Sometimes people ask me what kind of work I would have done if I had not become a Salvation Army officer. I have been a Salvation Army officer for almost 41 years, and I truly relish how I am able to work for the Lord in this way. But if things had been different, I might have enjoyed being a teacher.
What I would find the most rewarding would be teaching children and preparing them for the rigors of life. In fact, through my work as a pastor I find opportunities to do that, which I treasure. Some of those opportunities came as my wife and I were parenting our four children or now, as we get to be grandparents to our 11 grandchildren.
And, through our many different youth programs, bringing up children and preparing them for their lives as adults is something we do quite a bit of at The Salvation Army. I remember in the late 1960s, my wife, a young Salvation Army officer, spent a very rewarding summer teaching a girl who was both deaf and blind to swim.
There has been a lot written about child poverty, and we know from our own numbers that more and more people are coming to us for help. Indeed, in 2010, The Salvation Army provided assistance to 30.2 million people in the U.S., compared with 28.9 million in 2007.
We wanted to look at our youth programs and see what kind of impact the recession was having on them. So, The Salvation Army National Headquarters commissioned a survey of more than 100 youth programs in cities across the country including major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco and smaller cities like Oak Creek, WI and Peoria, Ill.
Participants were asked to answer questions related to service demand and giving to their programs during 2011 and since the recession began in 2008. The survey also looked at the impact of the recession, first hand, from the youths who are living through it every day.
The results were alarming but not unexpected. Approximately 81 percent of Salvation Army youth programs saw an increase in demand over the last 12 months, while 41 percent of Salvation Army youth programs have been forced to cut back on services provided, ranging from reduced hours of service, laying off staff or even closing their doors.
These results highlight the fact that throughout America, parents are facing daily questions about how to provide for their families, spend their money and share their time. Should they spend their latest pay check on food or rent? How can they spend time with their children while working two jobs? How can they provide their children with a childhood?
Some Salvation Army programs were able to accommodate the increased demand from families and youths coming through their doors. Some saw donations grow and were able to expand programs and services, grow staff and increase volunteer levels to meet the growing need.
However, not all programs could keep up. Some Salvation Army youth programs had to make hard decisions and figure out where to best direct donations and resources. With great regret, many programs were forced to make cutbacks or even close their doors due to loss of funding from private, public and government donations and grants.
But The Salvation Army is committed on being there to help families and children when times are at their darkest.
Because the Bible tells us children are a gift from God, The Salvation Army treats the children who come into its care with love and kindness. We are reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God." Mark 10:14.
In some areas, this is expected to continue throughout 2012. The Salvation Army looks to the American donor and volunteer to help young Americans who may not be able to help themselves. No child deserves to grow up without hope for a better tomorrow.
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