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New Salvation Army leaders focus on building healthy communities


Salvation Army Director Jennifer Graham visits with Ben Paulding after speaking to Columbus Kiwanis members Wednesday.

Salvation Army Director Jennifer Graham visits with Ben Paulding after speaking to Columbus Kiwanis members Wednesday. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff


Damon Graham

Damon Graham



Slim Smith



Much like the military, those who serve with the Salvation Army have ranks and can expect to move from one assignment to another, often without much prior notice. 


That's certainly the case with Lt. Jennifer Graham and her husband, Lt. Damon Graham, who arrived to take over leadership at the Columbus Salvation Army in June, replacing Majors Alan and Cheryl Phillips after Alan was diagnosed with cancer. 


"My husband and I have served together in the Salvation Army for 11 years," Jennifer noted during her speaking engagement to the Columbus Kiwanis Club meeting at Lion Hills Center Wednesday. "We've served in Atlanta, New Orleans, Greenville and now Columbus. So you can see, we've moved around a lot. We're excited to be here, just as we've been excited with all of the opportunities we've had to serve." 


It's a busy time for the Salvation Army throughout the country with two of its major fundraisers -- The Red Kettle Drive and Angel Tree program are now in full swing. To borrow a sports term, the Grahams are "playing hurt," with Damon recovering from a broken ankle. 


"We are hoping to do a lot of community outreach, but we're kind of putting that aside right now until Damon recovers from his broken ankle," Jennifer said. "Until then, we've been busy with other things and we're excited about where things are going." 


While all directors maintain programs common to all Salvation Army units, each director is allowed to pursue programs that align with their calling and expertise. For Alan Phillips, who fought an addiction to opioid pain-killers, the unique mission was helping other recovering addicts. 


For the Grahams, it's working with youth and helping adults create a stable life. 


"We came here from Greenville, which was a city facing lots of challenges," Jennifer told the Kiwanis. "There was a lot of poverty, unemployment, crime and all the problems that go along with a city that was struggling. One of the ways we addressed that was by starting a youth program. When we got there two years ago, we started with two children, and when we left we had more than 50 kids in the program." 


Jennifer said working with kids is the basis for building stronger communities. 


"We plan to continue with our youth program here," Jennifer said. "We'll be training volunteers to help us with our goal, which is to identify 100 children we can work with and mentor and be a part of their lives. My husband and I believe healthy children build healthy adults, and healthy adults build healthy communities. It's a way to address problems before they get started. That's why working with children is so important." 


The Grahams also are working on a program called "Pathway to Hope," designed to help adults become stable and self-sufficient through a comprehensive training program that helps them with budgeting, job training and self-sufficiency. 


"You need to know how to fish for yourself," said Jennifer, noting some adults are caught in a cycle of relying on charities to meet their basic needs. "When someone comes to us, we want to help them with their immediate needs, but we also want to help them come out of the situation they are in."


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]



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