"Making a Difference" celebrates the service and contributions of Georgia's Salvation Army advisory board members and volunteers. Click on a name below to learn how people in your community are Making a Difference in Georgia. Thank you to those across Georgia who volunteer, donate and adovcate for The Salvation Army.
By: Valerie Phillips Johnson
Rennie Bickerstaff, Advisory Board Chair for the Columbus Corps Community Center, is continuing a long family tradition of serving The Salvation Army through leadership on its Advisory Board. He remembers that his mother, Margaret Bickerstaff, served on the Columbus Corps Advisory Board for 45 years. Recalling how much she loved the Army, he couldn’t help but agree to take her place on the board after her death in 1998. Bickerstaff says, “I consider it an honor and privilege” to pick up where she left off in “Doing The Most Good” for the Columbus community.
Bickerstaff, who is a native of Columbus, Georgia, graduated from Auburn University in 1970, served six years in the Army Reserve, and worked for his family’s brick manufacturing business in sales for 35 years. He and his wife, Cathy, have been married for almost 36 years, and they are the parents of two sons and their wives and adore their three grandchildren. He is a lifelong member of First Presbyterian Church; is active with its Youth Fellowship, served on the Deacon Board and board of Carpenter’s Way, a home for foster children, and PAWS Humane Society, as well as the Auburn Athletic Advisory Board.
Having served on the Columbus Advisory Board since 2000, his most rewarding outreach is helping to serve evening meals at The Salvation Army’s downtown homeless shelter. As he thought about why this is meaningful to him, he said, “So many families are going hungry and it gives me great pleasure to see that we can provide some sustenance for them.” Through his leadership, he has been instrumental in securing canned food for the Army’s food pantry. His efforts are counted among The Salvation Army Georgia Division’s success in providing 666,225 meals to individuals throughout the state in 2010.
Throughout his membership, a partnership with his wife grew. After attending the National Advisory Organization Conference together ten years ago, his wife, Cathy came back energized which led to her joining the Women’s Auxiliary where she helped start a women’s golf tournament as one of the Columbus Corps’ most successful fundraisers. The proceeds from these golf tournaments help them purchase 2 vans, computers, a television, yard equipment for the Corps Community Center, and provided scholarships for low-income children to spend a week at Camp Grandview.
When asked about other needs he wanted to address, he said that he would like to start a youth program for the Columbus Corps because children and youth need a safe place to go after school, especially during the summer. This is something he plans to accomplish in the near future.
Rennie Bickerstaff is a shield against hunger, homelessness and poverty in Columbus and says of the Shield, “I first think of hope for those less fortunate. Centuries ago men carried shields into battle so I naturally think of an army of warriors, but now as men and women in service to the Lord. I believe in helping those who are hurting and have no other place to go. The Salvation Army always reaches out to those in need of assistance of housing, helping get them back on their feet. I know of no other organization that uses funds as wisely as the Salvation Army which is of concern to many in today’s economic climate.”
By Valerie Phillips Johnson Joe Parmer, who is the chair of the LaGrange Salvation Army Corps Community Center, has one of the most familiar faces in LaGrange, GA. He and his family have been feeding families in LaGrange since 1947 when his father’s family moved from farming in Alabama to Troup County to open what is now known as Parmer Brothers Grocery. Joe followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and is now owner of Parmer Brothers Grocery. He clearly remembers what it was like to learn the meaning of hard work. He was only 10 years old when he and his two brothers started helping out in the family business where every other day during the week, Joe was required to put in a few hours after school.
As a fixture in the community, Parmer Brothers Grocery has had countless opportunities to help families dealing with food insecurity. And because he meets a basic need for food, he has many stories to tell about coming through when hungry neighbors least expected it. He remembers: “There was a little girl who lived in a rented house behind the store who would often bring her empty baby bottle to the store. We would fill it with milk for her and send her on her way…we never kept count.”
Joe also recalls the family’s decision to create charge accounts for people who would not have otherwise been able to feed their families because they did not have the cash. Joe looks back over the years and says, “Parmer Brothers has been good to the community but the community has also been good to Parmer Brothers.”
