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The Chronicle’s ongoing series, Nonprofit Spotlight, profiles Citrus County’s nonprofit agencies that exist to help improve the lives of everyone.
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The Salvation Army has come a long way since its beginnings in 1852 in England, when a man named William Booth abandoned the concept of the traditional church and instead brought the gospel of Jesus Christ directly to the people.
He and his wife, Catherine, walked the streets of London, preaching to the poor, homeless, hungry and destitute.
Catherine believed that loving God meant loving people by meeting their needs, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and showing kindness to the lonely.
They founded the Salvation Army in 1865 with the aim of helping suffering souls in London who did not want to attend or did not feel welcomed by a traditional church.
In 2022, the main mission of The Salvation Army is the same as it was 157 years ago: to preach the gospel of Jesus and meet human needs in his name without discrimination.
But in 2022, he’s using 21st century methods to achieve his goals of showing God’s love to community members.
How did the local Salvation Army start in Citrus County?
Although there may have been a Salvation Army unit in Citrus County’s history, the current unit that is in Lecanto began in 1972 with three people. Wayne Oswald and Vinyl Lewis served as treasurers and Dot Zipperer handled social services.
They had no money, no office and no officers.
After sending letters asking for funds, they were able to send about 40 children to summer camp. Thanks to generous donors, they rented a bus, hired a driver, provided clothing – all expenses were paid.
In addition to the camp, this small unit has helped people in emergency situations – foreclosures, fires and help with the purchase of medicine.
In August 2012, the unit moved into its current spacious 16,000 square foot Worship and Service Center at 712 S. School Ave., Lecanto, near State Route 44.
Prior to that, since 1998, they had used a cramped double-wide trailer and a small shrine on Grover Cleveland Boulevard in Homosassa.
Before that, they worked in a storefront in Beverly Hills.
The new, centrally located Lecanto site has allowed them to offer more outreach services, rather than just reactionary emergency services during disasters.
Since 1993 the Salvation Army has provided probation services under contract with the county and still does so today.
What is the Salvation Army doing in Citrus County?
As Salvation Army Major Hank Harwell explained, The Salvation Army is both universal in its mission and responsive to the needs of the community.
In Citrus County, the Salvation Army provides services such as assistance with utilities and rent in emergencies, as well as food.
“We think it’s better to help people stay in their homes than to find them a home when they lose them,” he said.
When they have volunteers, they prepare hot meals and serve them in the community from their mobile canteen.
At Christmas, the Angel Tree program matches children in need with people in the community who volunteer to buy gifts.
“We want to make sure the kids have as happy a Christmas as possible,” Harwell said. “Our goal is to meet human needs, so we are always looking for the best way to achieve this.
“We are starting a performing arts academy because we believe there is a need in the community. People need beauty in their lives,” he said.
Since 1891, they’ve been synonymous with the holiday season – those red kettles familiar with…
Harwell said the foundation of everything they do is God and his love for people.
“When someone comes to our building for a visit, I start with our chapel,” he said. “We are a church, and that drives everything we do, all of our services. Our Founder (Booth) said long ago that we cannot expect people to believe there is a God who loves them until they see Him in action.
“We want to show people God’s love,” he said.
How is the organization funded?
A small annual budget of approximately $600,000 is funded by donations. Some programs, such as rent and utility assistance, receive government subsidies.
What motivates you ?
For Harwell, it’s knowing he’s doing what God called him to do. That, and having a church congregation where he can preach and teach.
“It’s something I appreciate and look forward to,” he said. “Most often people who come to us are at their lowest, but when you see you’ve made a difference, that gives you enough fuel for the next time and the next person.”