Captains Ethan and Sue Frizzell, Salvation Army officers and co-pastors of a church in Columbia, S.C., firmly believe, "We're at our best when we give it away."
What is "it"? It can be something as big as a beautiful place to live or something as small as a backpack for a child.
Like just about everyone else in the United States, the Frizzells knew about the TV show "Trading Spaces," which gives neighbors an opportunity to do makeovers of one room in each other's homes.
When the Frizzells arrived in Columbia in June 2004, they inherited a motel that had been converted to transitional housing for homeless people.
"The old motel had been refitted with a beautiful 'Army' hall and courtyard, but the rooms needed a lot of work," says Sue.
The Frizzells thought that sprucing up the personal space of the residents would help show the extent of the Army's compas-sion for this mission.
"Every room (all 120 of them) needed new interior decorating," Sue says. "We decided to make it fun."
The Frizzells put out the word to area businesses and groups that they could sponsor and even help decorate a room for a homeless person.
Corporations large and small responded, and excitement grew.
"Here's how it works," says Ethan. "For six months through the spring and summer seasons, on every fourth Saturday, we have a giant competition. On Friday night, volunteers from each sponsoring company, church group, civic club—whatever—meet with the family who will occupy the apartment. Together, they look the rooms over and decide what will need to be done."
Each team, armed with a $300 gift card from Wal-Mart®, a leading sponsor, and a furniture voucher from the Salvation Army Thrift Store, purchases supplies and does a whirlwind of renovation; typically, the project is finished in a day.
"It's amazing to see the beehive of activity over these rooms as nearly 150 people work together in friendly competition," Ethan says.
Awards are given to the most novel creations, but, he adds, everyone's a winner. The winning team receives an acrylic plaque thanking them for "Renovating Rooms and Reviving Lives."
Individuals can live in the rooms for up to two years, which gives them time to save money and move into their own housing. As participants leave, the rooms are renovated again, about 60 at a time.
Kids 2 Kamp
People get another chance to "give it away" at the Columbia Corps (church) with a Kids 2 Kamp program. The Frizzells had come up with the idea in a former assignment when they were pastors of a Salvation Army church in Fayetteville, N.C. They started K2K there in the year 2000, when Y2K was such a concern.
When the Frizzells arrived in Fayetteville, they found that people in the community were interested in giving money for kids to have a full-fledged camping experience rather than the day-camp experience that had traditionally been offered.
But when kids go away to camp, Ethan says, those who are dressed shabbily can be singled out and hurt when others make fun of them. Especially for children living in poverty, Ethan says, it's important to provide camp T-shirts and other essentials, such as toiletries, so the kids don't stand out as "different."
So the Frizzells set out, in Fayetteville and again in Columbia, to reach corporations, churches, and civic groups that might sponsor children through the Kids 2 Kamp program. The officers developed grant templates that would make the donation process simple and a video showing children actively enjoying camp.
Once again, the project generated excitement in the community. Ethan says he thinks that many donors have memories of camping experiences from their own youth and want to help other kids have the same kind of positive experience.
Donors sponsor something tangible with their money: Kids 2 Kamp backpacks. The program reaches out to other organizations in the community: United Way, Boys & Girls Clubs, the school system, and social service programs. Before kids go to camp, their families come in several times to learn about expectations and opportunities for their kids. That's also a first opportunity to let parents know that they are welcome to worship at The Salvation Army.
'Come to Me'
Ethan says that campers receive "life, faith, and growth," and parents say they are thankful and look forward to the next camping season.
"Whether they join the church services on Sunday or not, these families are definitely part of the church family," Ethan says.
In The Salvation Army, as in many other church camps, kids have an opportunity, some for the first time, to be introduced to Jesus.
"There is great hope in everyone involved that the children who go to camp might find life—life more abundant—through faith in Jesus Christ," Ethan says. Of camp, he says, "The setting is right; it is prayed for; and it has been blessed for generations. All trust those blessings will continue with each season of camping. To God be the glory!"
Many kids come back from camp so filled with hope that their parents can't help but notice. One mom of a 13-year-old boy named Korey says of her son, "I didn't recognize him when he got off the bus. He was literally floating with excitement. We could just see the happiness pouring out from him. I cried. His father and I were so thrilled for him." (See sidebar on page 16.)
When kids return from camp, the church has another opportunity to connect with families with a celebration: "Kids 2 Kamp Back 2 School Sunday Is 4 You!" That day, "kampers" are invited to a church service with their families, and their backpacks are filled once more, this time with back-to-school supplies. Once again, the community steps up to sponsor the Back 2 School backpacks.
"This gives the corps the opportunity to welcome them to our family," says Ethan.
For Kids 2 Kamp, Ethan says, he and his wife are inspired by Jesus' words in Matthew 10:14: "Let the little children come to Me." Says Ethan, "It's our responsibility to let none stop them." Recently, the national Salvation Army adopted a motto, "Doing the Most Good." Ethan says that for kids, such things as T-shirts, towels, and great-looking backpacks are part of the "most" in the "doing good" statement.
"The Salvation Army is at its best when we're giving it away!" he repeats.