Prior to serving on the LaGrange Advisory Board, Joe had donated to the Angel Tree program. But after realizing he had a chance at much deeper involvement with the Salvation Army through the advisory board, Joe accepted the invitation to join the Board. For one and a half years, he has served as the chair of the board. As he has learned the tumultuous history of the relationship between the LaGrange Corps and the community going back to World War II, he realized the importance of building bridges starting with Corps Officers, Lieutenants Chris and Billie Powell. Together they have committed to putting the Corps and the community first. Joe’s primary goal is to grow the advisory board and infuse it with members who are committed to The Salvation Army and who bring new ideas to the table. He notes how important this is in light of the regular reassignment of officers within the Army. He sees how The Salvation Army touches the community and he not only wants to be part of that, but wants to make sure there is continuity between officer transitions to make sure the Army continues “Doing The Most Good” no matter who the Corps officers are.
“We are living in difficult times; we all have needs, some greater than others; we all just have to come together and help each other because there is hope! For Joe, that hope is in The Salvation Army.
Teenagers are often thought of as self-absorbed and concerned only about what impacts them. But fifteen year-old Anna Archer stood apart from other teenagers when she learned about the hundreds of Georgians and Alabamians affected by the April 2011 tornadoes. She found a way to “Be A Shield” by responding to their needs in her own special way.
When Anna heard about the spring tornadoes, she organized a fundraiser but did not know who to give the money to. After receiving an email that assured her The Salvation Army uses the largest percentage of donations for direct service, she decided to make her donation to the Army’s disaster relief efforts. Happy about choosing The Salvation Army, she started baking cooking and Rice Krispy treats and sold $1,040 worth of goodies to friends, family and classmates who believed in her cause and saw her passion for helping those in need.
When asked why she felt so strongly about helping others, she said, “My love for giving really started after a missions trip I took to New York where I worked in homelessness and children’s ministries.” Even though she admits there aren’t many 15 year-olds doing this type of volunteer work, she said she is blessed to have everything she has and feels good about helping others who don’t have as much or who have lost everything because of storms or other unforeseeable circumstances.
Sometimes shy about listing her accomplishments, Anna would not say what made her stand apart from other teenagers. But it was obvious that what makes her special is her ability to sympathize with those who are hurting and her initiative to be a shield against their suffering.
Many thanks to Anna Archer for “Being a Shield” against storm devastation in Georgia!
Helen Rhea Stumbo who is a native of Fort Valley, Georgia, has lived there most of her life and has been a business woman all of her adult life. Her college degree was in housing and design which influenced all her business ventures, whether in retailing, the mail order business, or renovating historic houses. Her husband John is the mayor of their community which guarantees her widespread involvement in the community matters. Helen Rhea also loves being active in their local church. Together they have four children and 11 grandchildren.
Her family has a long history of involvement with the Salvation Army, going back three generations. The opportunity to serve with the Army first came with the Warner Robins Advisory Board and then with the Middle Georgia Area Board which both gave her an opportunity to be a part of an organization whose history and purpose she loves. Helen Rhea says, “I am so grateful to the Army for all that we do to help people who often have nowhere else to turn, and that we can be a channel of God’s love to them.”
When asked about a fundraiser she enjoyed coordinating most, she said, “My favorite fundraiser is one that we have done for our Safe House for many years now. It’s an “UnDinner Dinner where we send an invitation not to come to dinner.” The invitation is in the form of a menu card on which advisory board members list items that are needed for the Safe House. The items are of different price ranges and are listed under the meal category of Appetizer (perhaps a case of paper towels or some videos for children). A salad might be represented by sheets and pillowcases, or bath towels. Entrées would consist of larger items like new play equipment for the children’s play yard, and Desserts would appear on the menu as perhaps a “basket” of personal hygiene items including toothbrushes, tooth paste, soap, lotion, etc. It has caught people’s attention in a fun way because the unique aspect is that no one has to show up for dinner. But they have the opportunity to make a tangible difference in the everyday operations of the Safe House.
One of the activities that is making a significant difference is a forum on dating violence for young men and young women. Often, children who grow up in abusive homes start displaying patterns of abusiveness themselves in dating relationships. Having these forums give advisory board members opportunities to discuss these signs so that young people are aware of them and can avoid putting themselves at risk in unhealthy situations. It gives participants opportunities to talk and ask questions. Every time a forum is held, at least one student tells them that he or she was glad to be there because they realized they were in danger. Helen Rhea says, “Giving students positive information about what is acceptable behavior and what is not gives them different ways of relating. We’re trying to break the cycle of abuse.”
“I have been so blessed to have a loving husband and family…,” says Helen Rhea, “but the tragic statistics are that one in three women will experience abuse in a relationship in her lifetime. Being involved with the Safe House through the Salvation Army gives me a way to try to make a difference for at least some of those women and their children. They come to us with such hurt in their lives, and we have the chance to show them that God can make a difference in their lives, and help them start over.”
