Salvation Army Officer Helps Young People to be their Best
(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) Kelly Silvestri-Raabe thought she had lost everything last year. This year, through the Salvation Army, she has found a new life and new purpose.
The San Bernardino Salvation Army recently named Kelly as the Young People’s Sgt. Major. In this position, she oversees the programs the Salvation Army offers for children ages 6-12.
Kelly believes this simply gives a title and a written job description to the work she’s done gladly for most of 2010. It is a volunteer position, but one to which she devotes most of her time.
“It took me losing everything to see how God wanted to use me,” she said. “I love the Salvation Army. It has completed my life”
Kelly started becoming familiar with the Salvation Army when she checked into the Hospitality House shelter at the end of 2009. She came there three years after her mother’s death, which had led to a downward spiral that included divorce, losing contact with her two sons and being forced out of the house in which she had spent most of her life.
Before she lost her sons, and their father moved them to Ohio, Kelly had largely focused her life on them. She hadn’t planned it that way. Even after she became pregnant in college, she had plans to become an FBI agent, and thought that having children would require only a brief interruption in her career.
“The moment my oldest son was born, I knew that God’s purpose for my life was for me to be a wife and a mother,” she said. “I had never known that kind of love before.”
Her husband had a good job, and the family was living in Kelly’s childhood home, which her mother had sold to them a few years earlier. So, Kelly was able to quit college and become a stay-at-home mom.
When her boys started school she served as the room mother. When they began playing team sports, she served as the team mother.
“My boys were my life,” she said. “I never spent more than a day away from them.”
All that came to a stop in 2005, when her mother suffered a stroke. For the next two years until her mother died, Kelly devoted much of her time to caring for her mother.
Since Kelly’s father had died when she was 7, the feeling of being left alone after her mother’s death caused her to fall into a deep depression. “I turned my back on everyone who loved me,” she said.
Her husband eventually left, and later fled with their sons to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they now live. Kelly has had only limited phone contact with them since then.
Not too long after her husband and sons left California, Kelly came home one day to find the locks on her doors changed, and her possessions sitting outside. Her house had been foreclosed.
“I had nowhere to go,” she said. “One of my friends suggested the Salvation Army. I said ‘I thought that was a thrift store.’
“I walked into a room where 40 people were sleeping together on the floor, (an arrangement necessary at the time, because the Hospitality House emergency family shelter operated from the Salvation Army Corps headquarters building). I had never felt so safe, because no one looked down on me, they just showed me love and kindness.”
While she was in the shelter, Kelly reached out to the children living there.
“The parents didn’t have anything for them to do,” she said. “When kids are left to their own devices, they can get into trouble.”
She took the shelter’s children on small outings to a nearby park and to the grocery store. On Thursdays, usually a minimum day at the elementary school where shelter children attend, she spent the afternoons teaching them craft projects. She served ice cream to them and baked cakes for them.
“These kids are so thankful for these little things,” Kelly said. “It is a blessing to be able to work with them.”
Once she left the shelter, her work with the children continued and grew. She volunteered with Sunbeams and Adventure Corps, programs the Salvation Army offers during the week to children in first through sixth grade.
In the spring, she participated with them in the Salvation Army’s annual Pinewood Derby, where children and youth leaders from many Corps create racecars from wood and engage them in races on a sloping track. She won.
In the summer, she went with the children to Salvation Army summer camp and taught them to ride bicycles. She took 27 little girls to see a live performance of “The Little Mermaid.”
Now, she is also responsible for Junior Church, a program held on Sunday mornings for children ages 7-12. She also leads Junior Salvationists, a program that prepares preteens to serve their community as part of the Salvation Army Church.
She believes she has found her true calling.
“I had a very comfortable life with my husband and I thought I was happy, she said. “Now, materially, I don’t have anything. But I have so much joy.”
About the Salvation Army San Bernardino Corps
The Salvation Army may be able to provide emergency services including food; lodging for homeless or displaced families; clothing and furniture; assistance with rent or mortgage and transportation when funds are available. The Salvation Army Team Radio Network assists rescue workers and evacuees in such disasters as fires.
The Salvation Army is an evangelical part of the Universal Christian church and also offers evangelical programs for boys, girls and adults. One of the largest charitable and international service organizations in the world, The Salvation Army has been in existence since 1865 and in San Bernardino since 1887, supporting those in need without discrimination. Donations may always be made online at www.salvationarmyusa.org <http://www.salvationarmyusa.org> or by calling 1-(800)-SAL-ARMY.
For local help, call (909) 888-1336.