"An Ocean of Community Partnerships"
When Lt. Kenneth Jones and Cpt. Samantha “Sam” Nolan Jones arrived in Omaha in June 2018 to serve at The Salvation Army’s North Corps Community Center, it felt a little bit like they were “in an ocean surrounded by fog,” admitted Lt. Kenneth. This is the Joneses’ first assignment following seminary and ordination, and in many ways it’s a challenging one.
“As small as this place is, it’s always, always busy,” said Lt. Kenneth. “It’s very well-utilized by the community.”
The Joneses are concentrating much of their efforts on youth development. Since June 2018, enrollment in the after-school program has increased from 14 to 65, and new initiatives have been introduced that emphasize life skills, self-reflection, leadership development and academic improvement along with sports and recreation. Many of the kids work one-on-one with mentors. “It’s been so powerful to see the kids begin to discover who they are as individuals,” said Lt. Kenneth.
Above all, the Joneses and their staff are committed to connecting with the kids on a personal level. “Every service we offer – whether it’s basketball, snack time, homework help or a fun activity – is an icebreaker. It’s an avenue into their world,” acknowledged Lt. Kenneth. “We’ve had some kids who were getting in trouble at school, but forging a relationship with them has allowed us to sit down and try to get to the heart of the problem and understand what kind of situation they are facing.”
Another of North Corps’ key ministries is its Community Care Kitchen, which serves between 150 and 225 lunches every weekday. For many in the community, this is their only substantial meal each day. The corps also offers fresh fruit and vegetables, bread and baked goods to help individuals and families stretch their grocery budgets.
The Joneses are grateful for Food Bank for the Heartland, the Heart Ministry Center and area restaurants like Panera Bread and LongHorn Steakhouse, which regularly donate food to help feed the community. “It blesses my heart to know we aren’t in this fight alone,” said Lt. Kenneth. “It’s a giant fight, but so many in the community help us fight the giant.”
Programs are important, but for Lt. Kenneth and Cpt. Sam, it’s all about connecting with people, which means getting out of their offices as much as possible. “Paperwork can wait; ministry takes first priority,” said Lt. Kenneth. “It’s important for us to hear people’s stories and to hear firsthand what the need is, so we can not only supply the resources but also uncover the underlying problems that are creating the need in the first place.”
It’s barely been a year since the Joneses arrived in Omaha, but the fog that initially obscured their vision is already lifting. “I still see a great deal of need, but now I’m also seeing an ocean of community partnerships and ongoing relationships,” said Lt. Kenneth. “It’s great to be a part of that and to be a beacon of support and hope for the North Omaha community.”