By Valerie Phillips Johnson Dr. Cliff Rainey sees The Salvation Army through a different pair of eyes: as a practicing physician with the LaGrange Eye Clinic, and through the perspective that only a lifelong relationship with The Salvation Army can give. His step-father who served the U.S. Army as a chaplain during World War I and World War II introduced him to The Salvation Army when he was only 10 years old. Like many World War veterans, “Daddy John” as Dr. Rainey called him, often recounted the many ways The Salvation Army had been there for soldiers including himself.
Carrying his childhood reflections of The Salvation Army into adulthood, Dr. Rainey “became The Salvation Army” for LaGrange during the years when a Corps Community Center did have a presence there. As the embodiment of “Doing The Most Good” with his resources, he assisted stranded drivers who were broken down on the side of the road, shared food with those who were hungry, and provided a place to sleep for the homeless and jobless. For 40 years of service, he was recently awarded the Lifetime Advisory Board Member Award from the LaGrange, Georgia Corps.
In remembering how The Salvation Army’s compassion personally touched his life, he recalls how sending a good friend to the Army saved her life. Compounded misfortunes of a husband’s death and turning to alcohol as a way to cope led to alcoholism and homelessness for his friend. When she showed up at his office door intoxicated and carrying what was left of her belongings including several bottles of whiskey in her car, Dr. Rainey knew that no other organization could offer her the second chance that The Salvation Army could. After numerous attempts to convince her to check in to The Salvation Army’s Alcohol Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta, she eventually agreed and completed the program. Because of the Army’s spiritual and physical rehabilitation program, she lived out her remaining years in sobriety. For that and many other miracles, Dr. Rainey has an unshakeable loyalty to The Salvation Army.
Continuing his service to LaGrange’s neediest citizens through The Salvation Army, Dr. Rainey welcomes Salvation Army clients with vision problems to his clinic for free eye examinations, and partners with the Lions Club who pays for their glasses in the hope that through their new eyes, they will find a path to a better life.
By Valerie Phillips Johnson
Mr. Rick Wagner, owner of Wagner’s BBQ Restaurant in Albany, GA has known about The Salvation Army and its mission to feed the hungry for most of his life. So, it is no surprise that he serves on the advisory board of The Salvation Army Albany, GA Corps where he takes advantage of many opportunities to offer special BBQ meals to residents of the Army’s homeless shelter. Unwilling to let any food go to waste and with event sponsors’ permission, he donates a portion of catered meals to the feeding program.
Body and soul are fed because of Wagner’s hands-on approach. When asked what it means to him to be able to share with people who don’t know where their next meal will come from, he says it gives him a good feeling in his heart and he always wishes he could do more. He readily acknowledges that he and his family are fortunate, so whether people comes to his restaurant asking for food or he meets them at the shelter, he feels compelled to do something for them. This big-hearted compassion spreads throughout his staff because they also understand that if a stranger is hungry or needs help, he or she will get that help from Wagner.
But it’s not always strangers he has the chance to serve. Last Christmas when he and his family volunteered to serve breakfast at The Salvation Army, he met a former employee who had fallen on hard times. They caught up on each others’ lives and Wagner made sure he had what he needed. More than meeting an immediate need with a breakfast plate, he was assured that his friend was in good hands with The Salvation Army who would help him get his life back on track.
This and so many experiences with The Salvation Army demonstrate to him the scope of the Army’s impact on the local community. The fact that the Army serves the community only two blocks away from where he grew up as a child highlights the tremendous need in his own backyard. Wagner says he has not found another organization that meets local needs on the same level as The Salvation Army and that inspires him to continue supporting the Army in any way he can.
By Laura Stafford Virginia Hitson is one of the most passionate and compassionate people I have met. Despite personal struggles and obstacles in her own life, she has been fervently volunteering for The Salvation Army for 26 years. This past fall, Virginia was surprised and honored with an award for her volunteer service at The Salvation Army.
Although Virginia began volunteering for The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program in 1984, she volunteers throughout the year wherever she’s needed. She has helped with the Jingle Jog fundraiser, Can-a-Thon food collection, warehouse sorting, Food Pantry, Spiritual Care, and more. Virginia currently resides in Lawrenceville and now volunteers mainly at the food pantry. She passes out food boxes, cleans and organizes the food pantry, and provides spiritual care to clients. She feeds the need in her community.
