Salvation Army serves the poor, but it’s not only the poor it serves

While the international Salvation Army has been in existence for 150 years and has a well-known name, Major Lurlene Johnson says some people still don’t know what the Christian-based organization offers. And informing them has been a high priority now that a $35 million capital campaign to expand services in Greater Cleveland has broken ground.

“The Salvation Army serves as a safety net for the neighborhoods we are in, where we provide services both to the people who are at or below the poverty level and who have just hit hard times,” says Johnson, divisional secretary for Greater Cleveland. “They happen to be unemployed longer than they thought they would be, so they just need some support services in the meantime.”

But that doesn’t tell the whole story, Johnson says.

“The other remarkable thing about the Salvation Army is while we are an agency that serves the poor, it’s not only poor people we serve,” she says. “I believe we do a very good job mixing demographics — black, white, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter — when they come to the Salvation Army, they’re all equal. And we also have wealthy people who attend the Salvation Army programs and services and just participate like anybody else.”

The approach

Johnson and her staff have been meeting face-to-face with community and business leaders and foundations to talk about the campaign.

“It has been amazing the support people have given, not only for the campaign but also to help with operating dollars,” she says.

As with nearly any nonprofit organization, dollars to operate and to contribute to campaigns don’t always come easy. But the campaign is going well, Johnson says.

“I think the advantage the Salvation Army has over other nonprofits is that we have a wide range of programs,” she says. “When we meet with a potential donor, say they are interested in sports, music or arts; we have that. If they just want to help people who are in need, we have the food and shelter program.”

There is something at the Salvation Army that pulls the heartstrings of everybody, she says.

The organization is also using New Markets Tax Credits to help finance the construction program. About $20 million in such credits have been approved for the Salvation Army, which will allow it to net about $7 million for construction. Through the organization’s Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow campaign, its first capital campaign here in more than 50 years, some $20 million in philanthropic contributions have been raised.

The projects include rebuilding the Zelma George Family Services Center next to Salvation Army’s Harbor Light center, constructing community services centers in East Cleveland and Collinwood and expanding the West Park location.

Evolving neighborhood

The West Park center is the fastest growing neighborhood in Northeast Ohio, Johnson says. This is attributed to a change in demographics when the city lifted the requirement that city workers had to live in the city.

“Many of them lived in the West Park community,” she says. “So they moved out, and there are many small homes that are being rented. But the need for the Salvation Army in West Park just blossomed.

“About 40 percent of the people we serve through the emergency services food pantry primarily all go through the West Park facility.

“By doubling the size of the facility with more classrooms and adding a floor just for the learning center, they will be able to meet the needs of that neighborhood much better.”

Setting an example

Johnson is proud of the example The Salvation Army sets by taking a chance and hiring those who may have criminal records or who are ex-addicts. Through its Adult Rehabilitation Center, the Salvation Army houses 120 with life issues, rehabilitates them and helps them get a job, first at its Thrift Stores.

“If we are going to ask a business to take a risk, we also take that risk,” Johnson says. “We may first hire the people for six months or a year to show that they are good workers. Then they can use the Salvation Army on their resume because we have tested them before they go out into the workforce. It works very well.

“They learn a skill, and we help them get a job, permanent housing. We help stabilize their life. Many of the men who go through that program later become Salvation Army officers. And we love that.”

How to reach: The Salvation Army of Greater Cleveland, (216) 861-8185 or