liz murray

Harvard graduate born into poverty and homeless as a teen shares her story

liz murrayWhen Liz Murray overcame homelessness to graduate from Harvard University, people called her a bootstrapper and lauded her hard work.

But hard work doesn’t tell the whole story, said Murray, the featured speaker at today’s D.J.’s Hero Awards luncheon sponsored by the Salvation Army.

There has to be a bridge — someone or something offering help and encouragement, she said. That could be a committed social worker, a friendly stranger, a scholarship fund.

“When you have that, an introduction to a person who can help you, it’s a bridge that turns hard work into opportunity,” she said.

In an interview Monday, Murray said it’s up to the community to be that bridge: “Nobody is off the hook.”

She said today’s Salvation Army event is part of the solution. Eight high school seniors each will receive a $10,000 scholarship at the luncheon. The awards are named after D.J. Sokol, the son of David and Peggy Sokol, who contributed to his school and community despite battling cancer. He died in 1999 at age 18.

Murray said she had lots of help and inspiration along her path. She went from being a homeless teen who missed school 75 percent of the time to making up lost courses in two years and winning a New York Times scholarship to the Ivy League school.

She was born in grinding poverty to drug-addicted parents, but she never was angry at them. Instead, she viewed the addiction as a terrible thing that happened to the family, which included a sister.

“I had an instinct for the fact that they were sick,” she said. “People can’t give what they don’t have.”

Despite that, they gave her plenty. She was grateful she grew up with two parents who showed her an abundance of love. With regular trips to the public library, her dad — who had two college degrees — planted the idea that education was a way out. Her mom taught her to dream when she shared her own dreams with her daughter at night.

In a roundabout way, they taught her to be independent. “I never expected people to do things, because no one did,” Murray said.

At age 13 she ended up in a difficult group home when her mom was hospitalized with end-stage AIDS. Dad was in a homeless shelter, and her sister lived with friends. By 15, she was homeless herself.

Her mom’s dreams of becoming sober and owning a home died when AIDS claimed her life. Murray took that as a signal that she should get serious about school to preserve her own dreams. She graduated from the Humanities Preparatory Academy in Manhattan despite a still-precarious living situation.

Strangers who read her story in the Times showed up to help: bringing brownies, cards, a homemade quilt. One woman drove from New Jersey each week to do her laundry.

Now, she said, she tries to do the same for teens in similar situations. She works with youths from Covenant House, the largest organization for homeless teens in the country. She looks for ways to introduce them to people who want to help with jobs, internships and other aid.

“I love to see people’s dreams come true,” she said.

She turned that coaching into a full-time business, but recently stepped back to have a family and pursue a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University.

She’ll share her story with the 1,100 people expected for today’s luncheon at the CenturyLink Center. She finds inspiration in the stories of each winner in the award’s 15-year history. They all have much to contribute, she said.

It’s up to everyone to help more young people figure that out, she said.

“One thing I hear people say constantly, when they’re talking about the ills of the world, is that someone needs to do something — ‘they’ need to do something. I ask: Do you realize there’s no ‘they?’ ”

Kroc Center

Hampton Roads Kroc Center – The Salvation Army is about to celebrate it’s 1-year anniversary.

salvation army

Gov’t of Liberia Gives $140K to The Salvation Army’s William Booth High School for Facelift

liberia salvation army

Monrovia — The Government of Liberia on April 8, 2015 presented a check in the amount of one hundred forty thousand, one hundred and fifty-five United States dollars (140,155), to the administration and officer in-Charge of the Salvation Army’s William Booth Junior & Senior High School that was gutted by fire on March 4th 2015.

Presenting the check on behalf of the Government, Liberia’s Assistant minister for Budget and Development planning Hon. Augustin K. Blama said restoring the burnt structure and providing furniture to enable the 983 students get back to classes are the result of the government commitment to providing education to all regardless of the sector.

He said, that the project is expected to be completed within 3o-days and believes upon completion it will change the narratives of warehouses and computer rooms and library been used for classrooms “it is imperative for our student at William Booth continues to learn in a conducive and healthy atmosphere free from fear of fire and crime” he added.

