Salvation Army work moves ahead with new leader

Mar. 08, 2014 @ 05:55 PM

Things are really looking up at the Salvation Army.

It helps that Chris Kelley, the director of the Salvation Army’s Lee County Service Center, stands 6-foot-8. But the former college basketball player brings more than just a towering stature to his new leadership role in Sanford: he has nearly 19 years of experience working for the charitable Christian organization, whose expressed mission is to meet the real and felt needs of the working poor in the name of Christ.

Kelley, 41, began work in February in the midst of significant changes within the local Salvation Army operation. With his arrival, Lee County’s official status within the hierarchical structure of the Army has changed from “Corps” to “Service Center.”

The main difference?

According to Kelley, large communities with a Salvation Army presence are more likely to have Corps status and be staffed by Salvation Army officers – typically married couples who’ve undergone two years of specialized training, including pastoral ordination.

Programming and services in smaller communities with an Army presence, rather, are done through Service Centers, which aren’t staffed by Salvation Army officers but by non-officer employees. And although Kelley has extensive experience with the Salvation Army – including 15 years in a variety of positions in the Salvation Army of Wake County’s location in Raleigh – he’s not a trained, ordained pastor.

And because he’s not an ordained pastor, the Army’s local Sunday morning church services are no longer being held. Even so, Kelley will still serve in many of the same roles an officer would serve and lead its programming efforts.

“I still hope to do ministry here in some way, but it may look a little different than what we’ve had before,” he said. “We may not have Sunday morning services, but we still may have regular times for prayer and Bible study.”

Kelley’s main emphasis, though, will be boosting the Army’s presence and service through its existing social services programs. Teaming with veteran employee Pam Hooker, a social worker who does much of the intake work at the office, the Sanford Service Center provides, among other things, assistance with utility payments, food, and clothing (provided through the Army’s Thrift Store, managed by Jean Temple), plus informal counseling and prayer. Kelley also is considering new programs for Lee County, including more comprehensive disaster relief, “Jobs for Life” – a proven program he says offers unique solutions to joblessness and poverty – and more youth activities.

He wants to team up with other community agencies to consider partnership opportunities as well. As part of learning about the Sanford area, he has been reaching out to leaders of other community organizations, including Christians United Outreach Center, Family Promise and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lee County.

Basketball jokes and remarks about his height aside, Kelley thinks he’s up to the challenge.

“This is a great opportunity for me to utilize the experience I’ve gained over the years in Raleigh,” he said. “I’ve overseen the Christmas program there and I’ve worked with volunteers – who are so important so us – and done fund-raising. I’ve had experience with successful events and grant writing. I believe I’ve really learned a lot about working with people, and hopefully that will be beneficial here as well.”

Although the Army’s outreach programs may change, one thing won’t.

“I think it’s important we continue to share Christ with people,” Kelley said. “That’s the foundation of who we are in the Salvation Army. This all started because of (founder) William Booth’s desire to see people saved. That’s still important to me and to the Army.”

A Virginia native, Kelley came to North Carolina to study sports management and play basketball at Elon University. He graduated in 1994 and not long after began work as the program director for the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club in Burlington, a partnership between the Army and the Boys & Girls Clubs of N.C. He transferred to Wake County in 1998 to become athletic director at the Army’s large community center in Raleigh – which serves children of Wake County ages 5-12 – and became the center’s director in 2001. After 10 years in that role, Kelley took a position overseeing marketing and inventory collections for the Army’s large thrift store in Raleigh, leaving that position to come to Sanford.

He and his wife, Ann, live in southern Durham with their two children. For now Kelley is commuting, but he’s looking at relocating to Sanford. Meanwhile, he sees the change in the local Army’s status, although technically a “downgrade,” as a very positive one.

“This means that there will be an even greater focus on serving the community,” he said. “I'm here to assess what Lee County is in need of, partner with agencies, learn about resources and making sure that we, the Salvation Army, are doing our part to help the citizens in this community.”

Robert Gilleland, a Sanford attorney and chairman of the Salvation Army’s local advisory board, said Army supporters have been energized by Kelley’s arrival.

“He brings almost two decades of Salvation Army experience, along with a strong spiritual character and a desire to grow the Army’s activities in our community,” he said. “The resources of the Salvation Army of Wake County – where the Army has been active since 1887 – have already been of great assistance to us in Sanford. We are looking forward to the Salvation Army accomplishing great things in Sanford under our new leadership.”

Kelley replaces Sergeants Terry and Barbara Hertzog, who were posted in Sanford for about two years but have left the organization. The idea of moving Kelley to Sanford came from Major Pete Costas, the area commander for the Wake County Corps (under whose umbrella Lee County falls), who called Kelley “a true leader.”

“He is passionate about the ministry and cares deeply about those in need in the community,” Costas said.

Both Kelley and Costas emphasized the need to grow Lee County’s volunteer base to better allow the Salvation Army to concentrate on crisis programs like financial, food and clothing assistance, plus continue to build upon the Christmas JOY program.

Lee County’s Service Center will provide help to just a fraction of the more than 110,000 people who received assistance from the Salvation Army of Wake County in 2013, but Kelley’s main concern is the quality of that local service.

“I want the Salvation Army to be a place where people feel comfortable, to come and be helped with whatever they’re going through,” he said. “I want people to feel like they can come through the doors here and receive assistance, plus be a place where people can serve and help others – to volunteer, to give time, to contribute to our food pantry, to work in the Thrift Store, to help us start new programs. There are so many things I’d like to see happen, but we’re going to need help.”

Kelley said he and his advisory board will be looking for “people willing to be a mentor” to help people who are struggling.

“People who are caught in the cycle need someone to come alongside them, to help them out, to teach them job skills, budgeting…,” he said. “Through these ministries, I know we can see changed lives – lives that have a hope and a future.”