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Charity efforts often obscure Salvation Army's top priority

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Released 8 August 2007


Capt. Roy Harris knows that many people think about the Salvation Army when they are looking to donate clothes. Others are most familiar with the group's holiday outreach, when bell-ringers stand in front of stores before Christmas, encouraging shoppers to drop donations in red kettles.

But the new local Salvation Army officer realizes what most people don't know is that the Salvation Army's first priority is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Its evangelical component, Harris said, is one of its "best-kept secrets."

The Salvation Army was started in 1865 by William Booth, a Methodist evangelist from London. The street preacher founded the group in order to minister to "unacceptable" people in society.

Harris and his wife, Patti, who is also a new Salvation Army officer, are both ordained ministers from Georgia. They are striving to continue Booth's mission.

"Our first goal is to preach the gospel and meet human needs in his name," Roy Harris said. "Faith drives us and makes us better and a more efficient organization."

Like most ministries, the Salvation Army holds services on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays.

"It's a small congregation, but that's something I'm hoping to change," Harris said.

While it helps that the services the Salvation Army provides gives officers some unique opportunities to spread the gospel, it also becomes a challenge to get people to realize that donating clothes isn't all the group does.

"We have to deal with the stigma that the Salvation Army is just the place you go to get food and clothing when you're down and out," Harris said. "We have to get beyond that."

The Harrises came to Montgomery from Griffin, Ga., where they served in ministry for almost 25 years. Roy Harris was one of the many Salvation Army officers sent immediately to Biloxi, Miss., in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Now that he's in Montgomery, Harris said he's looking to improve the center on Bell Street, especially its Center of Hope shelter. Providing adequate staffing and securing a steady roster of volunteers is his top priority. He also plans to provide more quality services to the community and build a center it can be proud of.

"The biggest obstacle is funding," he said. "We've had cutbacks recently and we want to be able to pay our bills and still keep the place in good shape."

Harris said he'll be meeting with the organization's advisory board in the next month to come up with ideas on how to do just that. And although he's barely been in his new position a month, Harris has made a positive impression on his new colleagues.

Heather Holcomb, the Salvation Army's director of community relations and development for Montgomery, Elmore and Autauga counties, worked with Harris during the Katrina relief efforts.

"He's always been no-nonsense, and I'm looking forward to continuing working with him here," she said. "His heart is truly for the mission."

Harris agrees, but admits his most important role is father and husband. That's why he enjoys working with his wife, who he calls the "driven type-A personality" to his more laid back approach.

"Most guys don't have to go to work and be across the hall from their wives," he said. "But I enjoy it. It's a team effort because neither of us wants to do what the other does. It's been 21 years of marriage by the Lord's will and grace."

Harris said he and his wife are ready to make a difference.

"I think you can expect us to be a positive force in the community," he said.

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