Minister Blama also encouraged students of the William Booth School to always seek to strive for the top and to report any suspicious activity that might affect their institution. He said the government remains steadfast in its continual commitment to educating the future generation of this country.

For her part, the Minister of Education Hon. Etmonia Tarpel expressed her frustration and disappointment over the burning of the school infrastructure. She, however, encouraged the family of the institution to be strong and keep the good work on going. ‘Those that did the act thought they were reigning evil upon this school, but let it be known that God has turned the evil into blessing” she added. She said the government will support your effort to the fullest in ensuring that our students are free from this unacceptable encounter.

In a brief remark, the Officer-in Charge of the Salvation Army Col. Gabriel Kathuri extend his gratitude to the government for rapid intervention to solve the unexpected distraction that have reduced our classrooms to warehouse, library computer lab etc. He said, with God, they shall bounce back and even shine brighter than before. Col. Kathuri at the same time encouraged those that cause this disaster to come out and confess.

The Salvation Army’s William Booth Junior & senior High School was gutted by fire on March 4, 2015, thus posting a serious hindrance which to a greater extend has prevented the institution from carrying out its normal academic activities.

Community Events

Changing the Coffee Culture

coffee culture

Salvos Coffee works to decrease labor exploitation and increase sustainability.

By Faye Michelson – 

Imagine coffee cherries grown without fertilizers or pesticides in the rich volcanic soil of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) pristine Eastern Highlands and picked, pulped, washed and sorted by hand in remote villages, then dried in the sun for three days.

The Salvation Army works with coffee farmers and their families in this remote part of the world to ensure they receive a fair price for their harvest.

coffee culture 2“Coffee growers would walk for days with 30 kilograms [66 pounds] of coffee beans in bags on their backs to get to a roadside to sell, only to get ripped off,” said Luke Soper, business development manager for the PNG Territory. And so the Salvos Coffee program—initiated and developed in 2007 in PNG as a Community Advancement Reform Enhancement—assists 700 growers and their 3,500 family members in growing, harvesting and preparing beans for sale.

Soper’s job is to ensure the program is financially sustainable so that other aspects of The Salvation Army’s work with the farmers—such as health, hygiene, literacy, financial and agricultural education—can expand.

“Coffee growers who once would have had no other option but to sell their coffee for an unfair price at the roadside are now empowered,” Soper said. For instance, the program started a “passbook system” that releases profits to the growers when they want it until they have proper proof of identity or birth to open their first bank account.

Joseph Manase of the Kesawaka area wanted to become a pastor, but left school in fourth grade. When Salvos Coffee field officers went to his village they talked to him about resuming his education and showed him how to save money for school fees. He now attends high school with the money earned by his wife, who continues to work with Salvos Coffee in their village and also sends their children to school.

When the Ivoti people sold their coffee at a higher price than they expected they used the profit to buy roofing iron, coffee pulping machines and gardening tools. The Salvos Coffee team took them to a warehouse to buy the goods and helped arrange transportation of the equipment.

The program works through a cluster system centered around local Salvation Army churches in each participating village.

Community endorsement is vital for this project to succeed. We work to establish a rapport with the village headman and growers, because without that we can’t make headway.

“That’s very important; The Salvation Army is respected and trusted, and people understand we are there to help bring opportunity and fairness,” Soper said. “Community endorsement is vital for this project to succeed. We work to establish a rapport with the village headman and growers, because without that we can’t make headway.”

Salvos Coffee faces many community challenges, including domestic and family violence, so in addition to economics, the program also addresses resolving conflict and managing anger.

Soper divides his time between Sydney and PNG, a country that spans “tropical island to mountainous highlands.”

“One of the tough things, though, is living between a world of excess in Australia and extreme need in PNG,” he said. “We face many challenges—the ruggedness and the remoteness, and the cost of transportation.” Yet he said he finds reward in helping people in need. “It’s also important for me to be able to share with people in Australia—and my four young children—how well off we are and what we are doing in PNG to make a real and sustainable difference,” he said.

