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A familiar face in Rutland

With seven children and 20 grandchildren, Cheryl Clark has a lot of birthdays to remember.

Clark’s children are the reason she found The Salvation Army in Rutland, Vt., some 20 years ago. She has been an adherent and has served in many roles at the corps. Six of her offspring attended programs there.

The corps had moved several times over the years. When the local Family Store closed a few years ago, the congregation relocated to that building.

COVID-19 has dwindled the congregation, but The Salvation Army wants to remain in this central Vermont community. So, in January, the corps became a community center. Clark will take on a new challenge as the director/manager of the center, which includes a food pantry and a clothing closet, but no church services.

“I definitely think there is a need for The Salvation Army to remain here,” Clark said.

Majors David and Karin Dickson, retired officers who arrived in Rutland last October and shepherded the corps through Christmas and the transition to a community center, will train Clark, who takes over on her own in April.


Hopes and dreams

Clark said her long-term goal is to see a full-fledged corps return to Rutland, but in the interim she would like to start a daytime drop-in center for the homeless that would augment the existing food pantry and clothing closet. That will not happen until life returns to normal, post-COVID–19.

“Homelessness is a high problem where we are, believe it or not,” Clark said. “We have a couple of agencies that are operating emergency homeless shelters, but only one other agency in our area that I’m aware of that operates a drop-in center during the daytime for people to get out of the harsh weather.”

Clark said Rutland is a small, rural city with expensive rents in an area that caters to skiers.

“The homelessness is due to the high cost of renting here,” she said. “That’s because we have the ski areas around Rutland, which tries to cater more towards the tourist. The prices are just too high up there for people who actually live here. That just makes it difficult.”

Most of Clark’s previous roles were at the corps in the social services area, such as standing kettles and helping with Christmas toy distribution. She also has taught Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and helped with Girl Guards and Sunbeams.

“My family has been active in The Salvation Army,” she said. “The Salvation Army has been my church. My kids and then my grandchildren have been active, and they help with the food drives and that type of thing.”


The right background

Clark said she still remembers the warmth she felt when she attended church at The Salvation Army for the first time.

“I felt welcome when I walked into the building,” she said. “I was immediately like family. That’s an important thing for me.”

Clark, who became a Christian at age 9 and developed a hunger for God’s Word, said her motivation in taking the new job is to bring some continuity to The Salvation Army in Rutland.

“We’ve had a lot of changes here in Rutland,” she said. “I initially applied for the position because I’ve been involved in that type of work for a long time here. I wanted to keep a familiar face within The Salvation Army building for the community.

“It’s more comfortable for people if they can come in and see a familiar face and know who they’re dealing with. But beyond that, I like to help people. Honestly, most of my life, I didn’t think I was a people person, but I seem to do well in that aspect.

“I like the fact that, through many of these programs that The Salvation Army has, we can do an immediate help. It’s not, ‘I’ll get back. We have to wait.’ We can help with the food. We can help with the clothing. For a lot of people who are struggling, that gives them a little uplift to know they don’t have to wait. It’s good to be able to help people.”

by Robert Mitchell