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Apr16MonMeet six volunteers who give their time and talents to help others with The Salvation Army. April 16, 2018 by Kristin Ostensen
With kettles, thrift stores, food banks and so much more, the opportunities to volunteer with The Salvation Army are endless, and the impact enormous. Last year, 148,359 volunteers provided 1.2 million hours of service to the Army, helping 1.9 million people. In honour of National Volunteer Week (April 15-21), meet six volunteers who are making a difference across the territory.
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From Iran to Calgary
After Mahmoud Haghtajdar escaped Iran in 1999, he spent more than seven years as a refugee in Turkey, plagued by various illnesses and living in extreme poverty.
“So many times I could have died,” he says. “But God had a plan for me. I have been given a second chance to live in this world.”
Haghtajdar became a Christian in 2002, through the witness of British missionaries, and was accepted as a refugee to Canada in 2007, settling in Calgary.
That experience has had a profound impact on how Haghtajdar sees his purpose in life. “Humans always need each other,” he says. “Nobody’s perfect. So we have to help each other—you have to be ready to help and not just receive help. I have received life, now I have to give life. I have received love, now I have to give love. God has given us life to offer to everyone.”
That desire to give led Haghtajdar to The Salvation Army after he was laid off from his job about two years ago. He volunteers with the Army twice a week, cooking and serving food at the Centre of Hope on Thursdays and helping to lead a sports program for children at the Family Resource Centre on Wednesday evenings.
“Mahmoud often talks about learning discipline in our lives, physically as well as spiritually,” says Jayne Forster, manager of parent and children programming, Family Resource Centre. “He sets the bar high for himself and the kids, always showing that we can all do a little more than what we thought we could.”
Whether he’s chopping vegetables or playing soccer, Haghtajdar hopes to bless others, as he has been blessed. “I volunteer because I want to give to people, because I have received many things,” he says.
For a volunteer like Lorna Jackson, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. Jackson is in charge of the Christmastime “free room” at The Salvation Army’s community and family services in Courtenay, B.C.
The work usually begins in November—as the Army receives donations, such as coats, hats and mittens, Jackson spends hours sorting them. Then, when individuals and families come to the Army to pick up their Christmas hampers, they can also visit the free room where Jackson is waiting to help them find just the right item for themselves or a family member.
Some years, Jackson has put in as many as 70 hours over the Christmas season.
“Lorna is our rock,” says Nancy Carlson, volunteer co-ordinator. “We don’t know what we’d do without her. She goes over and above, always staying until the job is done.”
Jackson is a longtime friend of The Salvation Army. Before she retired five years ago, she worked at the Army’s Courtenay-area thrift stores for 12 years. Now 70, Jackson’s enthusiasm for the work of the Army hasn’t waned.
“Just because you retire, it doesn’t mean you want to stop doing something that you enjoy,” she says with a smile.
Visiting with guests at the free room is a special experience for Jackson. “I know so many of them, after all these years,” she says. “They love to see you every year.
“This year, a young woman came up to me, all smiles,” Jackson continues. “She had come in last year with her father, and I had helped him considerably with getting what he needed. This time, she knew my name, gave me a big hug, and said, ‘Dad says thank you for last year.’ ”
Reflecting on meaningful encounters such as these, Jackson is eager to start the process all over again this fall. “I’m already looking forward to next Christmas,” she says. “And before you know it, it will be that time!”
The Miramichi Poet
After 12 years of serving at The Salvation Army in Miramichi, N.B., Fidele Goguen is not just a volunteer. “He is very much part of our family here,” says Major Deborah Hilliard, community ministries director, The Salvation Army Community Resource Centre.
Goguen comes to the centre once a week to do various tasks: cutting blankets, T-shirts and towels into rags, which the Army then sells; and cleaning jobs around the centre.
“I like cutting rags,” he says. “I find it relaxing. I think it’s like how some people knit—you do the same thing over and over and it’s very calming.”
That calm feeling is much appreciated by Goguen, who has lived with mental illness since he was a teenager.
“Volunteering at the Army keeps me healthy and happy,” he says. “Too much time at home with nothing to do is not good for mental health at all. If I miss volunteering for a week for some reason, I can feel it. I help myself by helping The Salvation Army.”
Along with his weekly shift at the centre, Goguen offers another unique contribution to the Army in Miramichi. Twice a year, for the annual Christmas party and the volunteer appreciation dinner, he composes a special poem and reads it at the event.
Goguen hopes the poems will inspire and encourage those who hear them. For example, in his poem for Christmas last year, he writes, “If you can help, do whatever you can, Make a little charity a part of your plan.”
“When I first started writing poems, I was nervous,” Goguen says. “But I kept at it and now I’m relaxed in front of a crowd. It feels good when people tell me that the poem was good and that it helped them.”
Finding Joy in Grief
Starting over is never easy—particularly if it means breaking the cycles of poverty, addiction and homelessness. That’s why The Salvation Army’s Belkin House in Vancouver offers a comprehensive personal development plan (PDP) program for its residents, helping men and women gain the skills they need to develop new ways of living.