The Church Partnership Program provided funding to sustain Salvos Coffee for many years, and now the program must be self-sustaining. As Soper said, “Your purchase of our coffee helps fund a dedicated team in PNG to provide much-needed support services for remote, marginalized coffee growers and their families.”

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This post was originally featured in The New Frontier Chronicle.

The Salvation Army Annual Report 2014



The Salvation Army Annual Report

“He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.”

This verse from the Book of Isaiah is the foundation for The Salvation Army’s 2013 Online Annual Report’s theme, “Open Arms”, now available here. Commissioner David Jeffery, The Salvation Army’s National Commander, had this verse come to mind saying, “It’s a sweet image, a beautiful reminder of the Lord’s gentleness in caring for the vulnerable”.

The Salvation Army strives to follow the Lord’s example of caring and opening our arms and our hearts to anyone in need. And we’re proud to report that, guided by God’s love and your compassion and support, The Salvation Army served 30 million Americans in 2013!

Throughout this last year and with the help of 3.5 million volunteers, The Salvation Army:
Served nearly 60 million meals to the hungry
Provided over 10 million nights of lodging to the homeless
Sent almost 200,000 low income and disadvantaged kids to summer camp
Counseled 180,000 men and women with drug and alcohol rehabilitation

Also featured in the annual report is an inspiring video of The Salvation Army’ s Angel Tree Program which helps provide nearly 1 million disadvantaged children across the United States.
As it truly takes an army, our services would not be possible without your help and support and we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for furthering our mission to Do The Most Good!
The Salvation Army is here for you. We welcome all with open doors, open hearts, and open arms.

Learn more through our annual report about The Salvation Army’s programs and services utilized by those in need in 2013.

Visit to read the 2013 Online Annual Report.

Back-to-School Supplies: How to Give or Receive


Time is ticking for kids to enjoy the end of their summer break as calendars turn into August, and stress levels can rise as back-to-school activities beckon to millions of families nationwide.

Parents will soon be scavenging the store aisles to grab the school supply items requested by that oh-so-specific new teacher, but amid the hustle and bustle of nabbing deals and buying new clothes is an often overlooked reality: many kids are without these basic back-to-school necessities.

Obtaining the necessary supplies – which range from clothing to calculators – can be a costly feat: the average family will spend $670 this year on supplies and clothing. The biggest cost for back-to-school shoppers? Apparel and accessories, followed by electronics.

That’s why each year The Salvation Army coordinates back-to-school events and distributions for families in need of a helping hand. From collecting supplies from local donors and partnering businesses, to stuffing backpacks and coordinating events, The Salvation Army relies on the hearts and hands of supporters and volunteers to make these events possible.

Join Us!

You may feel as if your family is on the brink stressful school year, so why not relish these last days of summer vacation by volunteering together? Many locations of The Salvation Army rely on volunteers to coordinate back-to-school events and hand out supplies. Contact your local Salvation Army for opportunities today by entering your zip code at

Don’t have the time to volunteer? The next time you’re at Target or Walmart, grab some extra school supplies for local kids in need and drop them off at a Salvation Army near you.

Some commonly needed items include backpacks, pencils, erasers, pencil boxes, pens, colored pencils, highlighters, rulers, scissors, gluesticks, glue, folders, notebooks, folders, crayons, and markers.

Looking for Assistance?

We have received many questions on our Facebook and Twitter pages about how to sign up for back-to-school assistance. Many locations are holding events throughout August, so the sooner you contact your local Salvation Army to request assistance, the better. Find a list of locations by entering your city or zip code in the “Find A Location” section in the top right of this page.

Posted by Megan Gandee on Monday, August 4, 2014

Basketball as a ministry: Salvation Army in Pensacola sends basketball team to tournament

Dulcinea Cuellar is the Divisional Communications Director for The Salvation Army Florida Division.
Basketball as a ministry
Love Bettis, top row and third from the left, has dreams of walking in the footsteps of the athletes who have come before him at The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army in Pensacola has a long, rich history of honing young athletes:
Dallas Cowboy great Emmitt Smith.World champion boxer Roy Jones, Jr.Super Bowl champion Doug Baldwin.Washington Redskin running back Alfred MorrisAnd now Love Bettis.
Wait? You haven’t heard of him?Of course not, he’s 12.

