An army of helpers
Students help secure a century of success for Charlottesville Salvation Army
As the holiday season approaches, University students walking on the Corner or shopping at Barracks Road Shopping Center can hear the ringing of bells as Salvation Army volunteers collect money for the charity in their signature red kettles.
The Christmas season is one of the busiest times of the year for the Salvation Army, Corp Officer Melinda Johnson said, explaining that 678 families are currently registered to receive food, clothing and toys.
"It's a major, major undertaking," said John Erwin, who has worked for the Salvation Army for 16 years. To meet the need, the Salvation Army recruits many volunteers, including University students.
"Frankly, we'd be at a loss without the University," Erwin said. "The only word I know [to describe the University's level of support] is 'astronomical.'"
During the holiday season students hold food drives for the local soup kitchen, one of the services provided year-round for those in need, and participate in the Angel Tree Program, Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Chapman said.
The University's involvement with the Charlottesville Salvation Army goes beyond the holiday season, though. Chapman said about 100 students volunteer every year, some through Madison House programs and others individually.
"It means a lot in the community that [the students] care, and it helps us to do more of what we do," Johnson said.
In addition to student volunteers, the Salvation Army employs several interns each year through the University Internship Program. Ben Houchens, director of the emergency shelter, said the University has provided the Salvation Army with interns for nearly 25 years, and that in the last several years the Medical School also began a first-year internship program with the charity.
Six University students currently intern for the Salvation Army, and they are assigned to different divisions within the army according to their interests.
Fourth-year College student Taylor Carmines, one of the current interns for the Transitional Housing program, said the job stays interesting because of the variety of circumstances and people he encounters. "Every person has a different situation, so it's not the same thing every day," he said. "It has also helped me to get to know the Charlottesville area and people better."
Interns do everything from public relations to assessing the needs of people who come to the shelter.
"We have fantastic interns from the University," Erwin said. "I'm thrilled to death with U.Va. and their students. We'd be hard pressed without them."
Just as the University has a long history in Charlottesville, so does the local Salvation Army, which will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year. Since 1912, the Charlottesville Corps of the Salvation Army has been helping those in need through its various programs which are designed to help the poor turn their lives around.
Erwin said the army does not want to create a dependency on its aid. "We'll help you today but what plans do you have for tomorrow? That is a question addressed in counseling," Erwin said.
The army provides continuous support to anyone who requests it, Erwin added. He also noted the army's non-judgmental nature. "We don't care what religious persuasion or race you are," he said. "We don't even ask."
Although the Salvation Army is a Christian organization and all officers are ordained ministers, Erwin said they do not preach or try to convert. "That's not our goal," he said. "There are no strings attached."
In honor of their 100 years in Charlottesville, the Salvation Army plans to host festivities on the Downtown Mall in May. University students are already helping to organize the celebration, including designing the 100 Year Anniversary logo for the army, Erwin said.