes this job worth it.”
For more information about The Salvation Army’s programs in Michigan, visit their Eastern Michigan Division and Western Michigan/Northern Indiana Divisions’ websites.
Hopefully you’ve finished your tax returns since today is the deadline to have those in the mail! By tomorrow, thankfully, that burden should be behind us.
And as a nice surprise, some Salvation Army clients in Ohio recently found their tax burden has turned into a tax blessing!
Last week we discussed how many Salvation Army community centers offer free tax filing preparation and assistance. Specifically, The Salvation Army of Marion, Ohio is the 2nd most active participating site in their state, serving 489 people to date and completing 495 federal and 392 state tax returns. Adena Pennington, the Income Tax Program Director, is also the 2nd most active program director in the state. In total, more than $500,600 refund dollars have been requested from Marion County through this free program, and they’ve had many happy clients!
Sheryl Simmons from the Marion Salvation Army recounted the story of a woman named Anne who made an appointment to have an Ohio Benefit Bank counselor assist her with her federal and state income tax filing. Anne is married with 1 child but was filing separately from her husband. After completing her tax forms, Anne was to get a federal refund of $111.00. She then spoke with The Salvation Army about her tax return, and Sheryl recommended she and her husband file jointly so as to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). They agreed, and not only did they qualify for the EITC of $2,000, they also received a child tax credit, earning them a total refund of more than $4,000! Anne and her husband will also be making an appointment to have their 2008 return amended since they’ve been filing separately for several years, and chances are they’ll probably receive a significant refund for that return as well.
Marion Salvation Army’s Major Jim Sayer said, “This is why we provide this service. This family did not know that they could qualify, and that their filing status prevented them from claiming the EITC.”
Sheryl said several days later a woman named Pat came into The Salvation Army for a food appointment. She had gone to a local “professional tax preparation chain” and was charged almost $300 to have her return filed. Since she did not have the money to pay the company, they deducted the fee from her refund. Pat still owed taxes from a previous year so her refund would not be returned, and now she still owes the company $300. Once Pat discovered that The Salvation Army files tax returns free of charge, she vowed to come to them instead next year.
Twitter fans, here’s your chance to help support The Salvation Army!
The Kindness community has announced USA TODAY’s “#AmericaWants” Twitter campaign for charity where the charity with the most ‘tweets’ wins a full-page, full-color ad in USA TODAY!
So where do you come in?
Simply tweet the following text:
“#AmericaWants The Salvation Army to get a full-page ad in USA TODAY.”
Yes, it’s that easy, but please make sure you include ALL WORDING in the quotation marks in order for your tweet to be considered. Otherwise, you’re tweet won’t be counted.
If you don’t have an account, it’s easy to set one up! Then you can paste this text in as your first tweet. And don’t forget to encourage your friends and families to retweet your message.
The contest only lasts through the end of Friday, April 16, so start tweeting! And while you’re at it, make sure to check out our Twitter page at http://twitter.com/salvationarmyus. For more information, read the USA TODAY article here.