Imagine arriving in a new city, in the midst of a pandemic, for a new job that involves assisting more than 21,000 people in need. For Kenyon and Melissa Sivels, this is their reality.
The two are not only husband and wife, but also co-workers. They arrived in Fort Wayne in July 2020, to be the new Corps Officers for the Fort Wayne branch of the Salvation Army.
From administrative work and human relations duties, to leading public relations and even pastoring, Kenyon says, as Corps Officers, he and his wife wear many hats.
Corps Officers are reassigned to a new city every four to six years to lead a different local branch of the Salvation Army. Kenyon and his family most recently come from Mason City, Iowa, and as Kenyon nears almost eight years working for the Salvation Army this is his third relocation.
Just five months into his arrival to Fort Wayne, it’s one of the most important times of the year for the Salvation Army: the holiday season. The Salvation Army counts on holiday giving to raise funds that will not only help them provide services to more than 21,000 Fort Wayne residents this winter, but all year long.
Input Fort Wayne spoke with Kenyon to discuss what led him to a career path with the Salvation Army, how the Fort Wayne branch is keeping up with the more than doubled demand of their services during the pandemic, and how those who are able can help the Salvation Army this holiday season.
IFW: How long have you been with the Salvation Army and what inspired you to get involved with this organization?
KS: I’ve been in for about seven and a half years. It’ll be eight years in June. My brother and I were in foster care, and when we got out, we stayed in Salvation Army housing. As my mom was completing a drug and alcohol treatment, the Salvation Army church was next door so we started going to church there.
So the Salvation Army has a strong significance to me. I believe it’s a calling, by all means. Few people aspire to be pastors or to work in the non-profit world without a stronger sense of conviction and calling. And my wife and I, we would echo that, as well. We want to see people’s lives change. We want to see people know Jesus, and personally, I’ve seen, and I’ve lived through the impact Salvation Army can have, and so it certainly influences some of how we lead and some of how we look to encourage some of our clients and some of the people who partake in our services.
IFW: How is your transition to Fort Wayne going so far?
KS: Well, it’s been a difficult transition because of COVID in the sense of trying to monitor who is in the building and the different uses of the building. Fort Wayne is almost 10 times bigger than where we moved here from, so we’ve certainly kept an eye on COVID trends. My wife and I have two small children, so we’ve been cautious in that regard.
All of that said, we want to be community-minded people, and we’ve made a great effort to do that since arriving here. I am a Rotarian, and I’ve heard I’m the first Rotarian in the Salvation Army and about 15-20 years, so I take great pride in that. Rotary is a fantastic service club, and they have a lot of great missional focus as the Salvation Army does, so I think that’s an excellent fit. My wife and I, we have a heart to reach people who fall through the cracks. Once it is safe to do so with COVID, we want to be in the community more, and continue to meet people, and continue to just ask the question: What can we do, and how can the Salvation Army be a good partner?
IFW: We’ve heard that The Salvation Army Food Pantry has served more than double the people they would normally serve this year, even in the midst of quarantine. Can you tell us what’s being done to keep up with this demand?
KS: It’s not just the Food Pantry. We’re seeing increased demand for all Salvation Army services: Emergency assistance, food, seasonal assistance like back-to-school. We’re in the middle of distribution for Adopt a Family assistance, and our Angel Tree distribution will be coming out shortly, as well. But all services total, we have more than double already, and a large part of that is COVID, with people losing their jobs, with people’s employment, and money situations in the air.
Thankfully, our staff is very hard-working, very driven, and very committed to meet this need, whether that be through direct assistance ourselves or by connecting people to other resources. Meeting these needs would not happen without our excellent staff and the generous donations from our community.
IFW: Can you tell us about the significance of the Red Kettle donations to The Salvation Army?
KS: Absolutely. Many have shared with me in my years as an officer, “It’s not Christmas without the kettles.” It serves two-fold. Both very important to the Salvation Army. One is, it’s a bit of a billboard, or a banner as a reminder of what the Salvation Army does, who we are, and that we are a constant when people have needs. Sometimes people are unaware of all that the Salvation Army does, and sometimes that is because they have been fortunate enough to not need our services, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we are a constant. And during the Christmas season, we take great pride in our ability to provide for people’s needs.
That’s the first thing. The second thing is that the money that comes in through the Christmas season goes to support the different services that we provide throughout the entire year. Serving those 21,000 people does not happen without meeting our goal. We cannot do all of what we believe is required and needed to serve the folks here in Allen County without donations, so the money that comes in through the Red Kettles is vital to our work all year long.
IFW: Can you share what your goal is for Red Kettle Donations in 2020, and how close you are to that goal so far?
KS: I don’t have the up-to-date information, but going into last weekend, we were right around $40,000, and our goal is $233,000. Last year, we brought in $269,000, so we actually reduced our goal by thirty-some thousand dollars, trying to prepare because it’s COVID, and folks have had hard years.
The goal, $233,000, may seem like a large number, and it certainly is, but if everyone in town gave one dollar, we would meet our goal, and so it’s broken down in that fashion. Everyone can give a dollar. Whether it’s foregoing a candy bar, foregoing a gas station Mountain Dew, or a coffee, or cheeseburger, or something, if everyone gave a dollar, we would meet our goal tomorrow.
IFW: In what ways can people get involved and help their neighbors through the work of The Salvation Army in Fort Wayne?
KS: Right now, one big way is to ring bells. It has been proven that folks do not give when you just hang a bucket somewhere without a bell ringer. Most people don’t even notice it so, you need the person whose out ringing and greeting people, “Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, Merry Christmas, Happy Tuesday”—whatever it might be just to give that personal touch of a greeting. People don’t give without that. That would be an immense help.
Then, also, to give. If everyone gave a dollar, we’d be at our goal. If everyone gave two dollars, we would double our goal, and that money would stay here to help more people, so those are really big ways. Then for folks, if they are able to sponsor kettles, if they’re able to do matching, those are all unique ways to give.
You can give virtually, as well. We have the capacity to do a virtual kettle on SAFortWayne.org, and you can set up your own virtual kettle and do some “ringing” for the Salvation Army virtually, as well. You can set your own goal, and try to raise as much as you can, and you can challenge someone to beat you, or you can beat them. All of those are great ways to support the work of the Salvation Army, to be a generous giver, and then to be generous of your time and encourage your friends, your family, your loved ones, to do so, as well.
IFW: Do you have any stories of something you’ve witnessed during your time with this organization that shows the power of what can be done through the Salvation Army?
KS: We had someone who adopted a family, and the reason why they wanted to adopt a family is, within the past five years, they were adopted. They were in a position that they were not able to do Christmas for their family, so the Salvation Army very willingly helped them. But this year they were able to pay it forward, and they do so with great joy, knowing the impact it had on them, and they hope it has a similar impact on someone else.
Signing up to ring bells for the Salvation Army can be done online at registertoring.com. For more information of the Salvation Army branch in Fort Wayne, readers can visit SAFortWayne.org or on their Facebook Page, Salvation Army Fort Wayne.