ITS mandate is to change lives by touching hearts and the Salvation Army has been doing just that in Jamaica for over 125 years through daily interaction with the most vulnerable in the society, and the establishment of a number of schools, skill centres, shelters and other social ventures.
"Our main thing is to assist individuals by using a holistic approach, so that they can see life as being important. Because we are a Christian organisation, we put an emphasis on a change of life, in that if your heart is changed, then you will have ripple effects in terms of having a more positive life," Major Stanley Griffin of the Eastern Jamaica Division of the Salvation Army told the Sunday Observer recently.
The division covers half of the island — including Kingston and St Andrew — and comprises 19 churches and 33 officers. With the assistance of an advisory board made up of 16 business leaders, they are always seeking new ventures to complement the ones they have already introduced to improve the lives of the poor and needy.
One of the most recent undertakings will be a training session scheduled for this week in Mandeville to teach Salvationists how to respond to natural disasters within at least 24 hours. The venture is being financed by the board — which recently made a donation of $3.5 million — and comes in the wake of heavy showers that have been lashing the island since late September when Tropical Storm Nicole caused severe flooding in several areas.
The rains have kept the group busy attending to the needs of affected residents.
"We do have a disaster unit where people are trained to deal and to respond to disaster. Our mandate is food and providing shelter afterwards in terms of mattresses and things like that, and if the funds are available, housing to a certain limit," Major Griffin said.
Existing programmes operated by the Eastern Jamaica Division include the Salvation Army School for the Blind and the William Chamberlain Rehab Centre, as well as seven basic schools and five social centres. They include the Nest Children's Home, which accommodates 45, and the Hanbury and Windsor Lodge children's homes which look after 90 and 60 children respectively.
"Some of these children are abandoned children, some of them are there for their own safety in terms of incest and so forth," said Major Griffin, adding that the children are usually placed by the Child Development Agency which monitors the homes' programmes.
The Salvation Army also operates the Evangeline Residence in Kingston.
"This home is for professional women who move into Kingston and want a place of safety until they can get on their feet. We attract student nurses, we attract students who attend UTech (the University of Technology) and UWI (the University of the West Indies) and other professional women who come to Kingston," he said.
"You must be working or you must be studying," Griffin said of the requirements to be admitted by the Evangeline Residence. "Reference is required and you must be in some kind of a profession; so it is not a night shelter hostel. It is not like somebody can walk off the streets and want to stay here for the night."
Then there is the Francis Ham Home which accommodates up to 37 males and females who are either blind or are retired officers who are no longer able to care for themselves.
Meanwhile, Major Griffin explains that the Salvation Army School for the Blind, which is part funded by the government, has been doing extremely well and is highly sought after both here and abroad.
"We have students who are now at university, we have past students who are in the secular world and in good jobs, we have musicians like some of those from Fab 5 who have passed through. In terms of the school doing well, it speaks for itself," the Salvationist pointed out.
Even with all the demands of the centres it operates, the Salvation Army still finds time to feed over 500 street people on a daily basis in downtown, Kingston. The project is done in collaboration with Food for the Poor and provides two meals per day for the homeless. The group also has a hostel for men in the city and it operates a thrift shop where they can purchase clothes.
"The clothes are sold at a minimal cost. Some vendors on the road that are selling clothes, we are their suppliers," the Major said.
Other thrift shops are operated by the Salvation Army in Jamaica, proceeds from which go toward their rehabilitation centre on Lyndhurst Road, Kingston 5. The centre provides skills training for deportees and prepares them to reintegrate into society as productive citizens.
"Most of our funds are raised here in Jamaica through our capital appeal which the advisory board does, and a annual dinner at the Pegasus Hotel which brings in quite a lot of our funds," said Major Griffin, while not discounting the continued contributions made by international partners.
In addition to this, each Salvationist is encouraged to give a special offering towards self-denial each Easter Sunday and the group also seeks contributions from the general public via its red kettle initiative done particularly at Christmastime.