Love is part of The Salvation Army of Pensacola’s Emerald Coast Soldiers, an afterschool and summer basketball program.

Coach Dwayne Kelly helms the group of sixth and eighth grade boys. Since the program began four years ago, the teams have amassed dozens of trophies and championships. The eighth grade team plays 37 regular season games, while the sixth grade team plays 50.

Recently the team traveled to ESPN’S Wide World of Sports at the Walt Disney World complex to participate in the AAU National Championship. The eighth grade team competed against more than 30 teams from around the country and finished 11th place. The less experience sixth grade team participated in an international invitational.

Basketball as a ministryKelley said this was the first time many of them have left Pensacola.

“Many of our kids are from the neighborhood,” Kelley said. “For some of them, this is their first real time out of the Florida panhandle.”

Along with basketball, Kelley and several assistant coaches, also teach the boys about consequences – the coaches regularly check student’s report cards. A failing grade means a boy sits out a few games until his grades improve. Oftentimes, that means coaches sitting with the student and going over homework assignments.

Kelley also encourages the each boy to volunteer in the community. Most recently, several team members drove to Gulf Breeze, Fla. to help hand out supplies and meals to residents who were impacted by flooding in April.

“We are really more of a family, then a basketball team,” said 14-year-old D.J Kelley. “We run our program so that it’s more than basketball.”
And for Love, the sixth grader? He has dreams of walking in the footsteps of the athletes who have come before him at The Salvation Army.

“Who knows, maybe there are scouts in the bleachers,” he said with a smile. “And we have a better chance of going pro.”

1,000 Needy Children Return To School In Style!

huntington bank

Huntington Bank cares about giving back to its communities in a direct hands-on way. For the sixth consecutive year, through the bank’s backpack program, 1,000 needy Western Pennsylvania kids will return to school well prepared and ready to learn. Huntington is again working with The Salvation Army to provide children – kindergarten through 8th grade – with new backpacks, a wide variety of school supplies and so much more.

Early on the morning of August 7th, Huntington Bank employees will prepare to hand out backpacks to children at The Salvation Army’s Homewood Worship and Service Center at 8020 Frankstown Road where over 200 children from Allegheny County will be served. They will then travel to The Salvation Army’s New Kensington Worship and Service Center at 1101 Fifth Avenue for lunch and a special delivery to 75 more kids. The remaining 712 backpacks will be distributed at other Salvation Worship and Service Centers throughout the 28 county Western Pennsylvania Division.

“Back to school is an exciting time for kids, and Huntington is looking forward to its annual backpack giveaway program with The Salvation Army. The cost of school supplies is on the rise and out of reach for many families, so Huntington is please to be able to help many of our region’s families once again this year,” said Susan Baker Shipley, President for Huntington Bank in Western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley.

Both a church and a social service organization, The Salvation Army began in London, England in 1865. Today, it provides critical services in 126 countries worldwide. The 28-county Western Pennsylvania Division serves thousands of needy families through a wide variety of support services. To learn more about The Salvation Army in Western Pennsylvania, log onto The Salvation Army … Doing the most . . . good for the most people . . . in the most need.

Finding a Voice

Clara Kleinman helps run The Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Spree in Santa MonicBy Jared McKiernan – 

Timely assistance from The Salvation Army in the 1930s fuels Clara Kleinman’s passion to give back today.
The biggest concern of most 8-year-old girls is how they might fashion their dolls, what to bring to the next sleepover or how to catch the attention of the cute boy in class.
When Clara Kleinman was that age, she was warding off gangsters. She was being teased for her religion, tormented for the way she spoke. And talking back never did her much good, because no one understood a word she said.

Kleinman now lives at The Salvation Army’s Silvercrest Residence in Santa Monica, Calif. She’s 87, and sharp. She’s not five-feet tall, but her posture grabs your attention. Her voice sparse, but when she speaks, you listen.

“There weren’t many Jews in our neighborhood; it was mostly black,” she said of the St. Louis slum she grew up in. “We were taunted because we were Jewish. The prejudice was unbelievable.”

