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‘Volunteer army’ enables Salvation Army successes


Salvation Army service center director Richard Sessions found new help from a familiar source at Christmastime: students. He’ll be returning for more next year.

The former teacher, coach and principal has headed up the Port Arthur Region 5 service center for about six months, and reported to the Port Arthur Rotary Club this week that the recent Christmas drive was a success, at least for the 1,112 children who might not have had a merry Christmas save for the Salvation Army’s 2018 Kettle Campaign and Angel Trees.

Sessions, Beaumont born and Mississippi raised, said this year’s campaign outpaced last year’s, mostly through the erstwhile efforts of a volunteer army. He said the organization opted not to hire additional help but relied on volunteers — among them, high school students — who used their Kettle Campaign efforts to fulfill service requirements. Volunteer efforts, he said, made all the difference.

The Rotary Club audience included leading students from Port Arthur high schools including some who participated in the Kettle Campaign. So if Sessions was preaching, he was doing so to the choir. He could point to volunteers in the crowd.

“We will involve more schools,” he said, in addition to Port Arthur Memorial, Bob Hope and Sabine Pass high schools. And why not? Our high school students can be reliable and enthusiastic volunteers who make a difference in these and other efforts.

They weren’t the only volunteers. Sessions said one volunteer — he is blind — and his wife volunteered to ring the bell at a local grocery store every day of the campaign. What a gift.

Such volunteer efforts represented a big deal for the Salvation Army, as well as for the children and families served. The SA has undergone big changes since Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey, which hit this region in August 2017. The storms destroyed the Salvation Army base on 25th Street, sending the organization first to a warehouse facility in Nederland and then to Grace Church of the Nazarene on Rice Farm Road in Port Arthur, where it is taking temporary quarters while seeking a new site.

Port Arthur has also reduced from a church — there were too few church members left — to a service center. That’s why Sessions, a Lutheran, is able to oversee the local efforts.

“Our mission is still the same,” he said: They feed the hungry, help the poor with utilities, hand out blankets to the homeless.

“We are out of Hurricane Harvey,” he saidi it’s been said, but you ride down many Port Arthur streets, there are empty house and people struggling.

Some, he said, may abuse the generosity of others. Most don’t, he said.

The Salvation Army, he added, is there to help — not judge. That’s a lesson for all of us.