Doing the Most Good In Our Community
So Much More Than the Familiar Red Kettles During the Holidays
The Salvation Army’s bright red kettles and bell ringers are a familiar sight each holiday season, but many may not realize that the money collected is used in our community year-round to “do the most good where the need is greatest.” This vital international non-profit organization is motivated by faith in God and love for all people without discrimination, and its work and programs clearly contribute to the betterment of our community.
The Salvation Army Community Center in Oak Creek, at 8853 S. Howell Ave., is a perfect example. This amazing retreat provides a gathering place for worship, empowering youth, combatting addiction, curing hunger, summer day camps, sports programs, before- and after-school day care, and so much more – even a chance to ring those bells at the holidays!
The Salvation Army’s interesting history can be traced back to 1865 when it was founded by William Booth, a Methodist street preacher, who worked with people in the slums of East London. In 1880, The Salvation Army began work in America. During World War II, The Salvation Army operated 3,000 service units for the armed forces – and led in the formation of the USO. Since World War II, the Army has continued its own worldwide program. Over the years, its ministry spread across our country, reaching the streets of Oak Creek in 1989. Today, The Salvation Army continues to work where the need is greatest, still motivated by its faith in God and its love for all people.
There is no one better suited to tout The Salvation Army’s many programs and services than Mark Lewis, the Ministries’ Director for Oak Creek’s facility. Lewis currently oversees the Community Center and runs the sports programs, along with other “duties as assigned.” This energetic spokesperson for the organization has been with them for his entire life – a child of Salvation Army pastors (officers). Lewis lives in Oak Creek and has worked many jobs within The Salvation Army, from bell ringer and custodian to summer camp dishwasher/ snack shop manager and office services staff. He was also part of The Army’s disaster relief team during the 9/11 tragedy and the floods in North Dakota in 1997.
According to Lewis, “Seeing the kids having fun in a safe environment, with smiles on their faces is a constant reminder of the importance of all the work we do day to day. I especially enjoy the opportunity to work with, and coach, kids in our many different sports programs,”
he says. “There is nothing more satisfying than when young people who don’t play very often, or have never played before, ‘get it.’ When it all comes together for them, and you see marked improvement in their skills from day to day, season to season, it is really gratifying.”
The job, of course, is not without its challenges. “Communicationis key to our success,” explains Lewis. “We have hundreds of people coming through our doors daily and we need to educate them on all the things we have to offer. Most people only think of The Salvation Army when they see the red kettles and bell ringers out at the holiday season. But the SA is hard at work behind the scenes, 24/7, 365 days a year in our community doing whatever is needed to keep our residents safe and healthy with vital resources for all age groups.”
He also notes the joy he finds working with the City of Oak Creek and its representatives, including those from the School District. “I look at our community as something I can always rely on, and they never disappoint. They always make time for us,” he shares. “They repeatedly tell us how The Salvation Army has been a blessing to them personally or to someone close to them – reinforcing everyone’s importance and how we all need each other.” Lewis continues, “Of particular note are the local schools that help with our food drives, giving kids a sense of what it’s like to be charitable and help others in need.”
Lewis is quick to praise outgoing Business Administrator Ken Tregellas as the standard bearer for all the great work that has been started and cultivated by The Salvation Army in the Oak Creek-Franklin area, but adds that incoming Business Administrator TJ Anguiano has also made a significant impact in the community. “The facility will soon be overflowing with fresh enthusiasm,” Lewis says, “along with contributions from our Corps Officers (Pastors) Majors Bob and Ruth Fay, who transferred here from Janesville in summer 2018.”
Some of The Salvation Army’s most vital programs for our Oak Creek neighborhoods include:
- Food Pantry and Food Drives: The Food Pantry is open to the community on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. A 2-3 day supply of emergency food is provided to neighborhood individuals and families that are hungry. Non-perishable food items are always needed for the Pantry, located inside Community Center (see photo). Consider volunteering your time in the pantry or donating food. You can also schedule a food drive at your school, church, business or group. Please call us to get started!
- Worship: Sunday services, Bible studies, band rehearsals, Boys’ Club, Praise Team, and Sunbeams, Moonbeams and Grangers Clubs are all great ways to reach teens and young adults and share God’s love.
- Christmas Toy Shop: The Salvation Army’s annual Toy Shop provides toys to children from newborn to age 15 in families where the need is great (certain income guidelines must be met). New toy donations are always welcome, along with volunteers to help sort the toys.
- Sports Programs: Flag football, basketball, indoor soccer and pickleball are some of the most popular sports programs, engaging kids of all ages and adults. Players and coaches are also needed.
- Summer Day Camp: From June- August, a Monday-Friday camp with plenty of activities and trips to keep children active and engaged.
- School Supply Donation Drive: Donate school supplies or be a volunteer at this annual “stuff the school bus” event to collect school supplies for local children.
- Before- and After-School Care: A safe environment for kids ages 3-13 to begin the day, including milk, a snack and transportation to and from schools in the OC-Franklin Joint School District.
- Pre-School: Morning and afternoon sessions are available Monday-Friday, and include lunch, art and gym activities, story time, quiet time and self-directed activities.
- 4K: This Early Learning Academy meets the academic and social needs of children in our School District to provide a foundation for future academic success. Classes meet each school day, following the Oak Creek-Franklin Joint School District calendar.
- Disaster relief: The Salvation Army brings hope and healing to those affected by natural disasters, transportation accidents, civil unrest situations and terrorist attacks, providing meals/beverages, and emotional and spiritual care to first responders and survivors.
- Housing for Older Adults: To meet the growing need for safe, affordable housing for seniors in our community, Booth Manor, a subsidized housing facility for older adults, was created right next door to The Salvation Army Community Center in Oak Creek.
- Combating Addiction: The Salvation Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Centers have provided assistance for men and women who have lost the ability to cope with their problems and provide for themselves.
- And of course, the Red Kettles: More volunteers are always needed at kettle sites each holiday season to collect monetary donations to use for programs and services.
In addition, the Oak Creek Salvation Army Community Center is available for rental for birthday parties, wedding or baby showers, business meetings, or sports groups. Choose from multipurpose rooms and a 300-seat auditorium. There is also a gymnasium with a baseball net for indoor pitching and batting practice.
How You Can Help
The Salvation Army relies heavily on donations of cash, food and volunteer hours to keep running strong, healthy programs and helping those in need. Currently, the greatest needs are for non-perishable food donations. Plus, two new vehicles are desperately needed to transport kids to offsite programs/activities. Enjoy working with kids? Coaches are always welcomed to be positive role models for today’s youth. There are many, many ways for City residents to get involved!
Oak Creek is proud to have The Salvation Army Community Center and its Booth Manor senior housing apartments call the City its home. For those facing significant life challenges or just needing a place to worship, to experience camaraderie with friends, to improve sports skills, or to find a welcoming respite from today’s hectic lifestyles, The Salvation Army stands ready to embrace you, whatever your needs, doing the most good for our community!
The Salvation Army Oak Creek
8853 S. Howell Ave. • (414) 762-3993 • oakcreeksa.org