By: Danni Eickenhorst, Midland Division
The Salvation Army’s Temple Worship & Community Center in South City is working to truly know every facet of the community in which they minister. The surrounding neighborhoods are marked by violence, high incidences of drug use, school dropouts, teen pregnancy and marked poverty.
When several buildings being used for transitional housing across the street lost their funding, a new program was developed to better serve the community. The 11-units owned by The Salvation Army became difficult to upkeep without funding, so they had to be sold or repurposed.
The Salvation Army’s Divisional Commander Major Lonneal Richardson worked with Envoys Steve and Ketsia Diaz of Temple and decided the best use of the buildings would be to use several of them for an urban ministry program. In this program, called the Intentional Living Program, Christian individuals with a heart for leadership can live in the units rent-free in exchange for donating their time and talents to The Salvation Army and other neighborhood efforts.
Upon launching the program, the envoys moved their family into one of the units so they could become more effectively ingrained in their community.
“Without living among the people you serve, it’s difficult to effectively minister to them, especially if you’re driving in every day from the suburbs,” said John Aho, Community Partnerships and Program Development Director for Temple.
Aho, the children of Salvation Army pastors who often served in inner-city churches, came to St. Louis to serve in the Intentional Living Program as an unpaid volunteer. “Jesus came into the world and experienced it, and lived among the people. This program allows us to experience the same challenges our friends, clients and soldiers face every day. Instead of dictating principles from on high, you do it from their level, where they live – where you live,” said Aho.
The program continues to grow and has created a unique bond between the neighborhood and The Salvation Army. “With the additional Christ-centered community-focused volunteers we now have at our fingertips, we have been able to work more hands-on with schools, neighborhood associations, arts organizations, local businesses and other non-profits to strengthen the community. Those of us who are in the program are essentially good role models, planting seeds in the community among the youth. We are showing the kids that you don’t have to quit school. You don’t have to get married young. There is another option.”
As a result of the Intentional Program’s intensive neighborhood focus, Temple recently received a Thomas Lyle Williams Grant and matching funds from the Dana Brown Charitable Foundation which will allow them to fund a CHOICES program, allowing neighborhood adults and children to come to the community center to take elective courses that will broaden their horizons, helping to stimulate interests that may lead to future career choices – such as sound engineering, dance and drama.
“We are doing big things in Benton Park West and the surrounding communities,” said Aho, “and we are actively recruiting for more people to join us in our work.”
Those with a heart for leadership interested in giving a year or more to an inner city neighborhood, offering hope to the hopeless and help to the hurting are encouraged to reach out to John Aho at 314.771.3460 for more information on the Intentional Living program, or visit www.sastlouistemple.org for more information.