Making major life changes is a process Catherine Hajnal understands personally. She was once a tenured professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University—outwardly successful but inwardly unhappy. “I was experiencing a lot of physical and emotional pain, and discovered that this life, the one I thought I wanted, was not the right one for me,” she says.
Addressing her physical issues through surgery, Hajnal decided to leave her career behind and find a vocation that would allow her to help others. Using her teaching skills in a new way, she became a grief educator, helping people acknowledge and work through the losses they’ve experienced. As part of Belkin House’s PDP program, Hajnal teaches a seminar called The Story of You, which empowers participants to look at their pasts in a positive light.
“It’s an invitation to ask, Do you own your story, or does your story own you?” she explains. “If your story owns you, that’s a place of constriction—something is holding you back. But if we can work with our story, and shift that to, ‘Yes, a lot of things have happened in my life, but here’s what I can take away from those experiences; here are the skills they’ve given me’—that’s a place of possibility.”
At Belkin House, Hajnal gives this process a practical application, offering clients career counselling and help with resumé building.
“Catherine takes what could be a clinical and dry subject and turns it into a class where clients can see that they do have something to offer an employer,” says Susan Tanaka, volunteer co-ordinator. “We are so blessed to have Catherine as a volunteer.”
“Some people have asked me, ‘Why do you want to work with loss? Wouldn’t you rather be a happiness expert?’ ” Hajnal says. “But the reality is, I do work with happiness because I see the smiles, I see people standing taller. It’s joyful work because I see that transformation in people.”
If you were to ask Brian Shurman which day of the week he looks forward to most, he would answer without hesitation. “Thursdays are my favourite day because I get to go and run the clothing room at The Gateway,” he says with a smile. “That always makes me happy.”
Shurman has been volunteering with The Gateway, a shelter in Toronto, for five years. Living downtown, Shurman saw poverty up close every day and wanted to make a difference. “It’s easy to turn a blind eye and not really understand what’s happening in your city,” he laments.
The Army was an obvious place for him to explore volunteer opportunities. “My late grandfather was a big advocate for The Salvation Army,” Shurman explains. “He went to France during the Second World War and got involved with The Salvation Army’s relief efforts.”
For the first year and a half, Shurman volunteered in the kitchen on Sundays serving breakfast, before switching to The Gateway’s clothing room. When donations come to the shelter, they are sorted and placed on racks in the room, and then distributed on Thursday evenings.
“People come and I help them find jackets, jeans, ties for job interviews, underwear and socks,” he says. “But I think people get more than just clothes; they get to come into a place where they can feel good and interact with others. That’s the big thing for me.”
Shurman knows about half of the clothing room’s visitors by name—or an affectionate nickname—and when he doesn’t recognize them, he makes an effort to get to know them. “I always try to make everybody feel welcome,” he says.
Over the past five years, Shurman has developed such a passion for volunteering that he’s started volunteering programs at his place of employment and recently finished a graduate course in corporate social responsibility.
“The Gateway is a place where no matter where you spent your day—in a board room or on a street—it’s a level playing field,” he says. “After volunteering at the Army, I walked away feeling just very human. So I wanted to share that feeling with others because it was so motivational for me.”
And while he’s volunteered at other organizations, he says the experience at The Gateway is like no other. “I have a profound respect for what The Salvation Army does.”
Coffee and Conversation in Medicine Hat
by Carol Fode
Volunteering has always been an important part of my journey with The Salvation Army. After I joined the Army long ago at Hampton Citadel in Winnipeg, I helped set up a parish nursing program and led a women’s Bible study at the Booth Centre. After my husband retired, we moved to Smiths Falls, Ont., where we set up a downtown ministry that included serving food, leading Bible studies and Sunday night worship services, sharing the Word of God and praying for our town. I was also privileged to visit Ecuador on a mission trip with the women’s ministry team.
When my husband passed away, I was not sure where God was going to settle me. I was on a trip to Newfoundland and Labrador when an officer told me about a new church plant in Medicine Hat, Alta. We prayed about it and I knew that God was sending me there.
Since moving to Medicine Hat, I have not been disappointed—I love watching God work. I believe that the ground at the cross is level, so it does my heart good to see people who are marginalized in society being treated with love, care and respect. At the Community Resource Centre, we provide a safe environment, meeting physical, emotional and spiritual needs. The freedom of worship here allows everyone to be accepted as they are.
I volunteer at the centre for two to three hours on Monday to Thursday, simply spending time with those who come there looking for community. We have coffee and food, and talk and play games together. I also volunteer on Friday, serving supper. But what I enjoy most is visiting with the people, especially when the conversation turns to the Lord. I hope God will use me to lead people to him, after I build relationships with them.
In my short time here, I have seen the heart of God in the staff at the centre, who only want what is best for each person, walking through the hard times and celebrating victories with them. One woman I met, who has had a difficult life, has just completed a business degree and is working on her culinary degree. She wants to open a restaurant in Medicine Hat that serves East Coast food. I love sharing in her excitement and encouraging her when things are not going well.
I thank God for this church plant and I am looking forward to growing and praising God in a healthy, happy environment that encourages individuality without compromising.