Built on Prayer
Four Salvation Army building projects are rising in Cleveland, Ohio, thanks to the people who joined forces and found common ground on their knees in prayer.
“We had some major obstacles to overcome when we started this project,” says Major Lurlene–Kay Johnson, the divisional secretary for Greater Cleveland Area Services.
For 17 years, The Salvation Army had tried to purchase a parking lot adjacent to the Cleveland Harbor Light building, but the owner was reluctant to sell. The acquisition was necessary to expand the Zelma George Emergency Family Shelter.
Johnson recalls, “I said to the Cleveland officers and to the advisory board that we needed to fast and pray for the next several days and then I would call the owner again.”
God at work
Johnson met with the owner, who also received a tour of the Harbor Light Center. He asked for a few days to think it over. Everyone prayed.
“A couple of days later, he called and told us he would sell the land,” Johnson said. “[His resistance] had been a barrier for many years. [His consent] was key to this project’s success. We believe that the Lord finally opened that door for us.”
The expansion of the downtown Zelma George Family Shelter is one of four simultaneous building projects in the $35–million “Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow” campaign in Cleveland.
The other projects include rebuilding and expanding the Temple Corps Community Center, renovating and expanding the West Park Corps Community Center, and constructing a new East Cleveland Corps. Construction on all four projects is scheduled for completion by spring 2017.
Another prayer ‘win’
Johnson said prayer also played a huge part in acquiring the land for the East Cleveland Corps. The property was owned by the city of East Cleveland and The Salvation Army faced the challenge of clearing several liens.
“We prayed and prayed over that matter—that we would get the land in time for the project to start,” Johnson says. “We got it literally two days before our deadline.”
Johnson said she and campaign chairman Ray Murphy made a habit of praying before meetings with potential donors. So far, 150 donors have contributed.
“We decided this campaign needed to be a spiritual exercise for us,” she says. “We pray that the donors will be friends of The Salvation Army, and we pray a special blessing on them.
“We attribute the quick success that we have had in this project, and in our fundraising, to the power of prayer. As an officer, this is a ministry.”
On their way
The Salvation Army has raised $32 million of the $35 million goal. “The faith of our board has really grown,” she said.
Johnson called the project the most significant in the 144–year history of The Salvation Army in Cleveland. It also is the largest initiative in the history of the Eastern Territory outside of the recent Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center projects.
“It’s unusual to build four facilities at one time. For 20 years, leaders of The Salvation Army in Cleveland have talked about doing such a capital campaign,” Johnson said.
“There were several facilities that needed to be in the campaign. So we decided to just get it done as one big project instead of doing smaller ones that would require more time.
“Our success is due to amazing support from our advisory board, the community, DHQ, and THQ.”
Johnson said that, according to a Salvation Army program study done in 2012, 39 percent of Cleveland’s 390,000 residents live in poverty, including half its children. The greatest needs were on the west and east sides of the city.
“We’re not just building in one area,” Johnson says. “We are literally building all across the city.”
The new East Cleveland Corps Community Center will feature a spray–water park and Mommy & Me classes for the single moms in the neighborhood. The area has many senior citizens, who will work in the food pantry and in the corps.
“East Cleveland is the poorest city in the state of Ohio,” Johnson says. “If you drive through it, you’ll see abandoned buildings. It is a rough area.”
“The Salvation Army was treated as a friend,” Johnson says. “The community opened its arms to The Salvation Army. We will bring some much–needed support to this hurting community.”
The other east side project is the new Temple Corps Community Center, now located in a former school, which will be replaced with a new building. The current property will be turned into a ball field.
“The building is just too old,” Johnson said. “Everything in it needed to be repaired or replaced. It was more cost–effective to just do a rebuild.”
The presence of a licensed Learning Zone program in the current building limited the amount of other activities that could go on at the same time, Johnson said. The new building will be able to accommodate multiple programs.
“We can now have corps programs going on, a licensed Learning Zone, and a community center, all operating at the same time,” she says.
The only downtown project is the expansion of the Zelma George Family Shelter, which is currently housed inside the Harbor Light Center. The shelter serves “mixed populations” and caters to adults rather than children, Johnson said.
A dream realized
The renovation will provide a suite for six human trafficking victims, who are often admitted at night by the FBI.
By being attached to the Harbor Light Center, the two facilities will share meal preparation facilities and other resources, Johnson said.
“There are other services in the Harbor Light that these families still need,” she says.
Room for ‘more’
Three groundbreakings for the project occurred in November 2015. The West Park event was in April. Although rain fell during the ceremony, it couldn’t dampen the buoyant spirit.
BettyLou Hruska, a 4th–generation Salvationist who has attended the corps since the 1950s, has watched the neighborhood change. A Sunday school teacher, she is optimistic.
“It’s going to mean more than just growth and numbers, it’s going to mean connecting more,” she says. “We’re going to have space to do more and invite more people in and have them feel comfortable. We use every inch of this building.”
The harvest is plentiful
Captain Harold Fritsch, the corps officer at the West Park Corps, called the groundbreaking a “momentous day.”
“The need here is so great,” he says. “This will be a place of refuge for the people in our neighborhood.”
Captain Candy Fritsch, said the new building has “given everyone hope” and the faith to “never doubt what God can do” through prayer.
“Right now, our chapel is at capacity and we’re looking forward to having more space,” she says. “That doesn’t mean a bigger chapel just to look beautiful, but more seats for more souls to get saved.”
by Robert Mitchell
photography by Corina Chang