Photo Credits: Laura Dake

Southern Territory units inspire, pioneer during first-ever Innovation Forum

By: Brad Rowland

With a global pandemic prompting adjustments in ministry across the USA Southern Territory and the world over the last 12 months, The Salvation Army is innovating with an eye toward meeting growing need. On Wednesday, March 17 in Atlanta, the Territorial Executive Council (TEC) observed eight intriguing presentations, one from each division, in the territory’s inaugural Innovation Forum.

“When the pandemic hit, I began sending out a weekly resource email with all the amazing things that were being created by the field,” said Lt. Colonel Eddie Hobgood, territorial secretary for program. “My mind kept getting blown each week by the incredible creativity and how some people were taking nothing and making something out of it! I was also incredibly moved by the number of officers, soldiers, professional staff, associates, and volunteers who were putting their very lives on the line to serve their communities. Kathy and I started brainstorming ways that we could perhaps highlight these amazing innovations and creations; thus the Innovation Forum was born.”

Bernie Dake, territorial director of communications, served as the emcee for the gathering, and both he and Lt. Colonel Hobgood provided an appropriate backdrop to lay the groundwork for the day’s presentations.

“Anything we can do to bring people into a right relationship with God is encouraged,” Dake said. “Your innovation, your imagination, your willing spirits to beat the drum is encouraged. You will be given some presentations by your peers, by your fellow officers, people who found a way, in a pandemic, to get it done. It’s for the kingdom. If they never know our name, to God be the glory.”

“This is an exciting day and we’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Lt. Colonel Hobgood said. “You’re going to be impressed and you’re going to be blessed. One of the things that has been very real to us over the last few months and the last year is how our field officers have flipped everything on its head. They’ve been so creative, so innovative, and so many of them have actually put their lives on the line to serve their fellow man, woman, boy or girl. They are our heroes and we salute them. These representatives from each division that are coming to share represent a whole host of people who have given and been so selfless, taking ordinary things and making them extraordinary. We’re excited to share that with you.”

Each division’s presentation centered on a program or activity already taking place locally. These presentations represented best practices meant to be modeled elsewhere and purposefully highlighted programs that can and should be utilized, albeit in varied form, in other areas across the Southeast. Officers, cadets, and staff from the Evangeline Booth College also attended, in a socially distanced manner, to provide an audience and enhance their continuing education.

Lt. Colonel Hobgood revealed that the proceedings were at least partially inspired by ABC’s “Shark Tank” television program, which allows innovators to present ideas to a panel in hopes to inspire buy-in.

“We love Shark Tank and wanted to fashion it, albeit a kinder, gentler version, after that,” said Lt. Colonel Hobgood. “We shared the idea with leadership and they wholeheartedly agreed to it. We have funds in the Territorial Innovation Fund (TIF) for new and innovative programs and set aside monies to help pay for the event and offer cash incentives to those who participate, thus enabling them to further develop their innovation or create new ways to serve.”

Here is a summary of the eight presentations, which are available for viewing in full on Ministry Toolkit.

  • Alabama-Louisiana-Mississippi — Carla Lawson presented a “Corps Rings” program from Pascagoula, Mississippi designed to reach soldiers where they are via simple technology
  • Arkansas-Oklahoma — Captains Bradley and Stephanie Hargis spoke to the growing opportunity for ministry and service in Hot Springs, Arkansas
  • Florida — Captains Ben and Annie Bridges highlighted the “Gateway” online registration system utilized in Naples, Florida, which was especially helpful during the 2020 Angel Tree season
  • Georgia — Captain Jason Smith unpacked “Red Shield Connections” in Columbus, Georgia with a focus on recognizing unmet need with virtual learning
  • Kentucky-Tennessee — April Calvin, director of social services, led a team from Nashville, Tennessee presenting on the LifNav app, designed to provide resources for individuals experiencing life without a home and leveraging modern technology to create connections to the community
  • North and South Carolina — Majors Henry and Benita Morris provided a peek behind the curtain of DMG Academy in Columbia, S.C., an educational program featuring a designated workspace for each child open daily to help local students unaccounted for when schools moved to virtual learning
  • Potomac — Captain Liz Blusiewicz outlined the work of the Ebenezer Vocation School in Huntington, W. Va., attempting to aid in breaking generational poverty in a pioneering way
  • Texas — Majors David and Dawn Worthy presented “Hub City Hope” from Lubbock, Texas, headlined by four key areas of ministry: 1) homeless and poverty, 2) service delivery directly to the community, 3) services packaged for both recipients and donors, and 4) an aim to increase corps health with an overall kingdom-building focus

The local work continues in earnest, and the hope of the forum is to inspire continued creativity in an effort to enhance The Salvation Army’s mission to meet human need in his name without discrimination. The presenters spotlight only a small portion, albeit a spectacular one, of the work executed on a daily basis at the community level, and the use of best practices, which Dake described during the forum as “an excellent business principle,” should only add to the growth of innovation for the remainder of 2021 and beyond.