Character building at a safe place: Corps, Camp Paradise Valley

By: Judy Hamilton

From “Life in Paradise,” blog of the Kentucky and Tennessee Division


One of the ways The Salvation Army Kentucky and Tennessee Division focuses on character-building activities for young members is through the work of divisional youth leaders and Captains Matt and Danielle Cunningham.

“Our character-building program starts at age 2 with Moonbeams. Older girls then progress to Sunbeams, and eventually to Girl Guards. The boys progress from Moonbeams to Explorers and then to Rangers. The kids earn badges as they progress and learn skills,” Captain Matt Cunningham said.

The Salvation Army offers these positive ministry programs and events for young people to help them develop a strong character while also helping them understand God’s love for them through a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ. “These programs provide a Christian faith background to help kids to develop a vision, and these programs show them the steps to achieve their goals,” Captain Matt said.

The programs offer a holistic Christian education experience with the goal of helping youth develop positive social and communication habits, artistic flare and giftedness through a biblical worldview, Christian values and biblical principles.

The character-building programs are organized into individual troops and sponsored by the local Salvation Army corps. Volunteers and Salvation Army personnel provide the leadership. Meetings are usually held in corps community or service centers.

“The kids also get a week at Camp Paradise Valley in the summer where they get to work on earning more emblems. For many of the kids, it’s an opportunity, maybe their first, to have a vacation and be away from responsibilities or troubles at home,” Captain Matt said.

Providing a fun and safe environment enables The Salvation Army to teach leadership and character building skills.

“We are teaching them how to build character, but we are also giving them a chance to relax and be kids. They are getting fed both physically and spiritually. They are learning how to look outside themselves and to be citizens of a community,” Captain Matt said.

The purpose of the character-building programs is to provide children with an opportunity for growth spiritually, mentally, physically and socially, and to increase their understanding of service to others by exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

“These programs present an environment where we come to train for our mission. Junior Soldiers go from first to sixth grades. They learn the history of the Christian faith and how the church operates. Corps Cadets is from seventh grade on through 12th grade. It is a five-year disciple training course. The Corps Cadets are members of The Salvation Army church. This program teaches them to be leaders in the church and the community,” Cunningham said.

These programs help young people develop leadership skills and character by providing real-life opportunities for practice.

“They serve by helping at the soup kitchen or visiting a nursing home. They give an account of that experience and give a written statement,” Captain Matt said.

Many Corps Cadets go on to take roles in The Salvation Army as adults like Dan Duncan, the Christian education director for the Kentucky-Tennessee Division.

“I participated in Corps Cadets as a teenager. During those years, we used examples of biblical leadership to learn principles and engage in evangelism. From personal experience, I understand the importance of these groups in developing leadership skills in youth,” Duncan said.

One of the biggest goals of the program is to discover a Christian worldview that encourages a sense of identity and character both as an individual and as a member of a community.

Furthermore, providing an example from Scripture and applying it to today’s culture empowers the Corps Cadets to look at the truths in the Bible and how they relate to the world around them. “The greatest challenge for today’s young people is finding a community and engaging in that community’s life; discovering how to interact in it. The Corps Cadet program helps youth find their place in the world,” Duncan said.

Kids, however, aren’t the only ones benefiting from the youth leadership programs at The Salvation Army.

“It’s restorative to adults working in the programs, too, because they get to see the positive impact their leadership and teaching have on the youth. The process of applying biblical principles to the culture is important. The strength of this process is not in finding a simple answer but realizing how difficult the challenges may be and coming up with a response which meets those challenges,” Duncan said.

In today’s world of school shootings and rampant drug abuse, many children are confused and feeling hopeless.

“These programs enable them to feel not so powerless. You are less powerless when you are part of something, a community, and when you know your place in that community. That’s what the Corps Cadet program does. It gives kids a community,” Duncan said.

If you know a child who would benefit from these programs, getting involved is easy. Simply ask.

“Anyone interested just needs to contact their local Salvation Army, inquire about when they have youth programs and character building, and ask to speak with the corps officer,” Captain Matt said.