Men's Breakfast, October 10, 2015

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, September 12th with Danny Massey, Brazosport he Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, October 10th with Juan and Clara Gomez, the new leaders of the Salvation Army church in Freeport.  Juan was raised in McAllen by his grandmother who was a committed adherent of the Salvation Army church.  His grandmother insisted that he attend Salvation Army activities several times a week.  When a football recruiter for a college asked him to participate in a game in front of several college scouts so that Juan could get a scholarship to Texas Tech, his grandmother would not let him go because it would cause Juan to miss services on Sunday morning.  Juan later went to the Salvation Army College in Atlanta for his theology and social work degree to enable him to become an officer in the Salvation Army.  There he met his wife who was also raised in the Salvation Army.  Juan and Clara have worked at several Salvation Army functions before being assigned to Freeport where they are in charge of the Salvation Army operation for Brazoria County. 

The Salvation Army is organized along military lines.  The church members are considered the soldiers and the pastors are officers in the army.  The newly educated officers are commissioned as lieutenants in the Salvation Army.  Juan and Clara are lieutenants.  They will be promoted to captain and major in due course, based primarily on seniority.  There are area and regional commanders supervising larger areas, such as Houston and Texas.   There is a general, based in London, over the whole army.  The Salvation Army was founded by General Booth as an outgrowth of the Methodist church in nineteenth century London.  The church’s theology is therefore very similar to Methodism.  

Although the general public thinks of the Salvation Army as a social services agency, the Salvation Army thinks of itself as a church with a social services mission.  The local unit holds services like any other church.  They have about thirty worshipers on Sunday, about half of whom are people using the social services provided.  The local unit has an advisory board drawn from the community but not members of the church.  The advisory board helps with program design and especially with fund raising.
The local unit

provides various social services.  There is a thrift store that most people are familiar with.  This provides employment and is a source of funds for the Army.  There is a day-care center.  The teachers are paid and the center is state licensed.  It is one of the lowest cost day care centers in the county.  They also provide scholarships for children whose parents cannot afford the usual fees so the parents can work.  They plan to use a sliding fee schedule in the near future so as to match fees better with ability to pay.  There is a soup kitchen where people can get free or low cost meals for dinner and breakfast. 

There is a shelter for homeless people.  They have fourteen places for single men, twelve places for homeless women and two family rooms.  Shelter has had the policy of allowing people to stay for only three days, but Juan is changing that.  The shelter will allow stays as long as necessary, but he occupant has to make progress in getting back on his or her feet.  When a person comes to shelter, after a couple of days he or she has to meet with a social worker to set up an action plan.  This can be finding a job, reconnecting with family or other action.  The client can stay in the shelter only as long as the client is making progress on the action plan. 

The center of population for the county is moving from Brazosport to the Pearland area.  The Army is therefore trying to set up satellite facilities in the northern part of the county.  This requires cooperation with churches, stores and governments in this area which are struggling with growth.  Progress is being made, including kettle campaigns. 

The Army gets funds from donations, United Way and the Kettle campaign.  The Army prides itself on the fact that it has one of the lowest administrative costs of major charities with less than nine percent overhead.  Donors can also specify the program for which a donation will be spent. 
The Kettle campaign is an important fundraiser for the Army and a way to promote it.  Brazoria County has been unique in that the bell ringers have all been volunteers.  This may be difficult in the future, especially in the northern part of the county.  Juan said that paid ringers have advantages and disadvantages.  A paid ringer requires less administration and provides a person with poor work skills with a job.  However, the pay often takes up most of the donations at that kettle.  The problem is aggravated by the increase in sites in the North of the county that are far from the Freeport headquarters.  Juan says that what he needs are coordinators that will take one store for one day a week during the season.  The coordinator will be responsible for getting volunteers for all the hours during that day each week.  The coordinator could be a church member using the bell ringing as a service project for the church.  Of course, volunteers are needed from the churches, civic organizations and businesses.

The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be November 14th.