When asked why she volunteers her time to The Salvation Army, Virginia responded “The Salvation Army not only helps people with their physical needs, but it also helps people with their spiritual needs.” She sees on a first-hand basis how The Salvation Army is “Doing The Most Good” with people’s time, money and resources for the benefit of those in her community. Virginia loves to give people hope; she also likes to plant a seed where people will want to give back through The Salvation Army.
Virginia has been touched by the stories of the many men, women and children who have come to The Salvation Army for help and guidance. Seeing people in desperate need of food, money to buy toys for their children during Christmas, or a warm bed and shelter for the night helps her to feel thankful for all she has been given and grateful to have an opportunity to help those in need in her community.
When employees from AutoTrader.com showed up at the Salvation Army Metro Atlanta Area Command’s warehouse on December 8, it was an amazing site all too familiar to them: tens of thousands of toys and children’s clothes lining nearly every shelf and rack. Their job for the next several hours? Serving as quality control volunteers whose extra eyes and hands would match wish list requests with children and their families. They sorted, bagged and tagged gifts for children whose families were not able to provide gifts for them this year. According to Sara Clem, Angel Tree coordinator, 6,500 children in Fulton and Dekalb Counties would receive gifts from The Salvation Army this year. The warehouse also assists local units in Gwinnett, Cobb, and Douglas County when requested.
Volunteers like AutoTrader.com employees provided an essential function of making sure no “angel” or child was forgotten. On average, 10% of children are labeled as “forgotten angels:” those for whom no one adopted and purchased gifts. And no angel in the system falls through the crack. The Salvation Army and partners like AutoTrader.com make sure there are enough extra gifts and clothes in the warehouse so they can “go shopping” on the spot to make sure each child receives a “perfect angel.” According to gifting guidelines, the “perfect angel” is sure to receive one full outfit appropriate for school, one pair of shoes and two to three toy items.
The Salvation Army thanks AutoTrader.com for their annual contributions toward making Christmas special for many families in Georgia. They are part of the 1,000 volunteer force recruited in part from corporations and civic groups that gave of themselves in the month of December. AutoTrader.com also partners with The Salvation Army on other various projects throughout the year! Thank you AutoTrader.com!
AutoTrader.com volunteers included: Adam Mills, Gib Finland, Matt Hake, Anne Markham, Robert Burman, Korhonda Randall.
Fred and Dinah Gretsch, owner and CFO of Fred Gretsch Enterprises, have served on the Savannah Corps Community Center advisory board for over 10 years. As members of a music dynasty, they were instrumental in creating the Savannah Corps' Music Conservatory for people of all ages interested in learning music.
VALERIE: Mr. Gretsch, how did you and your wife become involved with The Salvation Army?
FRED: Before moving to Savannah, my wife and I were involved with the Army in Charlotte, NC. After we relocated, our Charlotte associates recommended us to the Savannah Corps once an invitation had been extended to us. We were very impressed with the work of the Army and wanted to be part of its mission.
VALERIE: What do you like most about The Salvation Army?
FRED: We have immensely enjoyed working with our new Corps Officer, Captain Marion Platt, who has a motto of "Mission Matters Most." The Army has a strong mission statement which compels us to serve all those in need, in Christ's name, without discrimination. Captain Platt encapsulates in a few words why we do what we do everyday.
VALERIE: Tell us about the history of Fred Gretsch Enterprises and the Gretsch Foundation.
FRED: In 1883, my great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch opened his music shop in Brooklyn, NY where the instruments he made and sold set the standard for that "Great Gretsch Sound." For more than 125 years, we have been in the business of producing guitars and drums that world famous musicians like Beatles' George Harrison, Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts, guitarists Chet Atkins and Phil Collins helped to refine. It has been a wonderful family tradition and I have had the pleasure of working for the family business for 45 years and my wife Dinah has been involved with the company for 31 years. The Gretsch Foundation was founded in 2002 with the goal of enriching lives through participation in music. We are proud to promote its program called GuitarArt which is a "feast for the eyes!" The foundation donates guitars which are then transformed into unique works of art by students, teachers, and artists and used as fundraisers to help address community needs.
VALERIE: What would you like for us to know about your induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame?
FRED: My wife and I were inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame for music makers and creative people in 2008. We are happy to have been recognized as it has be tremendous fun being part of the ever-growing music scene. The induction ceremony will be broadcasted September 11, 2010 on Georgia Public Broadcasting.
VALERIE: What advice would you give someone considering involvement with The Salvation Army?
FRED: Get involved! It's great when folks participate and make a personal investment in their community.