Kleinman was born in 1926 the eighth of nine children on Biddle Street, a high-crime, desolate section of downtown St. Louis. Even a simple walk home from school could mean risking your life.

“I saw the worst of life,” she said. ”I saw knifings on the way home from school. I knew how to hide in the alleys.”
Kleinman’s father had a paralytic stroke when she was 5 years old. This left her mother, Yetta, as the household’s primary caretaker. While ruthless, as described by Kleinman, Yetta was always hospitable.

“She always told us never to feel sorry for ourselves because there was always someone worse off, and she was right,” she said. “I remember all of the people my mother took in when we barely had enough to eat, but she would never let anyone sleep in the streets or go hungry.”

Kleinman’s older siblings and eventually she herself, began working to contribute to the household income. It was either that, or go hungry.

To make matters worse, Kleinman was born with an abnormally small throat passage, which caused a severe speech impairment.

Bullies had their way.

“Not only did I live in the toughest area,” she said, “but talk about being teased. You could not understand one word I said. It was not that my speech was unclear. I could not get the words out…I fought every gang member. My brothers taught me how to hit the areas that hurt the most.”

Her brother Lou, especially, was like a guardian, quick to defend his younger sister to anyone. Lou once even slapped a schoolteacher in the face as payback for hitting his sister.

When Kleinman was 11, she got a measure of relief from the heckling. Her school sponsored speech therapy for her at Central Institute for the Deaf. Every day that year, she rode the bus from one end of St. Louis to the other to practice her speech.
“The classes were difficult,” she said, “but they gave me the chance to have a normal life.”

Over the next few years, she worked a combination of office jobs, later relocating to Michigan, then California. She married and had two children, though still maintaining two part-time positions. She became a proficient typist, clocking 225 words per minute, which helped her secure several jobs. While unglamorous, things were headed in a positive direction—until one day when she got a call about her brother Lou.

He was shot and killed by a group of gang members.

“I couldn’t eat,” she said. “I could not eat. We were very close.”

She wasn’t exaggerating. Disturbed by Lou’s death, she neglected her health and dropped all the way down to around 85 pounds.

“I looked in the mirror one day and said, ‘This is not what my brother would want.’ So I pulled myself together and accepted it for what it was.”

Though much of her childhood was marked by trial and injustice, Kleinman recalls each holiday season as the pinnacle. Every year, The Salvation Army rented out an auditorium to throw a Christmas party for all of the kids in the community. She and her siblings would go get their clothes and shoes for the school year.

“I remember how important the shoes were,” she said. “Shoes were one of the most important things because we had to walk quite a distance to go to school. And you had to remember to always get them big because you had to stuff them with newspaper so they would last all year.”

Her memory of The Salvation Army was simple––they served. For one day each year, her religion, her handicap, her family’s circumstances––none of it mattered.

“They never cared about your religion, or color of your skin. The way they gave, when they were handing out things, it was such a warm, personal feeling,” she said. “In those years, to take charity or welfare you really had to be ashamed. You tried not to talk about it. But when we went to these [Salvation Army] parties, it always impressed me how nice they were and how they always smiled. And it made you feel good.”

Kleinman worked well into her 80s, retiring just three years ago. After that, she finally settled down in her Silvercrest apartment—or so she thought.

“I heard them talking about The Salvation Army Christmas Spree. I said, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m going over there to see if I can volunteer,”’ she said. “All my life I had this dream. I always said if things ever changed, I would give back to The Salvation Army, because when my family needed them, they were there for us. Now, I’m giving back not just for myself, but for my whole family.”

Kleinman has served as treasurer for the Santa Monica Women’s Auxiliary for the past three years, planning fashion shows and Christmas Sprees like the ones she attended as a child.

Now widowed, Kleinman said she is grateful for the opportunity to give back, even at this stage in life. And while grinding is all she knows, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I really feel and I still feel that it’s up to us what we get out of life,” she said. “Not everyone has the same chances, but the minute you start feeling sorry for yourself, it’s over. I really think that you have to go through some suffering in life to appreciate the good things. I really am a very lucky person.”

-By Jared McKiernan
Post originally featured in The New Frontier Chronicle.